Saturday, November 27, 2010

Awesome Deogarh!!! - The Hindu

The Hindu


Luxury by design, eco-friendly by choice



Luxury in the tents in the Deogarh Mahal Resort.

Photo: Special ArrangementLuxury in the tents in the Deogarh Mahal Resort.

A stay at Deogarh Mahal, Rajasthan, combines a fairytale setting, a royal lifestyle and care for the environment in a quiet way.

“Dhameero” is taking me to Khayyam. No, it's not a horse like Dhanno of “Sholay” but an army vehicle turned into an open car by the brilliant boys of Deogarh Palace: Veerbhadra and Shatrunjai Singh. “The idea was to have a vehicle that would consume minimum fuel yet merge with the character of the place. Our beloved ‘Dhameero' is a mix of a tractor and a big open jeep,” say the brothers.

The village of Deogarh lies on a plateau northeast of Udaipur in Western Rajasthan (about two and a half hours drive). Being 2,100 ft above sea level, it is shielded from the desert heat and is enveloped by the Aravali range. At the top of the village, and the very heart of the community, is Deogarh Mahal. With its bold battlements, domed turrets and balconies, the Mahal towers over the town below. The terraces offer a commanding view of the surrounding mountains and its rugged rock-strewn countryside dotted by a number of lakes.

Steeped in history

A fitting stronghold for one of the 16 umraos (feudal barons) of Mewar, Deogarh Mahal is over 300 years old. This stone and lime edifice was built in stages as each ruler added to it. The current family restored their ancestral home taking care to retain the integrity of its original style and the many years of history within its ramparts.

Few palaces are more traditional than Deogarh with its mud packed walls and old staircases stretching along neat curves, impeccably kept courtyards with their beautiful greens.

As we move towards our jungle lodge, sounds from the forest silence us: an owl's hoot, the staccato barking of deer, a movement in the hedges, a flap of wings on the branches high above and the cicadas making music. We are in a heritage tent beside Anjana Fort. The softly lit-up open-air restaurant is the best place to watch as the sun sinks into the fort and stars light up the sky.

Early morning, woken by a choir of birdsong, we walk the trail to spot coots, black ibises, painted sand grouse, kingfisher, Rufus tree pies and a paradise flycatcher. We hit the tracks to reach Saind Mata Temple at 1500 ft.

Lunch back amid the agricultural farm was picture perfect with local charpoys neatly laid out to stretch aching legs. Laal maas and vegetables with fresh local produce and live music of Rajasthani dhol ……what more one could ask for?

And then there is Seengh Sagar, the island fortress, an experience I shall never forget. My suite villa unbelievably exquisite, with the lake waters and the rapidly forming hues of the skyline being picture perfect. An eclectic English tea awaited me with an interesting and knowledgeable host, Col Randhir Singh of Deogarh.

Each of the four suites is built around a turret with the balcony being transformed into a daybed covered in jewel-coloured silks. I sat under a huge neem tree in the creeper-strewn courtyard listening to my host's stories while the staff whipped up cocktails from the ‘James Bond bar.' My relentless storyteller ignores my pleas and says, “What's the big deal? It's just another glass!”

Complete package

Eco-conservation is the family's mission in their hospitality business, which is a complete package of environment, tradition and culture. Add to it a whopping dose of luxury. The properties are eco-friendly, disabled-friendly and use only renewable source of energy (solar) and water harvesting technologies. The owners aim to generate more than 95 per cent of their electricity using solar panels, windmills and biogas plants. All the waste generated is treated. They are establishing a sewage treatment plant, which will re-cycle sewage and make it fit for use in the garden. The spa uses beeswax candles, which are supposed to clean the air. Plastic is totally banned; laundry bags are made of jute and Haylide, which is bio-degradable, is used for cleaning utensils, the bathroom, metal polishers and for mopping of floors.

Deogarh has a relaxed rhythm and a heart-stopping beauty. No noise, no pollution… only the parakeet's high pitched call and a myriad of other chirps, whistles, and songs announce the animal orchestra... a goose's honk finishes the notes, at a distance. This is what I call the ultimate bliss!

