7th September 2017
I first discovered Castle Bijaipur back in 2002. Since then I have been back countless times and it’s fair to say it’s one of my absolute favourite places to stay in India. Not only is it located in a very special part of the country, but it offers a wealth of experiences to enjoy, making a lengthy stay here more than worthwhile.
Castle Bijaipur was the last heritage hotel I stopped at on initial recce of Rajasthan back in 2002. I almost didn’t visit as my girlfriend at the time wanted to get back to Delhi, but it turned out to be the highlight of my trip. A big factor in this was when I met the old royal family of the castle, who have since become friends for life. The family ruled the local area covering 90 villages in southern Rajasthan, the seat of which is Castle Bijaipur. They’re a very laidback, open and friendly family, who still run the hotel today; they’re also knowledgeable and endlessly keen to give guests as good a time as possible during their stay.
“It is this family and their charm and laidback approach which gives the hotel its great energy and makes it such a great place to stay for so long”.
I have led our Alternative Christmas in India group tour six times, but stayed at Castle Bijaipur itself at least 20 times. I actually love it so much that I had my 50th birthday party there, inviting 60 friends to stay at the hotel and share its magical experience with me.
Castle Bijaipur is special for a number of reasons. Visually it’s a very beautiful building and grounds; the old castle dates back to the 17th century, with classic Moghul architecture of domes and various intriguing nooks and crannies. The Victorian wing is more perfunctory, but equally attractive in its own way and it has a flat roof where we do yoga each morning.. It also has a beautiful swimming pool and lawns, surrounded by the fortress walls. The hotel offers 32 individual and unique bedrooms, all of which are en suite and there are plenty of places to get away from everyone if you’re looking for some peace and quiet.
The village directly outside Castle Bijaipur is a fascinating place to wander and experience authentic village Indian life. Perhaps Castle Bijaipur’s greatest asset is the rural landscapes surrounding it. It sits on the southern edge of the Aravelli Hills with valleys dominated by intricate agriculture and hills dotted with jacaranda, banyan and neem trees. Peppered by a number of spectacular lakes, it offers the most beautiful places to go walking, riding or cycling, all of which we do on our Alternative Christmas in India trip.
Castle Bijaipur is also home to a stable of Marwari horses, which are famed throughout South Asia for their fine looks, elegant stride and wild front ears! These horses can be taken out with a local groom or Moji, one of the sons of the family, into the local countryside. Done at dawn or dusk this is simply an amazing experience.
The bedrooms are all individual and unique, with a mix of twins, doubles and suites with balconies. Both stylish and traditional the bedrooms have marble floors and very good bathrooms with showers. Some of the larger rooms have extra space for a desk and some have balconies, but each and every room will make you feel like you’re staying in a castle. My personal favourite is room 303 in the Victorian wing, which has a balcony. Most people like rooms 201 and 202, which are suites in the old castle. If you’re interested in reserving a suite for a small extra charge, please contact the office.
One of the joys of our Alternative Christmas in India trip is that you can do as much or little as you like. Every day yoga, cycle rides, horse riding and dawn walks are organised for those who are interested and you can pack your day with a number of activities or make it as lazy as you want to. We organise certain activities throughout the tour, ranging from a dawn walk with Narandra (Lord of the Manor) to go bird watching, taking out one of the bicycles or horses to ride through rural countryside or going on an organised jeep safari to Chittogargh to visit the famous fort. We’ll also plan trips to a nearby national park to visit wildlife including the elusive leopard, enjoy a BBQ at a spectacular nearby lake and take part in cooking lessons and demonstrations. Some of our guests also like to travel to Udaipur for the day.
One of the absolute highlights of the tour is when we all go to Pangargh Lake for one night part way through the trip – a beautiful lotus-filled lake situated 15km from castle. The lake can be reached by walking, riding or jeep. We stay in luxury lakeside tents with beds and en suite facilities. This stunning area is overlooked by a crumbling 14th century fort and 9th century sun temple. Here we can swim, go for walks, do some yoga or just relax with this beautiful view.
To mark the festive season we enjoy a fun Christmas lunch and an exciting New Year’s Eve party.
It should be stressed everything is optional and if you want to just lie by the pool and read your book you’re welcome to do so!
The food at the castle is definitely one of highlights. Every lunchtime and evening the cooks prepare the most delicious and dazzling selection of both north Indian and local Rajasthani cuisine you’ll have ever seen. Lunch usually consists of four different vegetarian dishes, while dinner typically has four vegetarian and two meat dishes. Castle Bijaipur prides itself on never serving the same dish twice! If you’re a big fan of the food you’ll be able to learn how to cook it at a culinary demonstration.
For our Christmas lunch we set up tables by the pool and have a lovely large lunch spread consisting of meats and various vegetarian dishes, along with crackers of course. The real finale is New Year’s Eve, which is an epic gala with local musicians, dancers, fire blowers, cocktails, music, dance and fireworks.
Perhaps most important of all, the beauty of staying in one place for a prolonged period, gives you the chance to settle in and get to know it. By seeing less you’re actually seeing more. You can unpack your bags, treat Castle Bijaipur as your home for ten days, get to know the family who live there, the staff who run it and local villagers and understand the local way of life in rural Rajasthan… in, of course, substantial luxury. In other words it’s a great way to end the year and start the next year anew.