In the north-west-Indian frontier of Rajasthan, Rohet Garh is a family-run former fort just outside of Jodhpur. The lakeside palace has been lovingly restored to its former glory – and, as the ancestral seat of nobility in the local maharaja’s court, it’s safe to say its past was rather colourful. Guests can get a glimpse of the golden era courtesy of the stud of Marwari horses, and the cream-coloured cupolas, mosaics and murals that nod to the colonial days; not to mention the pavilion-lined pool, shade-supplying verandahs and manicured lawns.
10am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 11pm.
Double rooms from £108.23 (INR11,209), including tax at 18 per cent.
Rates include breakfast.
Brush up on two life skills – horse riding and cooking – at Rohet Garh’s equestrian centre and cooking school. They also host free folk music performances and magic shows.
1 to 30 June.
At the hotel
Free WiFi throughout, equestrian centre, gardens, laundry, valet parking. In rooms: free bottled water, tea and coffee, and a minibar.
Our favourite rooms
For the most serene view, book a room overlooking the lake to enjoy the tranquil water from your terrace. For more space, opt for a suite, which pack in traditional Indian flourishes of frescoes, murals and columns – as well as cosy, cushioned alcoves that make peaceful reading spots.
There is an unheated, family-friendly pool in a courtyard, surrounded by dusky-pink tiles for sunbathing on.
The Tattva Spa offers impressive aromatherapy and Ayurvedic massages.
Don’t forget your jodhpurs for showcasing the sartorial riding staple in its birthplace; crops and hats optional.
The hotel’s communal areas are accessible for wheelchair users, as is one of the bedrooms.
All ages welcome. Extra beds and breakfast cost around 1,500 rupees a night for children aged 5-10 and 3,000 rupees (about £40) for over-10s; under-fives stay free. Babysitting is not available.
Book one of the bigger rooms, which have space for an extra bed; there are also rooms that are close to each other in their own area of the grounds.
Playing in the gardens, walks into the village, bird-watching, cycling and horse-riding for over-eights.
The unheated outdoor pool is family-friendly.
The food served at the hotel is all bought from local farmers’ markets and grey water is used in the gardens.
Dine under a canopy in the garden for respite from the heat during the day, or sit out under the stars on a candlelit table by night.
Fit for a king – this is the land of the Raj after all.
Colourful murals grace the pool-facing dining room, where lunch is served (if it’s too hot or wet to head outside). Upstairs, the dining tent, with its saffron shades, low-hanging lanterns and embroidered ceiling, awaits come supper time. Expect to eat classic Rajasthani curries, including ones made with green tomatoes, gram-flour dumplings and gravy, and cashew and almond paste. All ingredients have a local seal of approval – they are bought at nearby farmers’ markets. Lunch is lighter, with salads and grilled fish more likely to make an appearance.
Don’t forget to look up in the Dari Khana bar – the carved wooden ceiling is more than 300 years old. The walls are pretty interesting, too: old family portraits and photographs tell the story of the ruling clan who owns Rohet Garh. Bar snacks such as kathi rolls and a Rohet club sandwich are served here all day.
Breakfast is served from 6.30am until 11am; lunch is between noon and 2.30pm; and dinner is available from 6pm until 11pm. The bar is open between 10am and midnight.
The hotel is in the Rajasthani village of Rohet, a short distance south from Jodhpur in India’s north-westerly state.
The closest airport is Jodhpur, a 45-minute drive away. Hotel transfers can be arranged; prices start at about £25 (2,000 rupees) each way. From London, British Airways flies to Mumbai; from there, Air India has 90-minute services onwards to Jodhpur.
The nearest train station is also in Jodhpur; allow 40 minutes to make the car journey. Hotel transfers cost about £25 (2,000 rupees) each way. Indian Railways runs services from across the country.
Rohet Garh is just off the NH64, near the local village of the same name; pick up this road after taking the NH62 out of Jodhpur. There’s free valet parking when you arrive.
Worth getting out of bed for
Head into Jodhpur – the walled ‘Blue City’ of the Thar Desert, named for the sky-colour shade that many of its buildings are painted with – to see the majestic Mehrangarh, a 15th-century fort that is one of the largest in India; the maharaja-commissioned Jaswant Thada cenotaph; and the Om Banna shrine, which honours a deity with a motorcycle. At Rohet Garh, learn how to create traditional Rajasthani cuisine, ride the indigenous Marwari horses, be waited on by liveried servants on a royal picnic, or set off on a ‘village safari’ to learn about local life.