Plenty to do

Trekking, bicycling, picnicking, bird watching

Explore the countryside on horse or jeep safari

Look royal with a vintage drive.

Enjoy a pool game in Mahal's bar

Take a ride on the local metre-gauge train

Go for day trips to Kumbalgarh or Ranakpur

Just relax in the Spa at the Mahal

How to get there

Deogarh is on the border of Mewar, Marwar and Merwara.

By road: Deogarh is a couple of miles east of National Highway 8. It is 140 km from Udaipur, 280 km from Jaipur and 170 km from Jodhpur.

By rail: Deogarh is on the Western Railway Route, between Udaipur and Marwar junction.

Nearest Airport: Udaipur (about 140 km)

Sharmila Chand is a Delhi-based lifestyle and travel writer.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My Trip To Deogarh!

Luxury is non obtrusive; simplicity is rampant!

The stone on the Highway said: “Heaven Up, Hell down and Paradise Left.”
Obviously, I chose Paradise. No chance in Heaven, Hell is too risky, I thought.Paradise was a destination called Deogarh.

A story of many painstaking years resulting in an abode which is breathtakingly beautiful and exudes a sensuous luxury, combining aesthetic excellence and high functionality, revealing an amazingly detailed recreation of the historical royal tradition in architecture and interior design.

The village of Deogarh lies on a plateau about two and a half hrs drive NE of Udaipur in Western Raj. Its blessed height shields it from the harsh desert heat and is enveloped by the Aravali range, eroded by winds and monsoons into curiously interesting shapes. At the top of the village, and the very heart of the community, is the Deogarh Mahal.The Mahal, dating back 300 yrs, was a stronghold of one of the 16 Umraos of Mewar. Nahar Singhji, the present Rawat of Deogarh opened the formidable gates of the Palace to guests over 10 yrs back.An educationist and a historian, Rawat Nahar Singh ji, spent all his life teaching at Mayo College in Ajmer. Now he had a daunting task in front of him – how to restore the forefathers’ treasure abode. Perhaps the biggest challenge was to retain the period look and old world charm while offering international standard facilities, and to achieve operational excellence without compromising on aesthetic values.Fortunately, the values he had inculcated in his family members literally held the Fort. A deep understanding of the nexus between history and restoration became the guiding principle. The family employed no architect, they took it hands on with the three talented ladies, Bhooratna Prabha Kumari, Namrata Kumari and Bhawna Kumari being the restorative brains working creatively. The two dynamic sons, Veer Bhadra Singh and Shatrunjai Singh completed the dream and the mission to protect the heritage legacy.

It’s a tour in itself to go around the Palace. I chose to take a long walk understanding the saga of each and every corner with audio commentary of famous author, William Dalymple and Nahar Singh ji unravelling the various facts about the Palace.
Daunting Task
Earthy charm rooted in the local mitti forms the outstanding hue of the Palace walls. Each room speaks of the effort taken not to redo the walls but to create a whole atmosphere, keeping its original character alive. The domes are symbols of life itself. The circular ‘ghada’ denotes wealth, the next circular piece ‘amal’ denotes health and the third circle stands for ‘prosperity’.Old furniture, paintings, frescoes, architectural styles are used as emblems to create a ‘recurrent’ theme. Lamps stand on elephant ghantis, old cannon balls round off flower beds. Silk borders on curtains that were designed like old chiks, pankhis and brass torches used as lights… Deogarh can actually serve as a case study in Period Crafts & Art.

Deogarh Khayyams
While I had a choice of Maharana Suite to stay at the Mahal, instead I opted for ‘Deogarh Khayyams.’ As romantic and luxurious the name suggests, these are exquisite heritage tents, situated in the midst of eucalyptus trees with an amazing Anjana Fort standing proud on one side. I had two worries, one of being a kill for the leopard and other to witness the rain coming in. But no excitement whatsoever as nothing happened. I simply had a peaceful sleep. Comfort is of utmost importance and is well noticeable by the minutest detailing everywhere, right from the hot water in the showers to the cosy hot water bottles placed in the beds.

