What could be better than spending a weekend in a real Rajasthani palace? Pluck fruits off trees from the orchard, explore old temples or learn how to cook the famed ‘laal maas’ at the Patan Mahal in Rajathan
Distance: 175 km SW of Delhi
Route: NH8 to Kot Putli via Gurgaon, Dharuhera and Behror; Neem-ka-Thana Road to Patan
When to go Winter is best, when you can soak up the sun. During the monsoon, the countryside becomes a picturesque lush green. Summers are very hot
STD code: 01574
Road: NH8 from Delhi is a smooth drive. Patan lies on the Kot Putli-Sikar State Highway, 23 km from the turn-off at Kot Putli on NH8. From Delhi, even with heavy traffic you will reach in less than 4 hrs
Steering your car out of Delhi is indeed a dexterous job, and it is best to resign oneself to the dull frustration that usually accompanies one while negotiating Delhi traffic. But the feeling is also short-lived.
The minute you turn off the national highway at Kot Putli, there is real countryside, the kind that is only imagined by city-dwellers. There are freshly ploughed fields, sheesham and neem trees laden with fruit and the rolling hills are green once again. Delhi and its sprawl, the roiling traffic, suddenly seem like a distant memory.
Driving deeper for about an hour into the hills will lead you to the town of Patan, at the end of which lies an enclosed valley. The Aravalli Range rears up on three sides as you enter the hollow where sits Patan Mahal, a restored 200-year-old palace, amid its fruit groves and vegetable gardens.
As the eye travels up the green hillsides that enclose the mahal, it lingers on ruins from Rajasthan’s feudal past: stone walls, hunting towers, the ornate skeleton of Badal Mahal and, right on top, a 13th-century fort that guards the mouth of the valley.
Time and weather have made these relics immensely picturesque and it is hard to imagine that Patan was the scene of a bloody battle between the Rajputs and Marathas with French troops in 1790 – a fight to the death for a town prized for its riches. The Marathas won the war, eventually marking the end of the Rajput reign over Ajmer and Malwa as well. It is said that the Patan Mahal was so well endowed that it took three days for the marauders to loot it satisfactorily.
Things to see and do
Patan Mahal is a palace-turned-heritage hotel. It is ideal for an idle, laidback holiday. Visitors can pluck fruit off the trees in the organic orchard, explore the modest Shiva temple and picturesque Gopaldwara house on the property or go for a swim. If the mahal is a period piece, with its arches and panelled doors, giant four-poster beds and coloured-glass windows, then the octagonal marble pool is quite simply an Orientalist fantasy. Elephant’s heads spout water on the edges; sweet-smelling damask roses and muraiya skirt the lawns.
The terrace has deep cane chairs laid out under the chhatris. Reserve the evening and nights to while away here. Look down at the town disappearing into the dusk as swallows make their final dives for the day. You will be left marvelling at the view, which is best accompanied with drinks and onion pakoras, a cool breeze tugging at the tablecloth and darkness all around. By nine, the town is quiet and appears almost uninhabited.
As the moon rises higher in the sky, the valley is bathed in milky light. The marble terrace gleams Taj Mahal-like. Nights like these are difficult to come by in a city and are not to be missed.
Exploring the surrounding areas when the sun is up can be a satisfying experience. Urge the manager to show you around the organic farm that adjoins the palace. The fields are planted with bajra, okra and aubergine, lined with banana, pomegranate, papaya, guava, jamun and ber. Purple jamun litter the ground. Walk up to the little dam that straddles the stream bed at the end of the farm.
Again, there is no one there, only bulbuls chirping in the bushes and perhaps a burnished copper crow-pheasant or two stalking through the under-growth.
On the way back, you will pass a whitewashed building with a hand-pump outside. The compound is shaded by bel trees, their trifold leaves symbolic of Lord Shiva’s trident. Climb the stone steps to the open pavilion where the shivalinga is. One can sit here for a long time, looking out at the hills and trees.
To walk off the sumptuous meals, hike up the hillside to the ruins of Badal Mahal and the 13th-century fort-eyrie that is a relic from the area’s turbulent past.
There’s a baoli nearby. Walk down the steps to the lowest level. If you’re interested in crafts, you might enjoy visiting the lac bangle-makers in Patan town. Or learn how to cook laal maas and other signature Rajasthani dishes.
Where to stay and eat
Patan Mahal (Tel: 01574-282311, Jaipur Tel: 0141-2200033; Tariff: INR 6,500, with break-fast; patanmahal.com) is a palace-turned-heritage hotel with 19 spacious rooms; each has its own verandah or balcony. The palace offers a great view of the ancestral fort and of the nearby Badal Mahal.
The chef at Patan Mahal rolls out excellent traditional Rajasthani food. Do try the khata – a kadhi flavoured with smoked ghee – and the lacy malpua, with just the right amount of sweetness. The laal maas and keema kaleji are excellent.