Children playing in the dusty, unpaved street watched as our car slowly drove past. The cows with swishing tails didn’t even bother to glance our way. Our driver was trying to find our hotel, The Gulaal, and stopped a couple of times to ask directions of smiling locals. While the street was sparsely dotted with buildings, we could see the hilltop fort in the distance, and it looked exactly like the view on the hotel’s website, so surely we were close. Then we turned another sandy corner and heavy wooden gates in stone walls opened for us to enter the paved enclosure.
The Gulaal Hotel is a relatively new hotel (2013) but its golden stone is still architecturally pure to the traditions of the city – that is the law, and it is a good one. It is a “luxury boutique haveli”, and it certainly has that sense of intimacy that one would expect staying in an historic mansion. There is also a lovely combination of relaxed formality from the staff, especially from the owner, Virendra Singh, who leads his team with a smiling, assured and calm manner.
While our luggage was taken to our room, Virendra gave us a tour of the property to get our bearings. The benefit of creating this high end accommodation as a ‘new build’ rather than renovating a heritage property has resulted in a finely thought out design and immaculately presented finished product. To ensure that the service matches the quality of the surrounds, Virendra has staffed his hotel with competent, attentive and friendly people who have a keen eye for detail in all areas of their work.
When we were shown the garden and pool area, I immediately gravitated to the compact spa facilities sequestered in the corner of the garden. After a long journey, rest and relaxation is a priority, and so we booked a couple’s massage. The masseuses were highly skilled practitioners who tailored their ministrations to our individual needs, ensuring two very mellow and happy guests when they were done.
Havelis were traditionally ‘courtyard’ mansions or townhouses, and The Gulaal has a long open spaced courtyard, incorporating the reception and guest lounge area. Its twin light wells bring air and natural light to the ground floor and interior balconies, with breezes teasing the brightly coloured soft fabrics hanging from the scalloped stone arches of the high ceilings.
There are 12 beautiful rooms to choose from at The Gulaal – 8 deluxe rooms and 4 suites. We were shown to the Garden Suite, with its expansive views of the pool, garden and fort, which could be enjoyed from the room through the triple window “tibari” or from the large traditional “gokhada” balcony.
The suite itself combines clever design and classic décor with a touch of the contemporary, and is amply spacious, but still intimate. The reconstituted mosaic stone of the floors and bathroom benchtops are sleek and luxurious. The colour schemes are a nod to modernity, but reflect the heritage of the area of Rajasthan.
And the attention to detail is not limited to the rigorously thoughtful design, the staff are the perfect ‘pre-empters’ of your every desire. As we sat on the rooftop terrace waiting for sunset, blankets ‘appeared’, providing comfort as the temperature dropped. The windows in our suite were also closed just before the sun disappeared, otherwise mosquitoes would have the invitation to feast on unsuspecting guests. A delivery of delicious homemade fennel seed shortbread was also made during the evening servicing of the room for the guests to discover after their return from dinner.
The real delight in this gem is the rooftop terrace where we spent most of our time. It was utterly atmospheric as the sun set and in that sweet time afterwards as the light completely faded from the sky and the first stars appeared. The view could not be more perfect as we sat on cushioned chairs in prime position to watch the fort light up. Well-spoken young men waited on us with drinks and food, with candles and lights located in ‘just right’ positions around us. I was seen working on my laptop, and was asked if the wifi was satisfactory. So attentive, but their vigilance is from a distance, never invasive. One only has to lift one’s head and someone responds.
After a full day of driving, a massage, some sightseeing and a light, leisurely, rooftop dinner, our early night resulted in a superb night’s sleep; another testament to the quality of The Gulaal – blissfully comfortable beds!
We started to stir at the call to prayer the next morning, and just managed to get dressed in time to sit for a while on the rooftop terrace before the sun came over the horizon. No sooner were we seated than one of the helpful young men presented a soft, tightly woven Jaisalmer made blanket to ward off the chill and took our hot beverage order. Rugged up and cradling cups of hot tea, we waited. The sun soon peaked over the neighbouring rooftops and trees – a great sunrise view is always guaranteed in a city with no rain, and hence no clouds.
The city of Jaisalmer was already awake. There were the distant noises of the train tooting, trucks sounding their musical and tuneful horns, an occasional rooster, dogs yelping before the ‘mouthing off’ broke into a full on dog brawl, construction workers yelling over the top of their dump trucks, birds twittering. A pre-recorded perky song could be heard coming from a vehicle making its rounds – apparently an initiative of President Modi to encourage people to bring their garbage out to the truck as it drives by in their street – kind of like a trash-collecting Mr Whippy van. In the distance I could see a little boy with his backpack being dragged hurriedly by the hand by his big brother. Late for school, and he was not impressed. Another rooftop revealed a different boy going about some chore or other. Maybe he had ‘Mondayitis’ and wasn’t going to school. I couldn’t blame him.
As we watched and waited for the ‘finale’ of our morning spectacle, our breakfast order was taken. Before long the cheeky peaking over rooftops became a full blown, glorious diva moment and she flashed her colour and light against the walls of the golden city and her fort. ‘Ta-dah!’
Breakfast was delivered and hurriedly consumed before the chill of the winter morning desert air compromised the pleasure of eating it. Before long the rays began to tickle us with warmth and we had to think about moving on to our next stop. Not sure that we were ready for that just yet, but the itinerary was set and another city and hotel awaited.
We said goodbye to our new friends at The Gulaal, and Virendra warmly shook our hand, blessing our future travels. I know that there is so much more of India to see, but I am sure that we will be returning to The Gulaal in Jaisalmer.
Accommodation: The Gulaal Hotel
Tour Company: Intense India Tours