Narlai is described as a village but was much bigger than we expected. It is a Hindu and Jain religious centre with many old temples. It is overlooked by a huge granite outcrop with caves and temples and the marble statue of an elephant on the top. There are newly built elephant steps to a temple that is being rebuilt. This gives a good view over the housetops of Narlai. It is possible to climb to the top of rock but the route isn't obvious and a guide is recommended.
There was a main shopping street with shops selling groceries, material, shoes and crafts. Silversmith, jewellers and the art shop were all touting for trade.
The main street was scruffy with litter, dirty water drains, cows, pigs, dung everywhere, people and motorbikes. There were few women around but a lot of men sitting talking. The men seem to do a lot of sitting and talking in Rajasthan…
Children were pestering for money, pen or photo (= money). We soon learned to keep to busy areas as stones were thrown at us when we ignored requests for money. This may explain why the hotel offers guided tours of the village.The kids did back off when Michael (at 6'4'' and brandishing my walking stick) stomped towards them. However it was a useful lesson.
We were booked into Fort Rawla Hotel which was off the main street. Beyond the hotel, streets were wider and better cared for. There were still some old stone houses but many were 1950s concrete. The larger houses had an entry passage (often with a sewing machine), which led into a courtyard with mattresses in it.
Fort Rawla is a 17thC fortress which was later a hunting lodge belonging to Maharaja Umaid Singhji of Jodhpur. It has been restored as a heritage hotel. It is reached down side a turning off the main street. Entry is through a massive wooden gateway with a gateman dressed in military style uniform, into a large grassed courtyard with fountain (floodlit after dark) and chairs. The dining room and terrace are in front, reception and offices behind. We were taken into the dining room to register with an 'officer' who checked what we were doing during or time in Narlai and offered us tea in our room. This arrived in great style on a small table which was carefully set up in our room for us.
The hotel is built around courtyards of different sizes with bouganvillea and frangipane everywhere. During the day, lounging beds are put out on the lawn.
Rooms are scattered around the different courtyards and each was completely different. We were on the first floor of a large building off the second courtyard. Access to our room was off an open, covered corridor with sitting areas with easy chairs, hammock style bed and small tables.
It was a large room with decorative arches with sunflowers and a couple of small slit windows. There was a doorway onto a small private balcony. We had a big double bed, day bed in an alcove, assorted easy chairs and tables and a small desk for the computer. There was a small dressing room with an area for our luggage and a large old mirror hiding the hanging space. The bathroom was off this and had shower, sink and toilet. There were plenty of toiletries and a reasonable selection of towels.
We climbed onto the top of the building for views across Narlai to the desert and the large Elephant rock.
There was a large swimming pool with deck chairs.
Dining room staff wear traditional Rajasthan dress with turbans. They were efficient and friendly.
Director Tikka Lalit Singh Sisodia, a portly figure, wearing what can be best described as a stripy 'nightshirt' with a hand knitted multi coloured stripy 'tea cosy' on his head, was regularly seen around the Fort. He was sitting in the courtyard on the second night when we came in, and we were called over to be welcomed by him as he hadn't been around when we arrived. He knew who we were and what we were doing. We were offered a pot of tea and made polite conversation. He was very much on ball and in charge of the staff, not missing a thing. He runs a tight and very successful organisation. We think we must have passed muster as when got back to room after a walk there was plate biscuits, dark chocolate and fruit left in room.
Breakfasts were a self service buffet with cereal or rice porridge, eggs and an assortment of sweet rolls and croissants.
We ate in the hotel each night. There was a large group in the first night and a self service buffet was put out. The next two nights there were no large groups so dinner was served to individual tables in the courtyard by candlelight. The meal arrived in individual 'silver' dishes on a huge turntable. Staff kept coming round with wheat, corn and buckwheat chapatti and other types bread. This was definitely stylish.
Musical accompaniment these 2 nights was by a female singer accompanied by a male on drums sitting outside a small shrine near the main gateway. It was typical Rajasthani music, but to our ears it sounded as if someone was being strangled… slowly.
The hotel offers escorted tours of the village as well as bird watching trips and a candle light dinner at a step well.
This is a delightful hotel. We were expecting great things of it and it more than lived up to expectation. It was one of the best places we stopped.
The website of the hotel is: www.rawlanarlai.com/index.htm
Our pictures of Narlai and Fort Rawla Hotel are here.