Picture a sandcastle on the grandest scale and you're half way to imagining Mihir Garh boutique hotel, a fairytale fortress in Jodhpur's rugged Thar desert. Meaning 'Fort of the Sun', Mihir Garh dazzles with its lavish oversized suites, private plunge pools and pinch-me-quick wildlife encounters.
10am. Check-in, noon. Both are flexible subject to availability.
Double rooms from £347.36 (INR32,624), including tax at 18 per cent.
There are two rates: the bed and breakfast rate, which includes daily à la carte breakfast, and a breakfast and dinner rate.
Saddle up for a ride on one of the Singh family's prized Marwari stallions, then slip into Tulsi Spa for a muscle-soothing massage.
As the summer months are scorchers here, Mihir Garh closes its doors during May and June.
At the hotel
Riding stable, gardens, library with books and DVDs, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, DVD player, minibar, Mountain Valley toiletries.
Our favourite rooms
Co-owner Rashmi Singh has filled the nine luxe suites with bespoke furniture, jewel-bright bolts of fabric, mirror-flecked fireplaces, hand-knotted rugs and curvaceous stone bath tubs. In summer the standout is the ground-floor Alishan Suite, with its private plunge pool and sun-drenched deck. If it's cool, head for a first-floor Shandar Suite, where an outdoor Jacuzzi beckons.
The shapely infinity pool – the focal point of this fairytale fort – is surrounded by deep couches and cushioned sunloungers on a slate-tiled terrace. It looks out over 180 degrees of desert-defying grounds flaunting fragrant champar, bougainvillea and improbably lush lawns. Come dusk, the squawks of parading peacocks will soundtrack your swims.
Breezy cottons, a broad hat and serious shades are a must. Come winter, you'll also need to throw in some layers as temperatures drop dramatically at night. Bring a camera with a decent zoom if you're keen on snapping some wildlife – your iPhone will never do it justice.
Smoking is allowed outside. Pets aren't permitted, so get your animal fix from the stables of mighty Marwari horses, safari-ready camels, wild deer and prancing antelope that call this neighbourhood home.
Kids of all ages are welcome. Baby cots and beds for under-fives are free. Extra beds for children aged 5-10 can be added for INR1750 (plus tax) a night; for over-10s it’s INR3500 (plus tax) a night.
Children are welcome: baby cots and extra beds for under fives are free.
Kids under the age of five stay for free, but children of all ages will get a kick out of the wildlife encounters.
The two-bedroom Mihir Suite is the pick for families, featuring a king-size bed and two twins, along with a private courtyard, deck and plunge pool.
Animal-spotting tops the list of things to do, whether it's scoping gazelles from the private terrace or spying blackbuck deer from the back of an open-topped jeep. Camel rides and village visits will also appeal to junior Smiths.
The pristine pool has a shallow ledge, inflatables and lifeguards from 6am to 6pm to ensure safe splashing. Each suite also comes with its own pool or Jacuzzi, so you'll have to keep an eye on little ones.
The restaurant is a family-friendly zone at all times, with highchairs, a children's menu and a kitchen team that's only too happy to prepare packed lunches or heat up baby food and milk.
Free babysitting with hotel staff can be arranged at any time.
No need to pack
Baby cots, highchairs and buggies are all at hand.
Mihir Garh is smack-bang in the desert, so rainwater is harvested and those gardens are kept green with recycled water. The sun is put to good use too, with solar panels used for electricity.
Climb the winding staircase to the rooftop terrace for sunset drinks followed by a private dinner à deux.
Pared-back classics are the way to go. Throw a wrap around your shoulders for mid-winter meals.
Lamp-lit by night, sun-filled by day, the elegant restaurant is decked out with high-backed rattan chairs, fresh-cut flowers and objets d'art. Chef Bahadur is a dab hand at regional Rajasthani, Indian and European cuisines, and he'll happily create a bespoke menu for you given a few hours' notice. Specialities include raan (spiced-crusted roast lamb), chicken pilaf and gatta, a luscious yoghurt-based curry with chickpea dumplings.
Sip on a Kingfisher beer, Indian sauvignon blanc or ice-cold gin and tonic on the poolside terrace while you take in the nightly performance of live folk music.
The kitchen stays open until 11pm; the bar keeps pouring until the last guest heads to bed.
Crowd-pleasing Indian and western snacks are available 24 hours a day.
Mihir Garh is located in the middle of the Thar Desert, 55 kilometres south of Jodhpur.
Touch down at Jodhpur Airport (www.aai.aero/allAirports/jodhpur), 60 kilometres away. Jet Airways (www.jetairways.com) and Air India (https://book.airindia.in) fly in daily from Delhi, Mumbai, Jaipur and Udaipur.
The Jodhpur Railway Station has good rail links with the rest of the country. Visit www.indianrail.gov.in for timetables and fares.
Travel times are lengthy in this neck of the woods. The drive from Delhi will take around nine hours; Jaipur is five hours away. If you want to travel by road, seek out the services of TWX (+91 11 4379 9700; www.travelworldexperiences.com), who can sort out flights and drivers for this and other trips across India.
Worth getting out of bed for
Though you may spot the odd bluebill buffalo or prancing antelope, the signature village safari lets you experience life in rural Rajasthan as you visit local Vishnoi and Brahmin communities. While the Bishnoi are all about clean living (all plant and animal life is sacred), the blue-housed Brahmins might invite you to join their opium-drinking ritual. If you're handy with horses, go for a ride on one of the beautiful Marwari stallions. The equestrian programme offers everything from quick morning trots to overnight treks. Or, join the curiously named camel pleasure trip for a jaunt through the dunes. Gourmet guests can take part in the culinary workshop and whip up recipes from family matriarch Thakurani Sahiba Jayendra Kumari, who penned a number of cookbooks on traditional Rajasthani cuisine.
The hotel's mid-desert location means dining options are kept to a minimum, so Mihir Garh cleverly offers a host of food-focused experiences. The Shikaar dinner starts with a 15-minute camel-trek to the Shikaar camp, where you're greeted with a glass of wine and a performance from the Kalbeliya, Rajasthan's famed gypsy musicians. Mashaal lanterns lead the way to a central fireplace, surrounded by traditional chaar pai (cushioned beds), where you're served a procession of thali dishes and delicious barbecued meats. Mihir Garh's royal picnic takes place in elaborately tassled tents beside one of the small lakes that dot the region. If you don't want to leave the comfort of the hotel, an imperial private dinner can be arranged in the grounds, with local musicians and a specially crafted menu making for a memorable meal.
Pay a visit to Rohet Garh (+91 291 243 1161), the Singh family's home in the nearby town of Rohet. At this 300-year-old haveli and boho boutique hotel, enjoy afternoon tea in the manicured gardens, flanked by roaming peacocks and fragrant champa (frangipani) trees.
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...’