A half-hour drive away, Mihir Garh is an intricate sandcastle formation brought to life, surrounded by desert and dunes of the same shade of beige. Its restaurant offers both Indian and international dishes, and some (chicken-tikka pizza) that are a mix of the two. Settle in for delicious Rajasthani dishes that come with a view of the Umaid Bhawan Palace at Hanwant Mahal in Jodhpur’s Umaid Hills.
Sweet-tooths should not miss a visit to the sugar-devoted emporium that is Jodhpur Sweets in the city to stockpile classic Indian confections for the journey home.
‘Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun,’ says Mr Smith, as he manoeuvres his lounger into the full shade of a parasol. The colonial era turn of phrase seems fitting, given our surroundings at Rohet Garh, an 18th-century family fort an hour’s drive south of Jodhpur.
The truth is that I’m not the only mad dog basking in the dry desert heat. A handful of other guests are stretched out under a high sun. With a cool, courtyard pool to slide into, it’s hard to resist the temptation, as my skin prickles in the warm air and faint memories of British winter melt away.
To stay here is not only to soak-up the climate, but to travel back in time. When we arrive, Mr Smith and I are whisked through a manicured garden, past strutting peacocks and water fountains, to an open-sided lounge. There, a waiter magics chilled glasses of nimbu pani lemonade from behind a mahogany bar and we collapse into low chairs, as a wicker fan lazily clicks overhead.
It’s impossible to shrug this sense of time travel at Rohet Garh, which was built in 1622. ‘We have our share of architectural peculiarities’ a guest letter in our room coyly admits – in case the tiny doorways, winding staircases and arched entrance big enough to fit an elephant through hadn’t already given the game away.
When sun sets, any semblance of the 21st-century fades away, and the hotel starts to resemble the last days of the Raj. A band pitches-up in the garden, and soon sitar music soars above the clink of ice cubes. Sepia images in the bar which capture Jodhpur’s polo team, hunting parties and stern Victorian portraits no longer seem like staring faces from the distant past, but from a far closer age.
Despite the elegant Edwardian setting, dinner is a joyously relaxed affair – no flourishes and fancy garnishes. Instead, it’s top-notch home cooking. The kind which usually comes from a tip-off about an alleyway dive, rather than something you’d expect from a boutique hotel. The creamy tadka dal has simmered away overnight, rogan josh lamb falls apart at the faintest poke of a fork, and the fresh breads are flecked with char and dripping with ghee.
A black labrador brushes against Mr Smith’s leg. It’s owned by a man who shyly introduces himself as a member of the founding family. When the fort was turned into a boutique hotel, he explains how he moved to Switzerland to study hospitality, before returning home to Rajasthan to run Rohet Garh. We ask if there’s anything we shouldn’t miss. He points to the stables of Marwari horses next door, and reminds us that a village safari is included with our stay.
In all honesty, Mr Smith and I had been a bit reluctant – perhaps it’s the fear of voyeurism, or a lingering whiff of colonialism. The fact that the safari would take place in a cool, white Mahindra Jeep was enough to sway us though, and so it was that we found ourselves hurtling along dust tracks the following afternoon, heading out to nearby villages.
‘First of all, we will go to a Bishnoi settlement,’ says our guide, explaining how the families living there are part of a small religious sect, who are at one with the landscape – not even believing in tree felling, certainly not killing animals. ‘There’s a famous Bollywood actor, Salman Khan, who shot two blackbucks here almost twenty years ago, and he is still running away from the law,’ our guide chuckles.
The jeep ahead of us is ferrying a film crew: ‘It’s almost impossible to take a bad picture in Rajasthan,’ they grin as we pull into the village. We’re introduced to the village elder who poses outside his hut, while gaggles of giggling children scamper round him. There are mounds of drying melon seeds from a recent harvest, a doe-eyed calf which has just been born and, in the next village, a potter who uses a stick to flick a stone wheel into action – building up enough momentum to deftly throw balls of clay into pots and platters.
On the way back to Rohet Garh, the Jeep behind us skids to a halt. The film crew clamber out and spin their cameras to capture the silhouette of a lone farmer cycling into a hazy orange sunset. Yet another winning shot.
Later that evening, Mr Smith and I are reading in our room. With no television in the bedrooms, and only a small patch of WiFi in the garden, there’s complete silence. The bedside lamps throw soft light onto the hand-painted walls and block-print curtains, and it strikes me that even in a dark corner of a bedroom in an old family fort, Rajasthan really is picture perfect.