For a moment, I thought I had died and reached heaven, albeit an alternate heaven. The one where I was being driven around in a 1936 Aston Martin. A loud catcall brought me back to reality. I was indeed in a vintage Aston, taking a round of the Badi lake of Udaipur and a bunch of college goers were giggling. No, they weren’t smitten by me. They were floored by the charm of this bottle green coloured beauty on wheels, my ride for the day.
Birthdays in our 30s are not a moral boosting event. We have to work pretty hard to feel better about the numbers. In the last few years, I have tried to cheer myself up with vacations planned around my birthday. While every year the bucket list reads Cambodia or Machu Picchu, I land up in a place close to Delhi, as an excuse for the perpetually time crunch I experience. This trip to Udaipur (not my first though) was one of those, a replacement for the Northern Lights. Did it live up to my expectation?
My next pitstop after Badi lake was a drive uphill the Monsoon Palace in a World War II Willys MB jeep. Perched high on Aravalli hills, the palace, also known as Sajjan Garh Fort, overlooks the Fateh Sagar lake. Named after Maharana Sajjan Singh of the Mewar dynasty, it was built to enjoy the sunset and dreamy monsoon clouds that Udaipur is famous for. A little trivia: The palace appears in the James Bond film Octopussy as the exiled Afghan prince, Kamal Khan’s home. The sunset is worth catching up on.
The vintage cars were courtesy Hemant Periwal, a respected antique enthusiast of Rajasthan. Parked in his farmhouse-turned-resort, the Royal Retreat Resort & Spa, were a fleet of modern luxury cars like the BMW Z4 that I drove, along with some other blasts from past. But, every time these cars were driven around the town, a hotel staff had to follow it on a motorcycle with coolant. Every time the car got heated up, the staff was summoned. No one expect an experienced (also the oldest member of the staff) is allowed to drive these cars. I didn’t mind being driven around. Quite a royal feel. But, then Udaipur can do that to us.
It evokes all kinds of emotions, amplifying the desire to live the life of kings and queens. The 100-room property had the same effect on me. Why? Because it gave me the chance to buy a piece of the glorious past, literally.
A member of the staff while prepping the Jacuzzi on the terrace of my pool facing suite told me that everything that I see at the hotel—chairs, loungers, couches, beds, antique items—were on sale! “It’s one-of-a-kind resort where guests can buy any piece of art, furniture, carpets or décor that catches their fancy,” the staff member said. I made a mental note of the things that I would like to take back home (not without burning a hole in my pocket though).
It took me three days, basically my entire trip, to take a complete tour of the property. Apart from three pools, two lawns, three restaurants and a spa, the resort spread across 10 acres of land, also has a horse riding range and a stable. It’s not for nothing that Princess Jhanavi Kumari of Mewar and Prince Parikshit Singh of Jodhpur chose it for their royal wedding.
While taking a morning round of the resort, I happened to talk to some Rajasthani women clad in bright coloured sarees, who were finishing up their daily chores. The owners of the property have engaged women from nearby Badi village as a part of their sustainable practice. Most of the staff at the resort is local too, who not only understand the culture and cuisine, but also make sure that the guests are duly filled in for the trivia about laal maas and ker sangri. And, of course, all about rare antique items that Hemant Periwal has sourced and put on sale. It was in 1977 when Hemant got into the business of art and antiques, starting Mayur Arts, turning it into a profitable business. The buyers, mostly foreigners, stayed at the farmhouse, which is now turned into a resort. Today, they supply antiques and arts to luxury hotels in Udaipur and Mumbai. Actress Rekha has been a patron for a long time.
On my way to the Maharana Pratap Airport, I took a detour to his antique showroom in the Moti Magri Scheme on the other side of the city. I felt like Alibaba in the famed cave as I entered the showroom packed with antiques, artifacts and traditional craft items. In a quiet corner, a few craftsmen were hunched over frames, creating beautiful miniature paintings.
It was the first time when I skipped the usual touristy things... a visit to the Udaipur City Palace museum, Lake Palace and Jag Mandir. My birthday, away from the ‘age-seekers’, turned out to be an unforgettable episode.