High and handsome: spacious bedrooms at Lakshman Sagar

This 19th-century maharaja's hunting lodge is marked out by two striking buildings that gleam like white marble temples astride a serene lake

As with my initial egress from Delhi airport, arriving at Lakshman Sagar was quite an encounter. Where had the noise gone? Perhaps the journey there should have offered a clue. The motorway from Jodhpur had become increasingly bereft of motors, replaced at one point only by a 100-strong herd of water buffalo heading in the direction of would-be oncoming traffic. After a hectic tour of Rajasthan's bustling cities and sacred sites, the tempo was definitely beginning to slow down.

Given that almost two-thirds of Indians live in villages, it's anomalous that most tourists in Rajasthan stick to the city circuit: Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Udaipur, Pushkar ... colours, cacophony, hustle and bustle.

In Jodhpur, the one-man travel agents advertise "village safaris" alongside the standard camel and tiger varieties. Yet even this is a well-trodden route for off-the-beaten-track tourists wanting a glimpse of rural Rajasthan – the road to Pali offers a flavour of local traditions, but in a stage-managed fashion of look, snap, lunch, return.

With a bit of patience, you can plug properly into the countryside via a monotonous two-hour drive east towards Jaipur that suddenly jolts you back to life around the town of Raipur. The road gets bumpy, pigs snuffle around the periphery and men weld indescribable metal components under a hot sun. You wait to cross a railway line, then children run out to greet you and the car weaves around shepherds in rust-red turbans with their skinny flocks. At last, you arrive at Lakshman Sagar.

This 19th-century maharaja's hunting lodge is marked out by two striking buildings that gleam like white marble temples astride a serene lake, surrounded by the gentle preamble of the Aravali hills. Known as the zanana and mardana, they were built for women and men respectively, the former now subtly referenced by drapes of intensely pink cotton that waft in the wind and recall the local women's attire; the latter by slivers of sky-blue paintwork. Today, a handful of guests mingle in both, either for sundowners on the roof or dinner in the open-sided dining room. A deliciously cool pool sits behind the zanana, scooped out of a low-lying bluff.

Hunting here departed with the Raj, so the order of the day is soaking up the bucolic surroundings either from camp or on one of the daily low-key jaunts – sheep-herding, field breakfasts, nature walks, vegetable picking and market tours. This is Rajasthan, but not as you know it.


You're almost in the centre of this northerly "land of kings"; Jodhpur Airport is around two-and-a-half hours' drive west. Raipur, population 12,500, is the nearest town; I was whisked off there for a morning tour with gracious manager Balwant Singh and a couple of young guests from Mumbai.

We started at the small, serene fort where the time is announced by the hourly thrash of a gong and a horse stood in a courtyard garlanded with bright yellow marigolds; then continued through the streets of sky-blue houses, painted to designate the Rajput clan, to the low-key market, where we tried crispy raj kachori and other local street food.

The evening called for a sunset nature walk around Lakshman Sagar's rolling grounds, spotting skittish nilgai bulls, collared doves and dry-stone hunting watch towers while listening to the cat-like cry of peacocks.

Just beyond the perimeter, a small farmhouse offered breakfast at dawn, cooked by three resident women who help tend Lakshman Sagar's surrounding fields of sesame, millet and peanut plants that supply the daily-changing menu. Parathas grilled over a log fire and doused with freshly churned buttermilk were presented to the table as we were joined by a flock of sheep, a calf and a couple of woodpeckers while the sun rose on another tranquil day.


The two main buildings are supplemented by a dozen cottages that fringe the lake in two threads, one of which rises up a gentle ridge. Unlike the original buildings, they have been constructed from mud, stone and thatch to blend into their surroundings, although that's as rustic as it gets, as each comes with its own secluded plunge pool and space to roll out yoga mats for an early morning sun salutation.

Inside, the rooms are vast, comprising two vaguely circular levels that accommodate a sitting and sleeping area with adjoining bathroom that opens on to the pool area.

Like the drapes in the zanana, the room's decorative accents recall Rajasthani saris: lemon, tangerine, sweet lime and pomegranate hues are splashed about in stitched cushions and painted alcoves that bear tiffin pots and glass jars containing colourful bangles and traditional puppets. Meanwhile, local block-prints feature on the bathroom robes and fabric clothes hangers.

There's no television, but that's no loss – instead you'll find a log fire for cool winter nights, books on local birds and trees, board games and a minibar with complimentary bottles of home-made orange, rose and vetiver syrups and filtered water (plus fairly-priced booze in the fridge).

On our last evening, my husband and I returned from dinner to find the room aglow with dozens of twinkling tea lights – the sweetest of endings for a glittering stay.

Travel essentials

Lakshman Sagar, Haripur, Pali, Rajasthan, India (00 91 99 100 29109; sewara.com).

Rooms *****

Value *****

Service *****

Doubles start at R13,500 (£135), full board. Greaves India (020 7487 9111; greavesindia.co.uk) offers a week in northern India, including Lakshman Sagar, from £1,994pp.