Fort Seengh Sagar
For all those who enjoy their high tea time, Fort Seengh Sagar, the erstwhile duck shooting lodge of the family, is a must visit. A perfect setting for sundowner, I spent one evening just watching the lake, the sunset and many beautiful birds. This is a miniature fortress, originally created as a setting for the grand picnics and parties of the ruling family. Now converted into a 4 suite haven, each suite has been beautifully and traditionally designed. Raag Megh Malhar suite has winding steps leading down to the lower turret of the Fort where an extraordinary bathroom has a bath embedded in a rocky outcrop and lined with green glass marbles.If you want an extra ordinary sense of calm – the joy of Seengh Sagar is just being there and for those seeking the ultimate escape the fort can be taken in its entirety for a private party.

Culinary Delight!
The gastronomic affair at Deogarh is indulgence personified. While the selection of dishes can be as strongly focused on regional specialities of Mewar like laal maas, ker sangdi, gavaar phalli, bharwa lauki, ghatte ki kadi…… it can get as global as Turkey or Barbeque Lamb Chops. If Jalebi and malpuva are served hot with rabri, there is also sinful brownie and tiramisu.

You Are Not A Guest!
The combination of an historically detailed restoration, the simple pleasures of rural life and the indelible warmth of a family who continue to have the passion, talent and flair for restoring and running such a stunning property make this the most complete package. They couldn’t be more right when they repeatedly say, ‘Palace is an abode of the Gods, it is not a hotel. Be part of the family.’One indeed feels a part of the Deogarh family….

Plenty to do in Deogarh
Go for treks. Mata ka temple on a peak is a must trekking route.Explore countryside on Hindalo Camel Cart – designed in –house.Go Bicycling in the village.Look Royal if you opt for vintage drive. ‘Dhameero’ waiting for you….Just enjoy the pool game in the Mahal’s bar.Various serene locations with lakes provide lovely picnic spots.A ride on the local metre-gauge train down a hill makes for a memorable experience.Sit by the lake for bird watching.Go for day trips to Kumbalgarh or Ranakpur.Or simply relax in the Spa at the Mahal.

How To Reach
Deogarh is accessible both by rail and road. It is a couple of miles east of National Highway No 8. By rail, it is on the Western Railway Route, between Udaipur and Marwar junction.City – DistanceJaipur – Delhi 270 kmsJaipur – Ajmer 130 kmsAjmer – Deogarh 145 kmsDeogarh – Kumbalgarh 85 kmsDeogarh – Ranakpur 100 kmsDeogarh – Pali 135 kmsDeogarh – Udaipur 135 kmsUdaipur – Ahmedabad 260 kmsMangliawas – Nasirabad 30 kmsSirohi – Mt. Abu 30 kmsNearest Airport: Udaipur and JodhpurRailway Station: 1 KmBus Station: 1 Km
Published in Hoosta Magazine .

Saturday, May 15, 2010

My Visit To Lapland!

Snow, Snow And More Snow…Truly Magical!

By Sharmila Chand

They made me an angel in the snow. I got peacefully buried, resting under cold white icy layer. While naughty Ronaldo, our friend from Brazil, was busy making me a white mummy, I found myself sitting in the lap of Santa. Was it day dreaming? No, it actually happened at the Arctic Circle in Lapland, the northernmost province of Finland.From the moment we touched down Rovaniemi airport from Helsinki, I was spell bound. What a wonderful sight – snow gently showering over us, white sparkling trees all around, and above all, our smiling good looking host, Jari receiving us with amazing warmth and care.

