In the olden days, India was known to the world by the three pillars of Indianism, as viewed by foreign lens: Kings, tigers/elephants and godmen. Today, the tigers are struggling to be saved and the godmen are all suspect. And the kings – well, they have been forgotten everywhere except a few towns like Shahpura, a tiny town in the heart of Rajasthan.
Shahpura Bagh, the summer home of the royal family
Jai Singh and Shatru Jeet Singh Rathore, along with their wives, children and faithful coterie of housekeepers, cooks, gardeners and drivers reside in this beautiful whitewashed edifice, topped with windows and railings in the traditional Rajasthani style.
Another wing just like this one, houses luxury suites where the family entertains guests and tourists looking for an experiential holiday in the midst of pastoral serenity. If you’re lucky, Jai Singh will have a drink with you in the lavish bar and dining area in the residential wing or Shatru Jeet Singh will show you how to take great photographs even in diffused lighting, being a former advertising photographer.
The tasteful dining area
With time, the heirs of the royal families have departed from the legacy of heart attack-inducing meals and adapted to modern tastes. In fact, the Rathore family is quite fitness conscious and the meals we had reflected their penchant for light but incredibly tasty and innovative food. We sampled the best of vegetarian fare including stuffed bell peppers, bottle gourd koftas and paneer preparations that were completely different from the Punjabi style of cooking. Preparing vegetarian meals was actually a challenge for the cooks of Shahpura Bagh, as the royal family is fond of meat and wont to eating Rajasthani delicacies like lal maas (mutton in a red gravy).
The infinity pool
My favourite place at any luxury resort is the swimming pool and Shahpura Bagh scores brownie points for the lovely white diwans laid out by the pool for a relaxing afternoon drink and perhaps even a shuteye. The infinity pool at Shahpura Bagh will always be special for me because it is where I regained some of my lost swimming prowess. Guests enjoy absolute privacy while having a soak in the pool or relaxing in the floating beds as the staff has been advised to maintain a safe distance. But feel free to call out to them if you need a drink or a snack!
I suspect that the royal family had secret access to my colour preferences beforehand because my suite was done up in deep shades of the colour I love most – red. Luxurious doesn’t even begin to describe the spacious and impeccably designed suites that Shahpura Bagh offers.
When you think of Rajasthan, what comes first to your mind? Deserts? Camels? Colourful turbans? You’d only be right about that last one because Shahpura in the monsoon is as unlike dusty, sandy Rajasthan as possible. The farms are lush green, the lakes are nearly full, a delight for the egrets and pond herons and the sky is perennially cloudy, lending a lovely coolness to the evening air.
Shahpura Bagh is set amidst acres of private woods that are inhabited by a wide variety of birds and animals. The walking trail on my last morning here is what I cherish most about my stay, as we explored hidden thickets and walked along a serene lake, trying to lure out peacocks and getting clicked by a cow herder in return when we photographed him with the cows.
Rajasthan is dotted with such kingly municipalities and regal relics that have managed to retain some of their sheen. One day, I would like to chart a trail across all of the princely towns in India’s last surviving land of the kings.
Don’t miss my other journeys through unexplored India: