14 Feb 2024

Gajner Palace: An Idyllic Escape

It’s strange how in a random conversation over cocktails an evening gets shaded with new light and sets you off on a quest to ease the pain of boredom and randomness.

Gajner, set upon the Jaisalmer Road, lies half an hour away from the erstwhile royal city of Bikaner established by Rao Bika, the son of Rao Jodha of the Rathor Rajput clan. This very polished, but quite the hidden gem, is bound to lure the intrepid traveller, who revels in exploring roads less travelled.  It’s the perfect getaway for uncrowded nights and days with your favourite friends gathered around you.

Embedded in Gajner village, a sleepy backwater in the verdant countryside, this lakeside palatial abode is remarkable for its easy access and magical offerings, away from the more trumpeted blandishments of Bikaner city. Once you’ve been ensnared by the delights of this quiet retreat don’t be surprised if it becomes a favourite haunt even for a long weekend break from the frantic, nerve-jangling pace of work.

Early morning at the Gajner Palace takes on the palette of an Impressionistic painting, as the night mists rise from the placid lake and the adjoining forest sanctuary which spreads about as far as the eye can see.

The bell rung by the priest at the private little shrine here draws the attention of the deities to bless the residents, though even temporarily, in this beautiful luxury resort, which once served as a hunting lodge for the Bikaner royals.

The overhead flight of the parakeets amongst the trees, the silently foraging demoiselle cranes and the ducks gliding across the silken waters of the lake underpin Gajner Palace’s sweet serenity which envelopes even the most restless soul. Abandon yourself to the charm of languorous days, reading a book on a sun-warmed benche, gazing out on the still lake or just having a snooze in a hammock in the garden by the lake, during what would have been your work hours! Ah, temptation how we welcome you with open arms!

Built by Maharaja Ganga Singh in the ‘roaring 20s’   the rose-tinted sandstone in the Thar Desert, stands hard by the private lake. Gajner, spread over 6000 acres,  in those heady days served as the private hunting preserve, a mute witness to the Imperial sand grouse shooting parties by the racy crowd, think British viceroys, political agents and military commanders, especially invited to indulge in such leisure time activities and to have a jolly good time! Did you know that an invite to the   Imperial Sand Grouse shoots at Gajner Palace for the Christmas season parties was the most sought-after invitation in the Indian social calendar? Though those heady wild days are long gone,  driving through the private wildlife sanctuary you are sure to come upon a few shooting butts from times past.

The sprawling palace is a wonderful collation of landscaped gardens and tree-lined courtyards which act as a perfect foil for the sit-outs and terraces that are ideal for soaking in the scenic vista of the lakes and woodlands even on a warm day. Ask for rooms near the Mandir Chowk, marked by a private courtyard under a canopy of trees and the resident shrine.

It's wonderful if you can snag rooms with those stunning lake views for your party. In the high season do book ahead not to be disappointed. The historic suites come with wonderfully comfortable four-poster beds, period furniture and gleaming mirrors. On winter days a blazing fireplace keeps the mood in the suites cosy and contemplative.

Intriguing nuances are added to the site by the crumbling ruins of the evocative Shabnam Mahal, a stone’s throw away from the main palace. With its lake and forest views, it was built in memory of Shabnam, the love interest of Maharaja Saddumal; but sadly, he passed away before its completion. It’s an atmospheric place for many selfies and Insta moments— many other spots at the hotel are ideal for such fun-filled activities.  Nearby you’ll find the remains of a historic railway station; it’s a reminder of how the hunting resort was connected to Bikaner Palace by rail in 1922.

Now a part of the HRH Group of Hotels, the Gajner Palace Hotel rubs shoulders with the likes of Udaipur’s Lake Palace Hotel and Kumbhalgarh’s Aodhi Hotel. Its status as a heritage hotel has been enhanced by its sensitive restoration and refurbishment which has transformed it into a contemporary, comfortable luxury retreat.

A range of leisure time activities, both individual and group-oriented have been put in place at the retreat. Yoga, swimming, star gazing and spa indulgences. There are bikes available to tour the surrounds, nature walks are arranged on request, boat rides on the lake, and camel and jeep safaris in the sanctuary. You can even catch a game of tennis in the private courts, or partner up with someone for a rousing round of billiards at the old billiard table from the early 1900s, now lovingly restored to its original beauty.

Meals at Mirage Restaurant are curated to spoil your taste buds, while the well-stocked Mrigtrishna Bar blows your blues away with amazing speed. Live cultural performances are held under the stars at the Imperial Terrace, an extension to the Mirage, overlooking the lake and sanctuary. If you want to that extra special embellishments to your memories of Gajner Palace arrange for a private dinner under the stars by the lake, or amidst the dunes or a tented facility in a forested glade in the sanctuary.

Private safaris can be filled with fun and laughter. The Gajner sanctuary has long been home to black buck, chowsingha, chinkara, desert fox, and wild boar. With its adjoining lake, the entire area becomes a welcoming host for a wealth of avifauna and a paradise of plenty for the birding buff. There was talk in recent years of even re-introducing the cheetah in these forests.

Go quickly to this pretty palace by the waterfront which holds steadfastly to its ambience of charming exclusivity, unique heritage and its warmth and hospitality, in this glorious natural setting. Yes, run away there well ahead of the throngs looking for that perfect retreat, just when you want to be there.

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