In October 2022, I will be taking a small group tour to Delhi and Rajasthan where we will get an insightful introduction into the region's traditional crafts and textiles. Along with getting the opportunity to meet with expert artisans and creatives on the tour, I have chosen for the group to stay in small independently owned accommodation so that we can really get under the skin of the area's that we are visiting. All of the properties included in the tour are places I have first hand experience of - either from previous stays or from my travel industry research trips.
In this series of journal posts, I will be looking at each of the tour hotels in more depth and to find out what makes them special. First in the series is the elegant Ratan Vilas in Jodhpur - a beautiful heritage property owned and managed by Brijraj and Namrata Singh. The tour will be ending in Jodhpur where we will celebrate Diwali Festival.
Brijraj and Namrata kindly chatted with me about their property and gave me some insider recommendations about their city of Jodhpur.
Ratan Vilas is going to be our last stop on the tour when we come to visit Jodhpur. Could you tell me a little more about yourself and your wife Namrata and how you came to open your property to guests?
Namrata hails from Nawalgarh, a prominent seat of the Shekhawat clan of Rajputs in the Shekhawati region of North Eastern Rajasthan. Her great grandfather Rawal Madan Singhji was the last ruling chieftain of Nawalgarh jageer (Fiefdom) before its merger into the Union of India. Her father Rawal Devendra Singh is the current chieftain of Nawalgarh. Titles are not recognised by the government of India anymore, but they are still significantly recognised and fiercely guarded among the Rajput clans even today. I belong to the Jodha Rathore clan of Rajputs, descendants of Rao Jodha, the founder of Jodhpur. I hail from Raoti, which was the seat of Maharaj Jorawar Singh, the second son of Maharaja Takhat Singh of Jodhpur. My great grandfather Maharaj Ratan Singh was a keen horseman and a reputed Polo player. He made this property - Ratan Vilas as his residence. My father Maharaj Bharat Singh was a racehorse breeder. His horses were stabled at Ratan Vilas till the late '80s. Namrata grew up surrounded by horses, as her father Rawal Devendra Singhji is a renowned horseman. I grew up with horses as my father was a breeder. So, the reason our marriage was arranged can be anybody's guess! Having grown up in rambling old houses, no sooner than we met for the first time, we discovered that we will never be able to live in a flat or compact modern house. However, an immense amount of effort and finances are required to keep a 100-year old building standing and livable. Thus, like so many other families in Rajasthan, we too decided to open our home for guests. After some additions and alterations to the building, Namrata and I opened Ratan Vilas for guests only a year after our marriage. It's been 22 years since then. The hotel - our business and our life so far has been inseparable.
Ratan Vilas is a welcoming calm oasis away from the main hustle and bustle of the city centre. What is your favourite area within the property?
My favourite places within the property are:
a) The swing placed between two young trees - a Pilkhan (White Fig) and a Saptparna (Alstonia), growing up fast, on the edge of the poolside garden.
b) The Swimming Pool.
c) The Drawing Room, with all the family photographs.
d) The central courtyard.
Giving the group a chance to experience authentic Indian cuisine is going to be one of the highlights of our journey. What would you say is the signature dish served in your kitchen that guests can enjoy?
My favourite dishes are:
a) Khata Meetha stuffed Tamatar - (A sweet and sour tomatoes stuffed with raisins, ginger juliennes and cottage cheese)
b) Kadhi Pakora - (A yoghurt and chickpea-based dish with stuffed onion dumplings). Its best enjoyed with our robust millet (bajra) roti (Indian bread)
c) Laal Maas (Traditional Rajasthani Mutton/Lamb preparation)
d) Murg Malai Kali Mirch (Chicken pieces marinated in cashew paste, cooked in a charcoal-fired Tandoor oven garnished with coarsely crushed black peppercorns)
e) Pappad Pulao (Spiced Pappadom rice)
f) Gulab Firni (Creamy rice and milk pudding with homemade rose essence)
One of the advantages about staying in small owner run hotels is that guests often get the chance to try out unique activities during their stay. What special experiences do you offer at Ratan Vilas?
We love to invite our guests over drinks in the drawing-room. This gives us an opportunity to talk to our guests about varied aspects of our lives, history and our future hopes and aspirations. If the guests are with us during a popular Indian festival, we invite them to be a part of our celebrations. Being Hindus, Holi and Diwali are the most significant festivals for us.
Finally, as residents of one of the most exciting cities in Rajasthan, what unmissable attractions in Jodhpur do you recommend to your guests? Any insider tips you can share?
Most of the visitors to Jodhpur go to the Clock Tower Area and the old part of the city, but what we have experienced is that they somehow think that they have to go to these parts primarily for shopping. Shopping is great here but we suggest our guests allocate some time for interaction with the locals especially in the Clock Tower area.
For more information and recommendations about what to see and experience in Jodhpur, here are some further suggestions from the Jodhpur attractions page from the Ratan Vilas website (ratanvilas.com):
It is quite fun, having visited the fort and gazed over the blue city from its ramparts, to saunter down from the rear entrance, through the narrow and winding alleys of the ancient town and soak up the atmosphere, meet the locals, try some of the street food, shop for local souvenirs and take some great photos. Another place to visit is Ghanta Ghar or the Clock Tower the most distinctive feature of the Sadar Bazaar which overlooks the market and its milieu of shops that sell everything from fruit and vegetables, clothing, bangles, and spices to electrical items. Marvel at the profusion of colours and sights, tastes and smells (!) as well as watch the vendors hawking their wares and bargaining with the shoppers – a true Indian experience. Climb up the tower if you fancy a bird's eye view of the market and the rest of the city. When in these parts experience the various culinary delights on offer; we recommend Baradari at The Raas and Indique at the Pal Haveli for dinner with amazing views of the beautifully lit up Mehrangarh Fort. The Stepwell Café is ideal for snacks and Shri Mishrilal Hotel for amazing lassi. Janta Sweet Home Pvt Ltd., Shri Arora Namkeen and Sweets, Mohanji Mithaiwala and Pokar Sweets are iconic landmarks frequented by visitors as well as the residents for hot samosas, pyaaz ki kachoris, saffron jalebis, kalakand, rabdi, and mawa kachoris. Chaturbhuj Rameshchandra, a tiny 100-year-old establishment is well-known for fabulous Gulab Jamuns. While you're at it, buy some bangles at one of the many bangle sellers past the clock tower- you'll find none like them anywhere else. We also recommend walking tours which include curated experiences like – Brahmins & the Blue City, Bustling Bazaars of Jodhpur, Stepwells and Temples of Jodhpur. Food Walks and Cooking Workshops are a culinary experience; the former in tasting traditional delicacies and the latter in making some yourself. A piping hot mug of chai on the terrace of a 450-year old blue house brings the 3-4-hour adventure to a satisfying close.
Photos courtesy of Ratan Vilas