REVIEW: MIHIR GARH, Jodhpur, India

Anonymously reviewed by by Lisa Goldapple (Latina bon viveur) for Mr and Mrs Smith

It has been said that a man without a moustache is like a cup of tea without sugar. On arrival in Rajasthan, it’s clear there’s no fear of either of these eventualities – the chai is super sweet and the whiskers, bonkers.

Movember wannabes could learn a thing or two from the Marwari people. Our first ‘tache comes in the form of a giant twirling walrus. Its proud owner is our honk-happy taxi driver, who’s hurtling around sacred bovines like he’s auditioning for ‘Drive’.

An hour from Jodhpur later, he’s managed not to make mincemeat of anything and the crazed cacophony of the villages has faded into silence. And, holy cow, there it is – Mihir Garh. We’ve entered the heart of India’s Thar Desert.

A surreal fort-like sandcastle stands before us – not a Vegas-like monstrosity, but a tasteful palace rising from the arid landscape. Cue tumbleweed – literally. Out comes the manager, Varun (moustache first), who leads us through the cream and terracotta courtyard to the twinkling infinity pool. Painted peacocks parade on clay walls, white couches surround a mud fireplace, and our tropical drinks not only coordinate with the orange trumpet flowers, but also with my friend’s fingernails. Yes, I’ve brought a very lucky friend, Sam, along with me to experience what is clearly a perfect romantic retreat – ideal for 2 old mates who are now referring to one another as “my lover”, and not just because she’s from Bristol. We reckon we’ll fall for this place, too

We’re taken to our Alishan twin-suite – except a suite it ain’t. It’s more like an opulent private villa, with its own plunge pool and outdoor terraces. I have instant boudoir-envy – of the sexy sequined silk bed throws, dark wooden beams, giant rugs, handcrafted mirrored fireplace, and galloping horse lamps by local artists. It almost looks Moroccan or Arabic in style, but is pure Rajasthani. Even the bins are beautiful.

Dilemma – should we camel trek or visit the local eco-village? Varun reminds us there’s no rush – so that afternoon is happily spent sponsored by Sweet FA. We lazily flick through Indian Vogues, only venturing between our private pool deck and the main pool with its endless top-ups of refreshing lime sodas and lassis. Exhausting! Next up, time for muscle-soothing foot and body massages in the spa, followed by a long soak in our freestanding bath with its epic trio of arched doors looking out to the desert.  The vast bathroom even has nightlight mud alcoves for a seductive bathing experience for two. Not on mine and Sam’s agenda, we alternate reading in the tub until our fingertips resemble soggy naans.

Although we’re not a couple, the seduction of the hotel isn’t lost on us. It’s set within vast plains, yet there are only nine suites and intimate romantic spaces abound. There’s a sunset viewing deck in the turrets, chilled reading lounge, alfresco dining loungers and cushioned nooks and crannies – all with vistas out to the bewitching desert. It’s also a twitcher’s paradise. The desert might be dry, but the birdsong is plentiful and roaming antelope up the wildlife quotient.

Mihir Garh’s owners have a rep for having the finest stables of Marwari horses in India. With zero riding experience, we agree it’s safer I don’t mount a stallion. As couples head off on picnic safaris, we dine in the decadence, and safety, of the poolside restaurant. Sun loungers have made way for couches around a fire under the stars. Rose petals have been scattered in the fountains, candles have been lit and drummers hang poolside. Varun and co sure know how to set the mood.

There’s no way we’re ordering Western food, although it’s on the menu alongside Indian and Rajasthani fare (ok, we do consume a room-service burger the following day – shhh!). For tonight we go for never-ending spicy treats such as lentil soup, paneer tikka (marinated and grilled Indian cheese and veg), kofte(meatballs) – plus the finale, an addictive citron chiffon cake with carrot halva, now my favourite desert dessert. The chef and owners come out to meet us, as does Omar, our personal concierge. Omar strives for our happiness. Omar calls us ‘mams’. Omar is 24, but has the most gentlemanly manners I’ve ever encountered. Then, the cherry on the cake (or raita on the poppadom?), as we’re invited to a wedding in a nearby village. Omar will take us there tomorrow. On camels. Stoned on fiery curries, our heads wobble with excitement.

Disaster nearly strikes in the morning when Sam wakes in pain. It seems the ‘mirchi badas’ deep-fried chilli street food we gorged on in Jodhpur have turned ‘mirchi badass’. No sooner has she cried “I want my mum!” (yes, really), than there is a knock on the door and there stands Omar, laden with peppermint tea, yogurt, toast, bananas, pills – and the ‘black ambulance’ that is Coca Cola. You travel 4200 miles away – and it’s still a universal coke that sorts you out.

One hour later, Sam is back on form and ready to crash a wedding.

As our party of wedding-crashers approach the village, kids burst out of the school gates and surround us.

We get snap-happy as the Rajasthani sun plays with the cheerful smiles, psychedelic saris and Seventies’ attire of the village’s generations.

Over the magical day we accept it all – meeting the (rather nervous-looking) groom, dancing to drummers, savouring chai tea, strange fruit and opium. Yes, opium. Ah, did I just eat some opium?

Two girls paint our arms with mendhi henna, asking us the names of our husbands.

We’re 34. We have no husbands – let’s move on.

As the sun sets, Omar cracks the dried henna from our arms and it’s time for us to be on our way – this time on camels trekking through the spiritually-inspiring desert. Passing peacocks, gazelles and harvested millet under the perfect crescent moon, Sam gets philosophical: “Seriously, what’s the point of camels?”

‘Are you happy mams?’ ‘Yes, we’re happy, Omar.’

My heart rate has slowed down (nothing to do with the opium) and my metabolism is probably up from the chillies. This isn’t a typical hotel stay – it restores our faith in humankind – and moves us to stay a day on longer. It seems as if Varun and Omar can’t be for real, but they are. Nestled in the heart of the great Thar Desert, you think Mihir Garh is perfection itself – and then the locals invite you to a genuine Indian wedding. When we eventually fly back to London’s meagre-looking moustaches, with our henna-stained arms, we vow not to start sentences with “When I was in India…”

However, “When I was in Mihir Garh…”


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