A haven of Rajasthani heritage, desert-set hotel, Suryagarh is a passage into India’s past. Within this colonnaded, sandstone stay, the spa offers pummelling and scrubbing with hot stones and sand (it’s really very pleasant…) and the hotel’s the Legend of Marwar restaurant serves tempting traditional fare amid the dunes while you watch the sun sink into the sand. With one of the hotel’s expert guides at your side, jump on a camel, or into a four-wheel drive, and set out into the desert to discover Rajasthan’s lost cities, forgotten fortresses and ancient temples.
72, including 32 suites, of which four are standalone havelis.
Noon, but flexible for up to two hours, subject to availability. Check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £88.76 (INR8,275), including tax at 18 per cent.
Rates usually include a buffet breakfast featuring western dishes and Indian specialities.
Take yoga classes or DIY guided chanting and meditation using a pre-loaded iPod – after all, you’re in the birthplace of Zen thinking. Alternatively, if you’re more into combat than contemplation, take a lesson in the ancient art of dhanur vidya archery.
At the hotel
An akhara (fitness centre), a taash (cards and billiards room) and free WiFi throughout the hotel. In rooms: TV, minibar, bottled water, tea- and coffee- making facilities and air-conditioning.
Our favourite rooms
Just a short walk from the main hotel, the one and two bedroom Havelis offer couples and families more privacy and freedom. Centred around lantern-lit courtyards, the villas bring traditional Indian living into the 21st century, with intricately carved stone reliefs both inside and out; each has a private pool, too.
When the Indian sun proves too hot to handle, retreat inside to the indoor pool, dubbed neel (Sanskrit for blue). Inspired by the striking sapphire plumes of native peacocks, as the name would suggest, the space is very blue; blue walls, blue ceiling and – naturally – blue pools.
The Rait spa has a sauna, rooftop pool and therapy rooms with private hot tubs. International and Indian therapies cover every part of the body from head to toe. Enrich your hair with an aloe vera and frankincense treatment or have your skin cleansed with a desert-berry scrub and native Acacia tree oil. If you haven’t seen enough sand, treat yourself to a traditional therapy involving an exfoliating spice scrub and an hour-long massage, where heated potlis (pouches) filled with Jaisalmer sand give you loose, laid-back muscles.
With temperatures hitting 40° in the summer, pack lots of loose, light-cotton and linen clothing. Haggle for dupatta scarves in Jaisalmer to keep a cool head in the scorching midday sun.
Children of all ages are welcome. However, the hotel’s better suited to older children who can entertain themselves. A baby cot or extra bed can be added to your room (except Fort Rooms). The restaurant Nosh has highchairs.
Share a breakfast table with peacocks, picnic in a hidden oasis and dine on meals inspired by past travellers while watching the sunset over the dunes.
Loose linens and a patterned pashmina for chillier evenings.
The hotel has two restaurants to choose from; Nosh and Legend of Marwar. The latter is a formal, adults-only restaurant serving food inspired by traditional Marwari recipes; years as a major trading outpost on the Silk Route mean this area has a very unique native cuisine that combines local ingredients and techniques with flavours from afar. Chef Megh Singh’s signature thali (a multi-course meal made up of lots of sharing platters) brings together a mix of Rajasthani and Persian flavours, first brought to this area by the Persian Bhatiara community who travelled here with the Mughal armies in the 16th century. Take a break from rich dishes in the hotel’s all-day dining room, Nosh, which serves a variety ofinternationalfare in a more casual setting.
Parched after a day of wandering the desert? Quench your thirst at Draksh bar with the hotel’s signature Suryagarh Sunrise cocktail.
Nosh is open every day from 7.30am to 10.30pm, and Legend of Marward is open for dinner from 7pm to 10.30pm. Draksh bar serves drinks from 11am to 11pm.
Suryagarh is located on the old Silk Route, in the Thar Desert in north-west India. It’s about 30 minutes outside of the Golden City of Jaisalmer, known for its yellow sandstone architecture and a great fortress that dominates the skyline.
There are daily flights from New Delhi and Jaipur to Jaisalmer airport, a 30-minute drive from the hotel. The Smith24 team can arrange flights and transfers; call anytime, day or night.
Six different train lines connect Jodhpur to Jaisalmer; the quickest journey takes just under five-and-a-half hours (indiarailinfo.com). The hotel is only 30 minutes from the station and they can arrange a one-way transfer (INR1,500 a vehicle).
You won’t need a car unless you want total freedom to explore; if so, hire one at Jaisalmer. Do some homework before you arrive: some companies only offer 24-hour rentals. The hotel has free on-site parking and a valet service.
Worth getting out of bed for
Just a 30-minute drive from Suryagarh, Jaisalmer city is well worth a visit – if not to try local delicacies and explore the buzzing bazaars, then to view the Golden City’s vividly hued architecture and 800-year-old, 99-bastioned fortress. As part of Suryagarh’s efforts to immerse guests in Indian culture, the hotel offers a variety of expert-led adventures: learn about native religion and folklore on a temple trail through the Thar, take a midnight drive over the dunes to ghost-hunt Indian-style – seeking out chudails (native spirits) and search for fossils from a time when the desert was an ocean, while trekking through it on a camel with no name.
Due to its Hindu heritage – and because historically, meat didn’t keep well in the searing desert heat – Rajasthan has one of the highest numbers of vegetarians in India. Head to Desert Boy’s Dhanito get a taste for the state’s veggie delicacies like dal bati churma, which is made with use ghee, cumin powder, garam masala and a lively rack’s worth of other spices. If you can’t handle the heat of this outdoor restaurant in the day, join the throngs of people who flock here for the nightly performances of Rajasthani music and dance. On the other side of the old fort, near the vibrant Sandar Bazaar, is rooftop restaurant The Trio; try local favourites like meaty lamb curry, laal maans, and Rajasthani speciality, Gatta Sabzi, while soaking in views of the old Mandir Palace and the Golden City.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from desert-set luxury hotel Suryagarh, unpacked their sari and taken their camel back to the zoo, a full account of their desert dalliances will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Suryagarh…
Four hours into the drive through the Thar desert to Suryagarh hotel, the stark, yet golden, landscape starts to merge into one endless sand dune; on the remarkably flat horizon, Suryagarh rises seemingly out of the sands. Slowly the yellow-sandstone building turns from a small sandcastle in the distance to a monumental fortress, dazzling in the searing Indian sun. Behind its walls, far finer features lie; a colonnaded courtyard with delicate Indian tracery covering the walls and local artefacts which conjure thoughts of a bygone era. Suryagarh’s staff are very proud of and eager for you to experience their heritage; get bendy before breakfast and greet the dawn with sun salutations, then spend a day roaming the dunes in search of temples and the ancient capital of Lodurva, followed by a late-night drive through the Thar Desert in search of chudails (spirits that haunt abandoned cities). So intent are Suryagarh on immersing guests in local culture, that they take you to meet locals both alive and dead – but don’t worry, you’ll sleep very soundly.