Stepping into the Lapland, I am all set to enjoy the charms of the place where history, art & culture, mysterious legends, Santa, make it rich and interesting. Located almost wholly within the Arctic Circle, the weather is pretty cool year round. It attracts artists, students, and the searching souls of tourists for its natural beauty and of course, the very famous Northern Lights.The scenery is breathtaking, my group leader, Jari is fantastic and full of enthusiasm and all the activities have been very well organised. These include Skidoo rides, husky sledges, reindeer sleighs, pony traps, skiing, ice fishing and lots and lots of tobogganing and snowball fights. I get into my special gear ie boots and oversuit with gloves, hat and a woolen scarf.
I look forward to my favourite of all adventures and that is meeting smart dogs called huskys. They are all set to take me on a sleigh ride in the snow forest. I did fall off quite a few times but Marek would hold me tight and keep me safe. Little did he know I was falling for him…..!!!

Then Reindeer Safari was as royal as it could be. I just sat back and relaxed while the quiet, almost dumb reindeers pulled my sleigh. I had no idea why they were running so fast and did not know how to slow them down. But soon they reached their spot and came to a halt much to my relief. I was shocked at their robot style functioning, one word from their master and they run mad, no matter if dainty things are screeching away.
Ice Fishing comes next in my itinerary. Snowmobile pulled sleigh ride took us to the frozen river. With very interesting equipments and a trainer, I soon found myself busy drilling a hole through the thick layers of ice. This is a wonderful arctic past time as you sit on the reindeer skins on the frozen ice with your fishing net in the hole and enjoying a hot drink.

Snowmobile to Amethyst Mine. I came back very rich from Lapland. Reason: I got to dig some real gem from the Amethyst Mine. The journey by pendolino, a snowcat pulled tram was great fun and exciting. The presentation was interesting and interactive covering many truths, myths and legends behind this violet gem stone before getting lost in the mine in search of the lucky stone.SnowShoe Hiking took larger part of the day. With nice fitting snow shoes, all walk lovers set out to walk in the snow. The campfire at the end provided the balm to our cold feet. I looked all around, the terrifying beauty of Nature was awesome.
Then came the much awaited visit to Santa Claus village. A few miles outside of Rovaniemi, Santa Claus actually lives here. Seeing thousands of letters being received in Santa’s post office assured me like everybody else, it’s the real home of Santa Claus. I chatted with him and pinched him to believe my tryst with Santa was not imaginary. And yes, he liked me and allowed me to sit in his lap. What a moment!!! Took hours to recover….
Should you travel to Lapland just before December, you will get the chance to experience the kaamos, or period of no sun. While the sunlight is minimal at best during these months, they are in turn a great time to see the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis.
For wildlife lovers and bird watchers, Lapland Finland holds enormous opportunity. Some 300 species of birds either nest or stop in Lapland during migratory periods, so you will definitely want to bring your binoculars when the weather warms up. Bears, wolverines, foxes, wolves, and other animals inhabit the terrain in Lapland Finland, so you may spot some of them as well, and you will surely see some reindeer during your trip. The native Sami People, who have lived in Lapland for centuries on end, subsist almost entirely on reindeer herding, and according to statistics, there are more than 300 reindeer in the region.As night descends, there is plenty to do, since Lapland is known to truly live during the hours of darkness with its abundance of dance clubs, restaurants and pubs. Feast on a selection of local produce cooked on the BBQ including smoked reindeer roll and salmon. There is also the famous local beer and vodka for the spirited ones.

Beneath the mysterious Northern Lights, this beautiful region of Finland can be the ultimate winter destination. From fun-filled day trips, daring activities to longer stays in cosmopolitan Rovaniemi, traditional Yllas or scenic Levi; from dashing across the snow by reindeer sleigh to meeting the real Santa; Lapland is indeed a wonderland.
Think of snow and embark on a dreamer’s vacation to a region where charm, warmth and nature pave the way to escape. Think of Speed, excitement, adrenalin and for sure, you are in Lapland!As our flight took off from Rovaniemi, I craned my neck – one last glimpse of the wonderland. As the landscape started to fade and the mountains with the snow-capped peaks looked so ethereal, I wondered were they pretty fairies. Perplexed, I murmured … Oh I just touched the Heavens……..