The Lake Palace of Bal Samand

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allergy helvetica, shop sans-serif;">Bush Patel drew on his 30 gauge Uzi cigar, apoplectic and exhaled a big cloud of smoke from under his Fedora hat. I had inadvertently found myself having dinner with a Gujarati-style Bugsy Malone, his loud voice ringing out across the elegant Bal Samand Palace garden restaurant in beautiful Jodhpur, Rajasthan. Born in Nairobi to Indian parents, Bush Patel was a brash, monied entrepreneur who had found his fortune in the States. He had returned to India to find a palace hotel for his daughter’s forthcoming marriage - and had sure chosen a classy venue.


I listened to boasts of lavish Indian wedding plans as an attentive team of waiters served up delicious house specialties from the open air Kebab House kitchen. There are three restaurants at Bal Samand Palace, but even in the chilly night air the al fresco option was the best. Guests cosied up to individual wood burning fires set against a back drop of torch lit lawns and a glittering starry sky. Mr Patel paused to inhale on his gigantic cigar, and I heard the unmistakable hubbub of happy diners.


 Bal Samand Palace lies just eight kilometres outside the city of Jodhpur, Rajasthan – a sprawling private estate of sixty acres that can happily accommodate a main wedding party in twenty-six tastefully designed Garden Rooms. Facing onto a rose garden, private croquet lawn and restaurant, the cottages are a world away from this Indian Palace itself. High on the upper level of the tiered grounds, and far from any potential revelry, the main Bal Samand residence houses ten original royal suites, one of which was destined for me.


I had entered this stunning Rajasthan Palace earlier in the afternoon through giant wrought iron gates, and processed along a grand driveway flanked by pomegranate and lime orchards. At the gatehouse, staff awaited to escort me on foot to the palace while the car drove ahead with my luggage. Climbing the steps to the top of a peacock shaped fountain, I was able to view the broad span of classically landscaped gardens criss-crossed with waterways. And then a few steps on, tucked discreetly away behind a cluster of trees, the Palace of Bal Samand came into view.


It was in the seventeenth century when Rajasthan was still part of the Moghul empire that Maharaja Jaswant Singh I of Jodhpur created his beautiful holiday residence. Solidly fashioned from rich red sandstone, the original white marble halls of the Bal Samand Palace now echo with over three hundred years of history, its walls lined with hundreds of old family photos. The gaze of sombre and bejewelled little princes followed me up the sweeping central staircase to my room – a palatial suite, once the private quarters to generations of Maharani’s. Tastefully decorated in traditional royal colours, it had a huge bedroom, a marble bathroom with sunken jacuzzi and a private dining room.


The sign of a well run India heritage hotel however lies in the details. Ornate bowls filled with tiny delicate flowers. Smart liveried attendants who appear at the ring of a bell. Colourful stained glass windows that cast rainbow patterns on gold brocade chairs. Art deco lamps that diffuse a soft buttery light. The small salon was simply furnished with a chaise longue that commanded an exclusive view of the Bal Samand lake and had tiny doors within windows that opened out onto an enormous terrace. It was easy to see why Jaswant Singh 1st had chosen to construct such a grand Rajasthan holiday home at the family’s favourite picnic spot - a tranquil l Bal Samand lake rippled only by a flotilla of ducks and framed by the curvature of the Aravalli foothills.


From the pretty pavilion on my terrace, I poured a pot of chai and watched the sun set, imagining the traditionally Indian family gathering here to celebrate the first rains of the monsoon. Later, I took a stroll through the grounds and in the darkness found the peacock fountain colourfully lit up and the swimming pool illuminated neon blue. I had booked an appointment at the Bal Samand hotel’s lovely tented Spa, and emerged an hour later from an energising ‘Skandha Massage’, the knots from many hours of travelling across Rajasthan by car completely soothed away. I felt like I was walking on air - and told the Manager so when I bumped into him on the lawns outside. He was showing a fedora hat wearing, cigar smoking, Gujarati style Bugsy Malone around the grounds – and the rest, as they say, is history.