It has been said that a man without a moustache is like a cup of tea without sugar. On arrival in Rajasthan, it’s clear there’s no fear of either of these eventualities – the chai is super sweet and the whiskers? Bonkers.
Movember wannabes could learn a thing or two from the Marwari people. Our first ‘tache comes in the form of a giant twirling walrus. Its proud owner is our honk-happy taxi driver, who’s hurtling around sacred bovines like he’s auditioning for 'Top Gear'. An hour from Jodhpur later, he’s managed not to make mincemeat of anything and the crazed cacophony of the villages has faded into silence. And, holy cow, there it is – Mihir Garh. We’ve entered the heart of India’s Thar Desert.
A surreal fort-like sandcastle stands before us – not a Vegas-like monstrosity, but a tasteful palace rising from the arid landscape. Cue tumbleweed – literally. Out comes the manager, Varun (moustache first), who leads us through the cream and terracotta courtyard to the twinkling infinity pool. Painted peacocks parade on clay walls, white couches surround a mud fireplace, and our tropical drinks not only coordinate with the orange trumpet flowers, but also with my friend’s fingernails. Yes, I’ve brought a very lucky pal, Sam, along with me to experience what is clearly a perfect romantic retreat – but even though we’re just old mates, we reckon we’ll fall for this place, too.
Our Alishan twin-suite is more like an opulent private villa, with its own plunge pool and outdoor terraces. I have instant boudoir-envy – of the sexy sequined silk bed throws, dark wooden beams, giant rugs, handcrafted mirrored fireplace, and galloping horse lamps by local artists. It almost looks Moroccan or Arabic in style, but is pure Rajasthani. Even the bins are beautiful.
Dilemma – should we camel trek or visit the local eco-village? Varun reminds us there’s no rush – so that afternoon is happily spent sponsored by Sweet FA. We lazily flick through Indian Vogues, only venturing between our private pool deck and the main pool with its endless top-ups of refreshing lime sodas and lassis. Exhausting! Next up, time for muscle-soothing foot and body massages in the spa, followed by a long soak in our freestanding bath with its epic trio of arched doors looking out to the desert. The huge bathroom even has nightlight mud alcoves for a blissful bathing experience.
Although we’re not a couple, the seduction of the hotel isn’t lost on us. It’s set within vast plains, yet there are only nine suites and intimate romantic spaces abound. There’s a sunset viewing deck in the turrets, chilled reading lounge, alfresco dining loungers and cushioned nooks and crannies – all with vistas out to the bewitching desert. It’s also a twitcher’s paradise. The desert might be dry, but the birdsong is plentiful and roaming antelope up the wildlife quotient.
Mihir Garh’s owners have a rep for having the finest stables of Marwari horses in India. With zero riding experience, we agree it’s safer I don’t mount a stallion. As couples head off on picnic safaris, we dine in the decadence, and safety, of the poolside restaurant. Sun loungers have made way for couches around a fire under the stars. Rose petals have been scattered in the fountains, candles have been lit and drummers hang poolside. Varun and co sure know how to set the mood.
There’s no way we’re ordering Western food, although it’s on the menu alongside Indian and Rajasthani fare (ok, we do consume a room-service burger the following day – shhh!). For tonight we go for never-ending spicy treats such as lentil soup, paneer tikka (marinated and grilled Indian cheese and veg), kofte (meatballs) – plus the finale, an addictive citron chiffon cake with carrot halva, now my favourite desert dessert. The chef and owners come out to meet us, as does Omar, our personal concierge. Omar strives for our happiness. Omar calls us ‘mams’. Omar is 24, but has the most gentlemanly manners I’ve ever encountered. Then, the cherry on the cake (or raita on the poppadom?), as we’re invited to a wedding in a nearby village. Omar will take us there tomorrow. On camels. Stoned on fiery curries, our heads wobble with excitement.
As our party of wedding-crashers approach the village, kids burst out of the school gates and surround us. We get snap-happy as the Rajasthani sun plays with the cheerful smiles, psychedelic saris and Seventies’ attire of the village’s generations. Over the magical day we accept it all – meeting the (rather nervous-looking) groom, dancing to drummers, savouring chai tea and strange fruit. Two girls paint our arms with henna, asking us the names of our husbands. We're 34. We have no husbands – let's move on.
As the sun sets, it’s time for us to be on our way – this time on camels trekking through the spiritually inspiring desert. Passing peacocks and gazelles under the perfect crescent moon, Sam gets philosophical: ‘Seriously, what’s the point of camels?’
‘Are you happy mams?’ ‘Yes, we’re happy, Omar.’
Are you kidding? Everything is bliss. This isn't a typical hotel stay – it restores our faith in humankind. When we eventually fly back to London’s meagre-looking moustaches, with our henna-stained arms, we vow not to start sentences with, ‘when I was in India...’
However, ‘when I was in Mihir Garh’...
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Smith extra at Mihir Garh
A bottle of champagne and a 15-minute massage on arrival, as well as a copy of the cookbook if you join the culinary workshop. For stays of three nights or more, you'll also receive a three-hour camel safari.