Rajasthan, the western state of India, is a name synonymous with kings, palaces and fortresses even well into the 21st century, still maintains the old world charm of the medieval times of laidback lifestyle despite the arid desert covering a large part of the state, good cuisine and old traditions of song, dance and music emanating from magnanimous souls. One place where you can live such an experience is the old hunting palace in the small village of Gajner, 30 kms off Bikaner, in the middle of the desert, on the banks of a veritable oasis!
Gajner Palace is a beautiful place filled with a mix of desert and semi-arid vegetation, hundreds of birds that come there to nest thanks to the oasis and a small yet refined palatial structure where the royal family used to stay. The red central building was built in the architectural style of Bikaner and was used as a hunting lodge more than a century ago.
The rest of the rooms in the gardens are lavishly built in the art deco style of the 1910s and has maintained every architectural aspect of yore. I have been visiting and staying at the Gajner Palace for the past 20 years since January 1997. The very first time I walked into Gajner Palace, I was smitten by the subtle charm and the highly underrated beauty of this abode. The personnel in every good charming hotel is courteous. But the personnel at Gajner Palace is more than just courteous; they are magnanimous at heart and their smiles are genuine and truly touch you. They are ready to help you even before you ask them. Converse with them and they will open up a different world.
Go to the oasis adjacent to the central red building and take a boat ride. Once away from the palace in the boat, you would be able to better appreciate the beauty of the palace from a distance with the colours of the setting sun falling on the red façade creating a golden red sandstone hue. In the distance, on the banks of the lake, at dusk and at sunrise, you can see the animals coming to hydrate themselves.
The dining room is a place worth a visit more than just to dine. The décor is exquisite reminiscent of a royalty that is seldom found anymore. The service is world class. The Rajasthan cuisine on offer is perfectly mated with the correct amount of spices to match all tastes, especially the European palate knowing that the primary visitors to the palace are the Europeans though Australians and Americans have started discovering these little well-hidden secrets of India. If you are more of the heavy spice flavoured kinds, all you have to do is tell the chef, who would be more than delighted to provide you with what you are looking for. Of course, this is not really the place where you would get “foie gras poêlé” or a cassoulet and other complex Mediterranean cuisines. But good North Indian cuisine and Rajasthani cuisine is a given. We suggest you go for the classical “Ker Sangri” in veg and “Lal Maas” in mutton dishes. You would not be disappointed.
At night, the palace takes on a different aspect altogether with the lanterns lighting up the green gardens and the red façade. You begin to hear the plaintive notes of the Rajasthani folk singers that tug you out of your room to go and listen to them. Beautiful local girls perform dances that would leave you mesmerised.
With morning comes the sunrise and the call of hundreds of birds. You wake up with the nature here and enjoy the greenery in the middle of the desert. Dozens of peacocks roam freely in the gardens. Wild boars come to drink at the lake. If you are lucky, you even get to see turtles underwater. Gajner Palace gives you the experience of a charm and subtle beauty that is rarely found anywhere else. This is not really a place where you can do a lot of activities. No, you do not come to such a place to do activities. You come to such a place to do nothing. Due to the nature of my work, fortunately I have managed to come and stay at this palace nearly 200 times over the course of the last twenty years. Honestly if you have nothing to do, come and do it here.
What you can do?
There are a number of things that you can do here. Visiting Bikaner is of course one of the primary attractions. The Junagarh Fort is fantastic. Visit the camel farm and camel research centre in Bikaner. You would be amazed at the varieties of camel that are there and all that they can do. Visit the Bikaner snacks manufacturing unit. This requires special permission which can be arranged. And of course, you can move on to two other destinations from here, Jaisalmer and Jodhpur, both being amazing places to visit in Rajasthan.
– Boutique Charm: 4/5
– Luxury: 3/5
– Personnel: 5/5
– Food & Beverage: 3.5/5
The rating of food & beverage is not to belittle what they do. It is because their cuisine is limited in variety if you are looking at international cuisine. But then we are not looking at international cuisine here.
If you are looking to spend a day or two in total calmness and you do not wish to do anything, Gajner Palace is something that I personally recommend. Not for nothing have I been there so many times in my life.
The only negative point of Gajner is the distance from New Delhi: over 600 kms. If it is part of a tour that includes Jaisalmer and/or Jodhpur, you can certainly think of including Gajner Palace in your itinerary. You will not regret it. If you want to design a great itinerary, do not hesitate to get in touch with me.
The author is well travelled in Rajasthan and designs handcrafted itineraries for discerning travellers for exquisite luxury experiences.
The author and photographer Krishnendu KES.