Sundeep Bhutoria

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Balsamand - a tuft of lush green in desert land

July 27, 2012, Hotel Balsamand Lake Palace, Jodhpur: Here in Jodhpur, I am staying at this property which is managed by the WelcomeHeritage group. It is a heritage hotel chain of the ITC Group.
The artificial lake Balsamand, from which this property gets its name, was engineered in the 12th Century to serve as a reservoir. The exquisite red sand-stone palace came up later and was built by Maharaja Jaswant Singh I of Jodhpur in the 17th Century.
This palace used to be the summer retreat of the Maharajas of Jodhpur and other royal families of Rajasthan. Later, the royal families started a tradition of celebrating the first rains in Balsamand; a custom that has led to the palace being referred to as the Monsoon Palace. After an ambitious restoration and modernization program Balsamand Lake Palace became a world class Heritage Hotel with modern amenities.
When I was in Jodhpur the last time about nine years ago I had stayed in this property. I clearly remember it was Room No 1. This time it is Room No 6 for me which is also called the Lake View Suite. This heritage hotel has only 10 rooms in the Palace site of this property. The property is spread across 3 acres of land and has 10 Palace Rooms and another 26 Garden Rooms in the garden area known as the Balsamand Garden. In all, the property is spread over nearly 60 acres of lush green paradise
I am the only guest in this property and all the other rooms are vacant for the last two days. I think the hot weather of Rajasthan has something to do with it.
The history of this property dates back to 1159 AD when Raja Raja Bal Rao Parihar created the artificial lake to collect monsoon water from the surrounding hills. Centuries later in 1619 the beauty of the site inspired Raja Sur Singh to create a royal pleasure garden. The current palace was constructed in the 19th Century by Maharaja Takhat Singh.
Set amid sandstone hills overlooking the lake, it has an idyllic approach through splendid gardens, orchards and tree-lined avenues. As it has for many centuries, the Balsamand Lake Palace continues to serve as the favorite venue for parties and special celebrations of the Jodhpur Royal Family and their guests.
The Balsamand area is famed for its old majestic and luscious fruit bearing trees and orchards. Today, the entire property, as a Heritage Hotel, has been opened up to the guests and is no longer the exclusive domain of the Royals. Guests at the hotel have a great time wandering through beautifully landscaped gardens, sprawling orchards of lime and promegranates and elegant waterways and even an aqueduct. There is also a lovely promenade on the lake.
The terraced marbled Peacock Fountain at the top of the central avenue is the focal point. The fountain is said to be over a thousand years old, and, when in use, creates a magical illusion. The peacocks themselves seem to respond to the magic, as they often gather here to dance.
There are hundreds of things to bewilder you in Balsamand, including old trees, flowering plants, shrubs, sandstone pergolas, stables with local Marwar ponies, an amazing variety of resident and migratory birds, squirrels, huge grey langurs and peacocks. A Shiva temple, where local devotees throng, and a step well, at least 400 years old, adds to the mystique of this enchanting place.
A local person by the name of Manohar, who worked in the property, told me there is a popular belief that the presence of the holy Shiva temple in this huge property has kept snakes and animals away from the hotel since its inception 1996.
This property also has one private area owned by Maharaj Gaj Singh which houses his horse breeding farm. His personal horse Neelkamal is one of the best horses of Marwar breed stationed there.
The property also has opened one Garden Restaurant with a bar is in the Palki. This Palki was made famous by Akbar Khan's classic film Taj Mahal. Khan had stayed here for about three-and-half years to shoot his film. After the shooting the Palki, used in the film, was converted into the bar at the Garden Restaurant.
Though the Palace Rooms are exquisitely beautiful and full of history, it is advisable not to stay there during summers as even the huge air conditioners are not able to cope up with the hot weather. Another flip side is that the internet connectivity is pathetic. But all these are made up for by the best foods that I have had.
But you can try out the identical Garden Rooms. These rooms, which were earlier the stables for the horses, are now well furnished with modern amenities for comfort. There is also a small Mahal on the right atop the cliff overlooking the lake. I was told that next year this would be converted into a `honeymoon suite'.
ess bee

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