Ooh Aah Devi Garh! Rajasthan, India
Cox & Kings’ Marketing Director, Philip Hamilton-Grierson, has just returned from a trip to Rajasthan in northwest India. Here, he writes about a particularly luxurious haven.
Devi Garh, also sometimes known as Devigarh, is probably the most ‘luxy’ of the many heritage hotels that have emerged from the rubble of crumbling Rajasthani palaces in the last ten years or so. Since opening on Millennium Eve, it has cropped up in many a glossy mag, with its crisper than crisp minimalist marble interiors, its fantasy exterior of cupolas, terraces and balconies, and the odd celebrity guest. But does its allure go deeper than a glamorous exterior and what is it actually like to stay there?My partner and I spent two nights there recently to find out.
The village of Delwara, where Devi Garh sits amid the ancient Aravali Hills, would be under an hour’s drive from Udaipur’s airport if you didn’t get lost. We did. Our more circuitous route took over twice as long and required several stops for our driver to receive conflicting directions from arm-waving locals. Never mind - road journeys in rural Rajasthan are all part of the fun and the extra hour on the road was sixty minutes of gentle surprises and several bovine obstacles.
Devi Garh certainly has wow factor for the new arrival. A manicured drive leads through a large gate into a long courtyard of neat lawns and fragrant shrubs. Above, the palace looms large and imposing. And then you start the ascent. Devi Garh will delight many people, but not those who are unsure on their pins – there are steps everywhere and from memory almost all of them are going up. There are a couple of lifts but they can take you only so far and they don’t deal with either the lowest or highest reaches of this towering palace.
High up in the main part of the palace are the rather ritzy Aravali Suites and Palace Suites. The more ‘basic’ accommodation is in the Garden Suites in a separate ground level area - but basic isn’t even faintly basic, it’s just relative. You’ll have noticed that there’s nothing so humdrum as a ‘room’, just 39 individually designed, elegant, luxury suites.
We were shown to an exquisite Aravali Suite, with two enormous balconies complete with resident parakeets. All the suites have a different theme, usually based around one of the semi-precious stones. Ours majored on inlaid mirrored glass and a lot of white. There was an elegant white bedroom, a long white sitting room leading onto the main balcony, a white dressing room leading onto the other balcony and a vast marbly (white) bathroom. Marble is to Rajasthan what ice is to Antarctica and much of it has ended up cladding the walls, floors, ceilings and pools of Devi Garh. The detail in the rooms is superb, from delicate inlay work, to water bowls sprinkled with scented petals and intricately embroidered silk cushions.
So the interiors are undeniably glamorous, but what about the guests? In a place where relaxation is the main activity, high quality people-watching is a necessity. On this score we were not disappointed:
The Poseur: Our trip happily coincided with a two-day fashion photo shoot. The focus, a male model, was an Indian narcissus of such absurd vanity that every movement was contrived to look like a pose. Every minute he was not in front of the lens or a mirror was spent with a mobile phone pressed against his ear. In his wake trailed a small entourage of people carrying clipboards, make-up, huge lamps and white umbrellas.
The Europeans: The British contingent was primarily made up of well-to-do folk of a certain age and the Queen’s vowel sounds. The other Europeans, mostly Germans and French were younger, smart-looking types who were sufficiently hooked on fashion for the absurdity of the poseur to have been lost on them. But they added a bit of boutique chic to the pool-side.
The Japanese: There was a conga of five or six young Japanese, mostly women, who processed round the palace taking lots of pictures and looking rather self-conscious. These were those cool, sulky looking Japanese, rather than the ever-smiling kind. I suspect they might be big news in Japan – maybe a Spice Girls type outfit.
The Noisies: The peace and beauty of dusk viewed from our crow’s nest was briefly shattered by a gaggle of young women, possibly Bombay rich-kids, who started blasting out a series of faded hits by the likes of Pat Benatar and Bryan Adams from a stereo in their private jacuzzi area. Songs that were agony in the ‘80s were insufferable as the sun set on a gorgeous Rajasthan evening. But once they were asked to turn the sound down we never saw or heard from them again.
The Celeb: On the first evening we took dinner on a lofty restaurant terrace overlooking the pool and beyond. We were talking to the waiter about the kind of people who stay at Devi Garh and, indicating the adjacent table, he whispered: “well here we have Mr Eric the Hollywood actor”. Thinking about it, Hollywood Erics are something of a scarcity – Eric Estrada from the ‘70s motorcycle cop show ‘CHIPs’ sprung to mind but not much else. But turning to the left we made out the unmistakable profile of that star of the silver screen, cod (make that ‘sardine’) philosopher and sometime footballer, Monsieur Eric ‘Ooh Aah’ Cantona. That was more than glamour enough for us and confirmed Devi Garh as a people-watching hotspot.
The following night the hotel suggested we try a private dining experience. There are all manner of niches, courtyards and terraces around the hotel where they will set up a table for a romantic dinner. Ours was a splendid room; left untouched since it was excavated, it was covered in faded mirrored tiles, frescoes and stained glass windows. Lit up by candles it made a wonderfully atmospheric setting for an excellent dinner – with the added bonus of our own musician sitting just outside the room who made some delightful tinkling sounds with an instrument that looked to be made of a series of up-turned jam jars. We just pitied the waiter who had to take on those stairs to reach our eyrie from the kitchen every time we felt the need for some more naan bread.
The only question mark about Devi Garh is whether it is too alluring. Attentive but discrete service, spectacular rooms, excellent food (though not quite so excellent if you stray onto the ‘continental’ menu) a glorious deep green pool and a sumptuously appointed spa don’t give the guest much incentive to go out and about to see the sights - and apparently most stay put. This is a place to relax and unwind, and its many charms and high prices might be rather extravagant for those wanting to spend active days visiting Jain temples, Rajput forts and the like.
However, travelling through India provides such a bombardment of the senses that a truly luxurious haven such as Devi Garh as a sanctuary for reflection at the end of an exhilarating journey is an appealing option. Otherwise, you could always go straight there, forget ‘culture’, live it up like a Maharaja and be indulged for a week. Up to you.