Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Review of Lakshman Sagar by Sharell Cook

View of Lakshman Sagar Zanana (Women's) Tower. 
Rakhee Ghelani

There are plenty of hotels that don't live up to what's portrayed on their websites. Lakshman Sagar isn't one of them. From the moment you arrive, this spectacular hotel will mesmerize you with its striking concept and design, attention to detail, and outstanding service. It tops my list of hotels in India that I've stayed in.

Lakshman Sagar: Location and Setting
In terms of accessibility, Lakshman Sagar is situated near the village of Haripur in the Pali district of Rajasthan, off National Highway 14. It's approximately two hours drive from Udaipur, Jodhpur, and Ajmer (near Pushkar). Guest also frequently come from Jaipur.

The location is an aspect of Lakshman Sagar that holds particular appeal. Rural and rustic, and just incredibly picturesque and peaceful, it's set around a ridge with a large lake (sagar means lake or ocean in Sanskrit) below. One of the only sounds you'll hear there is that of birds -- the splash of ducks in the water, and the call of peacocks during the day and owls at night.

The first thing to catch my eye as I approached the hotel was the gleaming white and pink Zanana (women's) tower. It's imposing, but the extensive grounds that lay beyond really took my breath away.

Lakshman Sagar was originally a royal 19th century hunting lodge, owned by the then Thakur of Raipur, who hosted noble families and British dignitaries there. The Mardana (men's) tower has been converted into a breezy white and blue dining space, with a kitchen below it, while a swimming pool has been cut into the rock plateau behind the Zanana tower. Day beds, sheltered by thatching of dry vegetation, line one side of the lake. And, 12 mud and stone guest cottages are spread out over the 32 acre landscape

The way the hotel has been constructed is ingenious. It blends old and new in a very chic way. Eco-friendly architects Revathi and Vasanth Kamath, as well as Delhi interior designers Sahil Bagga and Sarthak Sengupta, have shown remarkable creativity in using local products and culture for inspiration. Not all of their ideas are obvious though. One of the hotel staff pointed out the light fittings, made from recycled and painted milk cans and truck diesel filters. I never would've guessed!

Lakshman Sagar: Accommodations
The 12 cottages are no less stunning than the rest of the property. They're very spacious (around 900 square feet each), and have independent bedrooms, living rooms with fireplaces, private plunge pools overlooking the lake, and stone bathrooms with rain showers. 

I loved the way my cottage was furnished, with cushions and rugs providing the bursts of color that Rajasthan is known for, against the earthy beige dried mud walls. Yet, it was the unexpected extra touches, usually not found in hotels, that really impressed me. I found freshly ground plunger coffee in the fridge, a tray of incense cones in the living room, and twigs from a Neem tree in the bathroom (this is how teeth are traditionally cleaned in India). The rain water shower was absolutely divine, although the curious wild peacock that peeked through one of the windows while I was bathing brought me back to reality!

For what you get, the room rates at Lakshman Sagar are reasonable. A double cottage costs 13,500 rupees ($250) a night, including all meals and in-house activities such as cooking classes and nature walks. Alcohol is extra, but the hotel doesn't try to make money from this. The bottle of wine in the mini bar in my room was priced less than at restaurants where I live in Mumbai.
Lakshman Sagar: Food and Dining
Lakshman Sagar aims to give guests a taste of Rajasthan. There's no fixed menu but rather guests are served a range of dishes from the region according to their preferences. The friend I was traveling with is a big foodie, and she was delighted to be able to get the recipes off the chef and see a cooking demonstration. On the other hand, I was particularly pleased with the organic vegetable garden at the front of the property, which provides much of the ingredients for the meals.

The splendor of the hotel really reveals itself at sunset, and it's best enjoyed on the rooftop of the Zanana tower with a cocktail. To get up there, we climbed three flights of stairs past a bubbling water fountain, dining room, and writers alcove all in eye catching hues of white, blue and pink.

Although Lakshman Sagar is a luxury hotel that's worth staying in by itself, admirably the hotel also focuses on providing guests with an "experience" centered around rural Rajasthan and village life. One of the best ways to have this experience is by going on the field breakfast. We were driven by jeep to a nearby village home where pristine day beds and a table were laid out for us, overlooking a carpet of green crops. A village woman was preparing the breakfast, cooking whole grain parathas over a fire. As we ate, we watched bright green parrots playing amongst the stalks of wheat. 

Lakshman Sagar: Activities
The variety of activities offered by Lakshman Sagar is extensive. After breakfast, we went for a walk through the fields and visited some more village homes. We drove past a henna plantation, marveled over thousands of bricks being made by hand, saw huge piles of chillies drying, and walked through Raipur town to the old Raipur Fort (built by the rulers in 1606 and which still remains inhabited today).

Other activities that are possible include nature walks and bird watching, a trip to a wildlife sanctuary, picnics, horse safaris, fishing, yoga and meditation, and massages.

If you're interested in rural tourism in India and exploring rural Rajasthan, but don't want to sacrifice comfort, Lakshman Sagar is a highly recommended destination. Alternatively, it's a rejuvenating place to pamper yourself in the desert, while talking a break from city sightseeing. 

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