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A pricey palace

Asia » India » Rajasthan » Gajner - 26/27 January 2016

sunny 28 °C

Imagine, if you will, a sprawling red-sandstone building with 45 guestrooms set around stately courtyards, terraces and balconies in over 6,000 acres of wooded land.

Imagine too the tranquil setting of such a stately edifice, beside a vast lake shimmering in the heat of the Thar Desert just half an hour’s drive from the noisy, smelly city of Bikaner.

Give a thought to its builder, Maharajah Ganga Singh of Bikaner, in the early-1900s entertaining British Raj dignitaries, like the Prince of Wales and the Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten. They were doubtless thrilled to slaughter anything that moved during their visits to this elegant hunting lodge. The Imperial Sandgrouse Shoot here each Christmas was said to be the hottest ticket in the Indian social calendar of its day.

The demise of the Raj and the loss of all maharajahs’ royal status following Independence resulted in this getaway resort, the Gajner Palace, becoming a heritage hotel in 1976. My guess is that, after they’d restored the place, they dismissed the maintenance men!

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Yes, there’s still a glimpse of the elegance of days gone by at the Gajner Palace Hotel. Service, from smartly-uniformed staff, is deferential, efficient and discrete. Parched green and brown lawns and hedges are neatly trimmed, pathways are swept by ladies with swishing brooms, a rangoli (a traditional floor decoration) in the courtyard beside reception is refreshed with new flower petals each morning. An elaborate restaurant, once the maharajah’s ballroom, could hold hundreds for a banquet and is perfect for silver-service dining. Part of the station waiting room (did I forget to mention that this place had its own railway line to Bikaner once upon a time?), now dominated by huge Banyan trees, has become a suite of rooms.

My own historic suite in the Dungar Niwas wing was where British dignitaries stayed during their leisure trips. This high-ceilinged room, larger than all the bedrooms in my house back in England put together, was equipped with a double bed, a sitting area with a dining table and chairs and a view through mosquito-screens to the lake, and niceties like a flat-screen television and WiFi that didn’t work.

The pale-blue, patterned wallpaper, beginning to show its age, had begun to peel in places. The room was clean and decidely cool. Indeed, a roaring coal fire in its empty, beautifully-tiled fireplace with plastic flowers on the mantelpiece would have struggled to warm this vast space; the single oil-filled electric radiator provided instead was sufficient only to dry a pair of freshly-washed socks.

The huge, white-tiled, marble-floored bathroom with its stained roll-top bath, a hand-basin only slightly smaller and a toilet pan built for the heaviest backside was utilitarian Victoriana and supplied with enough toiletries to wash an entire rugby-football team. Towels slid easily to the floor when placed on a rail that was almost attached to the wall.

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My research suggested that a neighbouring wildlife sanctuary was worthy of a visit. At the time of booking my room, I’d enquired whether the hotel could organise this and, if so, how much it would cost. Nine emails and as many weeks passed before I received a reply that they could, at a cost of 1,000 Rupees (about £10). When I went to book it at reception, it turned out to cost 3,000 Rupees – for an hour!

Instead, I walked beside the lake and around some of the estate, discovering ample birds and wildlife, free of charge

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Perhaps I’d missed some dire warnings about this faded monument. Others clearly hadn’t as there were more staff than the tiny handful of British and German guests in residence. Perhaps it was more to do with price – at over 12,000 Rupees (£120) a night for bed and breakfast this would be expensive almost anywhere, but by Indian standards it’s outrageously bad value for money.

The hotel’s publicity encourages visitors to ‘Discover Rajasthan’s best-kept secret’. I actually think it’s best kept a secret!

Posted by Keep Smiling 08:00 Archived in India Tagged india rajasthan gajner

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Comments

Oh dear, this doesn't sounds the best of places to stay indeed - maybe a bit too reminiscent of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel?! But you came away with some great bird and wild boar photos as compensation :)

by ToonSarah

Sarah, yes this was a strange place, wallowing in its past glory - with decor that was certainly past it.

At least my brief stay gave me an opportunity to stretch my legs and to get good close-ups of the wildlife, particularly Eurasian Spoonbills, birds I hadn't been able to approach so easily before.

by Keep Smiling

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