Review by Clemmie Vandeleur, published 6th January 2014.
Ranthambore National Park is famous for its tigers – it’s an area 365km squared and home to 36 tigers. Tourists flock from far and wide to catch a fleeting glimpse of these elusive creatures. So, it’s not surprising that many hotels have sprung up on its perimeters to cater to this (perhaps) barmy crusade. There’s no doubt that visitors come to see tigers first, and their choice of hotel falls secondary. This is my favourite way to stay in a hotel – you have to stay in one because you’ve come to a new terrain to see something special – the hotel becomes functional to a purpose rather than an indulgent meditation on life.
Nahargarh (Garh meaning Fort) is a palace owned by an entrepreneurial royal family of Rajasthan under the group Alsisar Hotels. On first impression Nahargarh felt like a welcoming home with a rich heritage. Over dinner we discussed how much we felt like family friends staying in a lovely stately home come hotel.
How wrong could we be? Our room was a beautiful suite with a four poster bed, chandeliers, cerulean blue painted cornicing, antique furniture, stone floors and a huge bathroom with a bath tub, no modern gadgetry. The palace’s rooms, situated on multi-levels around two enormous central courtyards, were all traditionally elegant. The living areas – a Lancer’s Bar and the drawing room – were perfectly aristocratic and marked by royal paraphernalia, black and white family photos, family crests, the coat of arms, antique bookcases and furniture, and the odd spear here and there. The restaurant, seemingly a previous dining room of kings, had the most incredible mosaic ceilings, elaborate frescoes, and photos of the family.
We’d really found a cosy spot, an old home now welcoming paying guests! In fact, to our surprise, the property had been built in 2004. A fabulous creation that fooled us into thinking we were staying in a palace come hotel, rather than a hotel come palace. The fact that the bed was the most comfortable I have slept in in my life should have given it away earlier. The distinction is important to the traveller. In my opinion I prefer to feel I’m staying in a home rather than a hotel. An extraordinary achievement of the Alsisar group to outflank us into reliving their heritage, and I think this is the beauty of the hotel.
The piece de resistance? Most certainly the food. Although the restaurant serves each meal buffet style, which some may find off-putting, the food makes up for it in every way. The best Indian cuisine I have come across in a long time. Of course enjoying it for three days straight depends on your lust for spice and a lack of salad; mine was quenched. Fantastic pre-safari breakfasts included any type of egg, sausages, cereals etc and very disappointingly, no real coffee. Every other night dinner is a candle lit affair in the gardens of the palace (very romantic, most delicious, and just about warm enough from the bonfires dotted around) where a grand barbeque is put on.
Post-safari activities (twice daily at 6.00am and 2.00pm) could include reclining by the pool, taking refuge in the spa, having a whiskey in the Lancer’s Bar, reading in the drawing room, or watching the evening documentary on the tiger reserve around a bonfire in the courtyard. We really had the run of the mill.
The staff were some of the most accommodating I’ve come across – we borrowed the gardeners bike to take a tour of the vegetable gardens (the kitchen is completely self-sustained) and on missing our train we were taken in again as strangers in the night.
Nahargarh does not offer the pretence you’d expect from a hotel, instead it provides a very romantic, traditionally elegant, and magnificent refuge from the modern world. Despite the fact I saw not one tiger, Nahargarh was a treat in itself and for two days we lived like the majestic animal we’d come to see.
Rooms vary from standard to deluxe to super deluxe. Pricing is done either by half-board or full-board (full-board is advisable since there are no nearby restaurants). Super deluxe full-board is the best value at £163 considering the beauty of the room (much nicer than the others), deluxe at £148, and standard at £124.