Sorry, Brad. Apologies, Angelina. The real Mr and Mrs Smith have just stolen your thunder.
By the time Hollywood’s golden couple arrive in Jodphur, smack bang in the heart of Rajasthan, for a film producer pal’s mega-wedding, the missus and I have already done the town, drunk it dry, hit every hot spot and left wearing the T-shirt.
Jodphur, the ‘Blue City’ of Mughal legend, makes Hollywood look like Hicksville anyway. For starters, instead of a rusting rabble of letters on a hill as a totem, this madcap metropolis looks heavenward to Mehrangarh, ‘Citadel of the Sun’ – built in 1459AD as the world’s mightiest fort (it’s now the castle in the clouds hosting Brangelina).
As views from a hotel go, Rao Jodha’s palace battlement is tough to top. But if Mehrangarh embodies the eyes and mind of the Walled City, Raas – nestled at the foot of that mountain – is the kiss Brahman, god of gods, planted at its feet.
Four heritage buildings of rose-red sandstone make up this most beautiful of hotels. For 300 years it was a family residence, replete with pavilions, stables, guard houses, temples and a guesthouse named Dari Khana – ‘Chamber of Carpets’.
Brothers Nikhilendra and Dhananajaya Singh have refashioned that family manor into 32 rooms and seven suites skirting sprawling terraced gardens, infinity pools, restaurants, spas and boutiques – a place of subtle odysseys for blue-chip travellers not easily awed. From the get-go, the panoramic vista of Mehrangarh – hues shifting with the sun’s movements – guarantees that awe. But thereafter we make Raas an epic of immersion. Outside the hotel it’s a riot of chaotic colour. Inside, birds trill, water tinkles and passion simmers. Best to just go with the flow…
Easy when there’s an ice bucket waiting, and French champagne to drink on the balcony of our Luxury Room. Slick yet rustic, this upstairs suite is freckled by the sun spots refracted through honeycombed jhali (window screens) and set to the music of birds, frogs and squirrels chattering in a hubbub from the frangipanis that frame that view.
The only way to counter the utter bedlam of Jodphur is to hit it hard, fast and often. So our forays outside Raas are conducted like raids. We zip between bazaars and market squares via the labyrinth of dusty veins that circulate the city’s lifeblood, encountering textiles, ornaments, spices, omnipresent sacred cows and humble, happy locals. It’s a whirlpool of energy and adventure but we keep our wits and bearings by the six huge gates – the ancient borders of the city that human tides have long since burst.
Waiting for us, as for generations, is Raas: eye of the hurricane, end of the rainbow. In the morning, woken by wailed prayers from the neighbouring mosque, we’re revitalised. Our days start poolside with the house-special saffron lassi, breakfast drink of deities (a far cry from the oft-touted ‘bhang’ lassi where a liquidised cannabis is added in measures one café described thus: ‘strong/ super-duper sex strong/ full-power 24-hour’).
At night, gloriously spent, we return to one of Raas’s two restaurants, Dari Khana. A haven for romantic dinners, it sits centrally, bathed in floodlights from the Fort up above and swimming in the scent of the hand-ground spices chef Vishal Gautam lets us source with him from a 200-year-old spice arcade on the arid outskirts of town.
With limbs zinging from exotic scrubs at the spa, we kick back as karma kicks in. A red sun is setting over the Blue City. Frogs hop from their ponds to the pool and serenely breaststroke up and down. Bollywood operettas are wafting from speakers hidden in the shrubbery and candles sit spluttering light from arched nooks in the haveli (Maharaja’s mansion).
I suspect Brad and Angelina might refer to this twilight zone as ‘Hollywood Hour’. Whatever. Right now the real Mr and Mrs Smith are, like Mehrangarh, sitting pretty.