Sleeping like a Maharaja – 4 Amazing Hippie Trail Hotels
India, and the Hippie Trail, our cycling expedition from New Delhi to Goa, are incredible experiences. The smells, the sounds, the colours, the people…and the hotels. Oh, the hotels. There is nothing like finishing an exciting ride and arriving at your home for the evening. On the Hippie Trail, many of those nights are truly special. Here are 4 of our favourites.
1. Roopangarh Fort
Almost a week into the Hippie Trail, the cyclists will pedal out of the ‘Pink City’ of Jaipur and head west across the desert towards the sacred city of Pushkar. That night they will spin into the small Rajasthani town of Roopanagrh. Here they will sleep for the night in the Roopanagrh Fort. This fortress, originally built by, and named after, Maharaja Roop Singh of Kishangarh in 1648, was constructed at strategic point atop a hill controlling an important trade route to the Sambhar Salt Lake. By 1649, the area around the fort grew into a town unparalleled in beauty, filled with artisans. For over 100 years, during which the building witnessed many battles and sieges, it served as the primary residence of the Maharajas of Kishangarh. Rumours have it that there are secret passages and underground water storage tanks. Now a wonderful hotel, Hippie Trail riders will bed down here for the night in one of the fort’s 20 rooms. If they are lucky they may end up in what was once a royal suite.
2. Fort Kherjala
Just one night after enjoying the atmosphere of the Roopangarh Fort Hotel, the riders will pull into the courtyard of another 400 year old fortress, Fort Kherjala. It was built in 1611 for Maharajah Gopal Das Ji and is an incredible example of Mughal/Rajput architecture. Carved out of red sandstone, it is renowned for its intricate latticework and window boxes. Kherjala is derived from the name of the Khejdi Tree found in the nearby village. The fort was attacked and destroyed by the Mughals 3 times and each time was rebuilt. The Thakurs of Khejarla were one of the eight feudal lords to the Maharaja of Jodhpur and were known for their heroism, valour, sacrifice, chivalry, and gallantry. In fact, some of the current hotel staff are descendants of the locals who served the Fort’s royal owners in the past and the current royal family still lives in a section the Fort itself.
3. Fort Dhamli
In 2011, when we were scouting our original cycling route across India, we left Jodhpur and headed out into a very rural area, full of empty fields and small villages. Our research had not produced leads for any hotels for the next scheduled night so we pretty much just drove and then asked in each village about places to stay for the night. At dusk, in one particularly spooky village, we were shown an old palace where the locals claimed we could stay. It was right out of Indiana Jones – dark, eerie, full of ghosts and strange noises. We quickly declined the offer and headed out in the darkness. So it really was a small miracle when we eventually discovered Fort Dhamli, completely by luck, in another tiny isolated village. The owner, Thakur Inder Singh, is a descendent of the Brother of Roa Jodha, the founder of Jodhpur. He is also a fan of rare Marwari horses. Oddly for us, his hotel advisor was a Canadian woman from Toronto, the same city as our head office! Small world. Cyclists staying at this charming hotel are completely off the beaten track and will enjoy wandering around the small village and sampling the tasty home cooked meals, created by using vegetables, fruits and milk products from the owner’s nearby organic farm.
4. Udai Bilas Palace
Last, but definitely not least, is the Udai Bilas Palace in Dungarpur. Traditionally, this is the riders’ choice for best hotel on the Hippie Trail. Seating for dinner, around a massive marble table with an illuminated pool in its centre, takes things to a new level altogether. Set between the blue waters of Lake Gaibsagar and a private forest reserve, this palace was built of a blueish grey stone in the mid-19th century by Maharawal Udai Singhji-II, an enthusiastic patron of the arts and architecture. It feature stunning examples of Rajput design -intricate sculptured pillars and panels, ornate balconies, balustrades, bracketed windows, arches and friezes of marble carvings. Enlarged in 1940 by Maharawal Laxman Singhji, three new wings were added, creating the famous “courtyard” of the Palace. The rooms are all individually decorated and feature amazing views of the lake or the surrounding mountains. Cyclists staying here are granted access to the royal family’s 13th-century palace, the Juna Mahal, a World Monument and certainly one of Rajasthan’s best-kept secrets.