Chandelao Garh is a well kept secret, a world away from the tourist circuit.
It isn’t hard to see why His and Her Highness of Norway come to relax here, and why the overseas guests return year after year.
Asha our hostess, the current thakur’s sister, has suggested we reach by 8 AM. Just forty KM from Jodhpur, we make it in time for a warm welcome and breakfast in the Raola- the original main quarters in the heart of the garh.
Paratha, kachori, fresh dahi, orange juice and butter… besides the regular fare. We wash it down with chai.
The Garh has history seeped into its dusky pink-rust walls:
Chandelao garh was built by the descendants of Rao Kumpa who fought against Sher Shah Suri and died in the battle of Sumelgiri in 1554 AD. Seeing this bravery, Emperor Sher Shah Suri said, “For a handful of bajra, I nearly lost the kingdom of Hindustan.”
This thikana was granted by the Maharaja of Mewar in 1744 AD, for the bravery in battle displayed by Rao Kumpa.
Our host is Praduman Singh, the 16th Thakur in lineage. He is a conservationist, restorer and works at the grass-roots with the local folk.
Each room has a history. We have tea in the Sileh Khana, where all the guns and rifles were kept for the cavalry riders, always in readiness for the Maharaja.
The stables of yore are converted to beautiful suites.
Everything is solar powered.
Asha, Thakur Praduman’s gracious sister has traveled specially so we can spend time together. The tour she takes us through is peppered with stories shared by her parents and grandparents.
There are rare old pictures on all the walls dating back to two hundred years, including some of Chandalao at the Grand Durbar/ partying with Lord Curzon.
As I gaze on a picture of her great grandfather, Asha talks about the pearl necklace he’s wearing: When my mother found a stray pearl from this necklace, they got it x-ray’d. We were offered a fortune for it.
I fall in love with the room Asha’s grandmother lived in.
The jharokhas look out at the gardens, the main gate rebuilt in later to the scale of elephants coming inside, and to the Thakur’s side of the garh. There used to be a bridge to connect both buildings.
I open an ancient looking chest, revealing the royal vanity case. It’s interesting to think of her gazing everyday at her husband’s picture on one side and Jodhpur’s on the other.
I can see Chandelao wears more jewels than Jodhpur.
As we stroll through the Bishnoi (said to be the first ecologists of the world) village, the host suggests we take a jeep ride through the desert countryside. It’s a heart stopping moment when herds of Chinkara gazelle, Black Buck and Blue Bull bolt suddenly at our approach, to hide behind the Acacia shrubs in the dusty countryside.
We sit exchanging skills and stories with the women from the local community project Sundar Rang, started by the present Thakur’s warm, generously hospitable, elegant grey eyed mother.
We know she’s around somewhere because she’s always preceded by her pet dachshund.
There are smiles and questions about our clothes, jewellery and travel sans a man.
We ask them about their ‘borlas”, the beautiful forehead ornament and one of them laughing says: The husband gifts a borla when we get married. If it isn’t big enough, they can think they’re still un-married. The others laugh and agree.
When the bestie’s phone rings, they ask : Is it your husband calling?
Bestie jokes saying: I’ve left him and come here.
The woman looks her straight in the eye and says with a half-smile: Jaadda aareha hai. Abb na choodd uss ko : The winter is closing in. Don’t leave him now.
We all laugh.
Often, there’s a deep unsaid understanding among women of things said and unsaid, seriously or half in jest. It is beyond shared backgrounds and conditioning. This is one such moment.
I tell them it’s obvious the air conditioning is ruining that lovin’ feeling in urban homes- there’s no upcoming jaadda to save marriages. It is the same temperature in the bedroom throughout the year.
As we sit for a candlelit dinner on the terrace, the moon rises from behind the garh. It looks loony and over-bright. The stars are huge and hanging low in the sky.
It’s just ten PM and every light in the village is switched off.
Chandelao garh is lit up with silvery moonlight.