The lovely Rawla Narlai is in the heart of a typical Rajasthan village, about halfway between Jodhpur and Udaipur. It’s an ideal place to relax and recharge your batteries after the hustle and bustle of the larger cities, and an excellent way to experience the quieter side of the region.
This 17th-century gem was once a hunting lodge of the Jodhpur royal family and lay hidden away in the heart of the Aravalli hills. In our opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful parts of the state, surrounded by forested hills and rocky outcrops.
We (Shiv and Madeleine) recently spent the night at Rawla Narlai, and here is how our experience went:
On arriving at Rawla Narlai, passing through the archway into a large courtyard, we felt as though we were entering an oasis of calm. The only sounds to be heard was the gentle trickling of the fountain. Here, we were met by the friendly General Manager Ms Gareema Gautam. While sipping a refreshing welcome drink, she recommended we head out to the nearby lake together in their Jeep, to soak up the birdlife and sunset over hot chai (spiced tea).
Off we went, bouncing along the dusty country roads, to the edge of the lake. It was a calm, peaceful experience. Gareema had brought along a pair of binoculars for us to marvel at the birdlife in the water while we enjoyed sandwiches and chai. The lake is vast and home to a wide variety of resident and migratory birds – especially during winter, as Gareema explained. Watching the sun go down behind the mountains was a blissful experience.
Before heading back to the property for dinner, Gareema introduced us to their ancient step-well, or baori as it’s known in Hindi (a step-well is a big well which was used to collect water. The water is accessed by descending lots of steps. Water was collected during the monsoon and used to support the people for the rest of the year). A lovely and secluded spot, much to Maddie’s delight a few peacocks were strutting around showing off their beautiful feathers. Though due to weather constraints we weren’t able to experience it for ourselves, Rawla Narlai arranges a beautiful dining experience here which they call the ‘Step-well Dinner’. The steps are lit up with hundreds of tiny, flickering oil lamps; it’s an impossibly romantic sight. Diners enjoy a traditional Rajasthani menu beside the baori, while a musician softly plays folk music in the background. The Step-well Dinner has been enjoyed by many of our past guests and is a real highlight of any visit to Narlai. We don’t want to give too much away here though and spoil the surprise!
Back at the hotel, we had a light dinner before heading off to bed. Gareema recommended we get an early start tomorrow to catch the sunrise from Elephant Hill. That’s the name given to the enormous rock that looms over the property. For dinner, Shiv enjoyed a traditional Rajasthani fish curry with naan, which we both thought was one of the best we’ve ever tried (and we’ve tried a lot of fish curry!). Maddie had a potato salad with parmesan and a multitude of international ingredients, which was very impressive to find on the menu as we were seemingly in the middle of nowhere!
Our rooms were spectacular. We stayed in the Jharokha Rooms. In Hindi, a jharokha is a type of balcony with carved detail, and each Jharokha Room has a quaint sit-out overlooking Elephant Hill. The rooms come with all the comforts and facilities one expects from a four-star resort, including a well-stocked mini-bar, en-suite bathroom, super comfy mattress and air-conditioning. The amenities by Kama are organic and Ayurvedic.
Early the next day (at 5 am no less!), we were up and ready to explore with Lala – a friendly member of staff. We began walking through the town to the foot of the rock, taking in lots of colourful scenes as we went.
As we approached the steps, Lala explained that there’s a whopping 756 of them to tackle to reach the top! Not feeling very confident about this, Lala advised that we can get a great view of the sunrise from halfway up, rather than climbing all 756. We agreed and off we went. The views were more and more spectacular, the higher we got.
It was sweaty work, and I recommend carrying a few water bottles with you as you go. There’s no rush to the top, so feel free to stop, catch your breath, and take in the beautiful scenery around you.
Asking Lala how many steps we had left, he advised: “just ten more, Madam”. I am sure we climbed a lot more than ten, so I asked him again: “just ten more, Madam”. Before I knew it, I was at the top of the rock, looking down on a beautiful sunrise and a breath-taking view of the countryside. It was hard work (probably not for someone much fitter than me, like Lala for example – I’m sure he could run up that hill!), but very rewarding. I highly recommend this experience when in Narlai, especially in the early morning. On reaching the top, we checked out the temple.
We then sat down at the foot of a giant elephant statue (from which the hill takes its name) for chai and biscuits, that Lala had kindly brought up with him.
After heading back down the hill, we took the scenic route through the village to the hotel. We passed by friendly, colourful locals, and were even invited inside their home.
The village here feels as though you’re stepping back in time. Ladies dress in vibrant saris; sacred cows walk in front of rumbling buses; men pedal past on bicycles adorning huge and brightly coloured turbans, smoking the traditional bidi cigarette. We also passed some ornately carved Jain temples.
Reaching back to the hotel, after freshening up we were ushered into the dining room where our breakfast order was taken. For Shiv – traditional Rajasthani aloo poori (spiced potato chunks with deep-fried flatbread); for Maddie – scrambled eggs on toast. Their menu offers a range of Indian and Continental dishes, so there’s something for every palette.
We then decided to hit the pool for an hour. Refreshing! There are four tents around the pool – these serve as the spa.
Before leaving, Gareema was kind enough to take us on a tour of the property, to explore all five room categories. The 25 rooms are divided into Classic Heritage Rooms, Grand Heritage Rooms, Luxury Grand Heritage Rooms, Jharokha Rooms*, and the Narlai Suite (our favourite’s the Jharokha Room!). Dotted through the grounds, there are lots of shady nooks and crannies where you can relax with a drink or read a book under beautifully fragrant frangipani.
*update 09/05/20: Since the time of writing, Jharokha Rooms have been clubbed together with the Luxury Grand Heritage Room category. Now, they’re both called Luxury Grand Heritage Rooms. If you’d like a jharokha (balcony) with your Luxury Grand Heritage Room, let us know, and we can put in a special request.
Overall, we had a fantastic experience at Rawla Narlai. A night or two here is well worth it. It’s a beautiful contrast to the chaos of larger cities like Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. The villagers are friendly, genuine and welcoming – it’s a great place to take a stroll through without being hassled by touts or shopkeepers, and perfect for getting to know the locals.
There are lots of excursions available at Rawla Narlai. Some are free; others are chargeable. Rather than include activities in an itinerary in advance, we recommend leaving your stay open and breezy, so you can decide once you arrive depending on how you feel. Gareema (the GM) is always on hand to discuss the possibilities.
Narlai can smoothly be included in a broader tour of the Rajasthan region, and best fits in between Jodhpur and Udaipur. Jodhpur to Udaipur would otherwise be a five-hour drive; stopping in Narlai en-route breaks that up into two more manageable chunks of two and three hours. If Jodhpur or Udaipur doesn’t feature on your itinerary, we recommend flying into Udaipur airport and continuing directly from there by road (Udaipur is connected to Delhi, Jaipur and Mumbai by direct flight).
If you’d like to include a stay in Narlai on your upcoming visit to Rajasthan (as part of a multi-day, tailor-made tour), do get in touch – we’d love to bring your ideas to life and assist with your arrangements. You might like to take a look at our Boutique Rajasthan sample itinerary for inspiration (this one includes Rawla Narlai as well as several other charming hotels).0