“Hello!” I spoke excitedly into my phone.
It was a sunny winter day and we were passing through Jaipur on our umpteenth doing-one-of-the-Rajasthani-circuits trip. Needing to break our journey, we were looking for a hotel to stay the night in. As always, the much-praised Samode seemed ideal. “Would you have one double room for today?” I asked. As always, the courteous voice informed me regretfully. “No, Ma’am, we’re completely booked.”
The conversation was the same – every trip we made till this monsoon. Why not make a short trip to Samode all by itself? “Yes Ma’am, there are rooms available at the Samode Bagh,” the courteous voice informed us.
Some clothes, some books, no rising with the sun, a small breakfast and off we were on a pleasantly easy drive on the Gurgaon-Jaipur highway. Barring the khich-pich at Shahpura and the snarl at Kothputli (both flyover construction zones), the road seems alright if not good. Samode is a tiny village, a little before Jaipur. Some four hours later, driving on a tiny road, we stopped at an ornate gate, tucked behind some high walls. After parking the car, we walked through the 400 year old gardens.
Fountains fed by underground pipes and water, danced along the way to the 150 year old pavilion where a group of colourfully garbed locals sat with marigold flowers and a dholak. One side of the older part of the garden is lined with stables where horses (with anglicized names like Danny) and ponies live under the relative comfort of electric fans. A little further is a dilapidated old ruin inhabited by what seemed like a million bats. As they make their curious insect-like moaning whistling sounds, you conjure up images that are eerie, especially at dusk.
Going forward to an all-white building, we passed the small quaint swimming pool laid with tiles that made an ornate motif underwater. Alongside was a Jacuzzi and all around were white walls shielding it.
You emerged from the building into another garden with tent-style cottages along the periphery. Paths criss-crossed the entire garden which had countless trees, among them Bael, Amla, Imli and Neem. There were water-troughs for birds and little charpoy-machans while small tented pavilions hosted carrom, pool, table tennis and general sitting areas.
The rooms’ sit-outs were a bird-watching delight. All manner of feathered creatures would come pecking and looking before moving on to other interesting places. And when it rained, there would be a constant flow of sound and spray.
One idyllic afternoon, we heard the sound of bugles. Through a huge gate in the wall was yet another tucked-away garden. And in it was being played an elephant polo match! While not a serious match, the scene was straight out of a Merchant Ivory movie. Hatted white people with teacups in their hands. OK so some were also drinking chilled beer. Huge, caparisoned elephants with decorative motifs painted on them, mahouts with polo sticks, a big ball, two turbaned little men squatting near a rustic score-board on which was chalked in elephant-sized numerals : 1/1. A full-fledged band with shiny instruments and starchy red-and-white uniforms would pipe up at every break, belting out martial tunes. As for the elephants, they would bow, curl their trunk in greeting and sit on the ground to allow the mahout to climb on to their backs using a ladder resting on their side. It’s only when I went really close for a photo that I realized that we were talking gigantic, mammoth-like animals here!
The Samode palace is a bumpy four kilometers away. And as you emerge from behind the wall and see the gate, it is a wonderful sight. Rearing up from the hills, the palace was built by a Rawal, not quite a king, but a descendant of the king (in this case none other than Prithviraj Chauhan). Resplendent against a backdrop of rocks, it is now a picture of Mughal-Rajput fusion with mirrored wonders like the Sheesh Mahal and the lounge. Seen from the terrace of the palace, with the swimming pool laid out below and the hills meeting in the horizon, the whole view is an unreal mix of the modern and the ancient. The food here as at the Bagh is average with some dishes standing out.
In tune with our recent holidays, there really is nothing to do but laze around here. Read. Eat. Walk. Talk. Watch. Laze. When we leave two days later, we take away with us a lazy memory, a little hazy in detail, a short distance from the highway but a long distance from the everyday.