Nestled between the Aravallis in a small hamlet between the two major tourist hubs of Udaipur & Jaipur is Shahpura Bagh. To reach there we traveled off the highway onto the dusty roads which lead through the village by lanes and through an unassuming gate minded by guards quick to give a salute/salaam into what felt like the Garden of Eden. The verdant greenery all around gives way to a monument of white, Shahpura Bagh, which literally translates to “the garden of Shahpura”. The property has two residential bungalows with a dedicated area set aside for cultivation, the produce of which feeds the staff and the guests of the property including the Royal family.
Once in, we were given a traditional Rajasthani welcome, a garland and tilak, and a welcome drink to soothe our parched throats. The reception area where we lounged while our room was readied for our arrival, is a museum of sorts with antiques placed all around sending the collective age of the room into the next millennia. There are photo books placed on table all across the property including the rooms with topics ranging from history to birds to animals to Shahpura itself. We were taken promptly to our room at the extreme end of the main bungalow which was good because of the increase in privacy. The rooms are of two categories, the suites and the deluxe rooms with the rooms being large enough for a small family.
Huge ceilings, windows looking out into the green, comfortable sofas for a sit in, a writing table and some paper and pencils deliciously laid out to charm you into setting your phone aside for a bout of handwritten mails were some of the things we noticed once we entered the room. The gorgeous coffee table photo book on the heritage hotels of India was another thoughtful addition for some bedtime reading. The thin doors with translucent glass panels did alarm us a bit but after the two thick curtains are fully drawn it does not afford a second thought. The bathroom/toilets were a bit small in contrast to the room size but were big enough for normal use. There is a big TV for your viewing needs though why someone would want to sit in the room and watch TV at this beautiful place is beyond us.
We asked someone for directions to the dining area and instead of pointing it out, they happily lead us to the place instead, such was the hospitality of this fantastic place. Famished, we opted for a quick breakfast where we met up with the two enormous, yet friendly dogs who I took an instant liking to, while Nirali went on through various stages of fright as they patrolled her chair for anomalies. Throughout our meal we were greeted by various members of the Royal family, who reside in a separate block of the same building. All of them spent enough time to meet, greet, ask if we were well taken care of and added in a quip and small anecdote from their past years, the entire conversation seeming like one with relatives meeting after a while; our first interaction with royals and we were completely bowled over. The entire staff during the length of our stay showed similar bearings; a measure of respect, concern for well-being and a knack of appearing and disappearing at key moments, something we’ve not seen elsewhere and will surely become a benchmark for all future trips.
The pool deserves a lot more coverage but we’ll try to keep it short. It is an infinity pool with pool loungers inside the pool at two corners seemingly made for people like us who would like to laze around the pool the entire day. The loungers made it an easy choice to wade in and dip our feet in the pool than soak ourselves completely and having to rush back to the room to change for lunch. Add to them the two marble gazebos at the opposite corners and you know what the pool of our dreams are made of. Gentle steps leading down to the pool, a forest on two sides and bird chirps all over with a few incidental peacocks strutting their plumes to attract created an ambiance like none other and easily props this to one of best pools we’ve been to.
Lunch was a snacky affair after the late breakfast and was brought to our gazebo at the poolside. We call it our gazebo because it was hijacked by us for the better part of our stay, it was that beautiful. Evenings by the pool side are a different yet more alluring story with the lights giving the pool an almost ethereal feeling.
Dinner was a much more elaborate affair and due to the non-peak season and our spending more time than expected at the poolside, we found ourselves all alone on a candlelit table with authentic Rajasthani fare. Lovely food, if a bit oily and spicy for our taste, though we were told that the main chef who was on a vacation serves finger licking food and is not to be missed the next time we come.
The property itself is built on the banks of a lake and can be accessed via a marked path, or you could simply ask someone to guide you there. Our guide for the entirety of the trip was Shabbir who was a wonder house of information. He would point out birds, their traits and habitats and the season they can be found on the property. On being praised, he sheepishly confessed that he watches a lot of animal planet and national geographic in his spare time and learns from the more knowledgeable guests as well as Jai, the next generation of the Royal Family, who is a keen bird enthusiast himself. He also regaled us with stories of the royal family and his own experiences at the places he’s worked at before this. All this while taking care to give us our privacy when we needed it, quite unlike the overbearing guides we’ve encountered elsewhere.The wooded area of the property as also the dirt path alongside the lake, is somewhere we would have like to wander about some more but couldn’t because of the short nature of our trip.
We also had a chance to visit the Daikola Fort currently managed by the Royal family. The fort makes for a wonderful visit especially in the company of a guide who tells you little anecdotes about each part of the fort you visit. The part where he explained the mechanism used to transport food from the main kitchen to the King’s chambers without it getting cold, was fascinating. The fort is small and does not take too much time to traverse and you’re quickly led to the spot where they have their sun downers. The sunset is beautiful and though didn’t last long for us because of the cloudy sky, we’re sure it would make for a gorgeous scene in the winters with clearer skies. The main attraction of the sun downer was however something we’ve not experienced anywhere in our travels. At a particular time during dusk, thousands upon thousands of tiny bats, yes bats, stream out of the various exits, of the fort. Though they are impossible to count, we sat there for about 40 minutes waiting for the numbers to diminish or stop, but they just kept coming. Combine it with the scene of the aerial war they had with a murder of crows waiting to attack them as they left their hideout and you have a National Geographic documentary playing out in front of you. Some people may have an aversion to bats or may not be able to take the strong smell of bat droppings but for the rest, this is definitely a must do for your visit.
The Naharsagar Lake is another wonder created by the erstwhile king of Shahpura at a personal cost of 500,000 Rupees during early 1900’s. Today this man made lake which today irrigates thousands of hectares of farm land and has made concerns for water availability a thing of the past for the residents. Their farm is a short drive away from the lake and houses a Banyan tree hundreds of years old. Even if the grandness of the tree does not awe you, the photos clicked with it in the background definitely will. The farm/orchard also has some great walking trails where you can go for a short walk and come back to find a table laid out for you with some munchies and fresh lemonade or a drink of your choice.
From what we were told and our personal experience, winters (November – February) would be the best season to visit. More activities a much better weather and with migratory birds coming in, this already beautiful property would get even better.
To sum it up, Shahpura Bagh has a lot going for it despite it being off the beaten track and having no restored palaces to house the guests in a state renowned for the same. We ourselves would rather stay in this very comfortable property which has all the practical luxuries we need to pamper ourselves, a brilliant staff with unmatched hospitality and beautiful property which is well maintained and has a calm tranquility which a vacation truly demands. If that’s not enough, adding to it the gorgeous pool and the warm, welcoming hosts makes this the ideal R&R spot for weary urban zombies like us.
If you loved it as much as we did and want to book the property right now, you can mail us your requirement, we might be able to arrange a special deal for you.
Shahpura Bagh is an associate member to the community of boutique hotels in Asia “Secret Retreats”