x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Answering the royal call of Rajasthan

The Life: Host to Oprah, endangered tigers and Mughal palaces, Rajasthan is India's India.

A view from Raas hotel in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. Courtesy Raas hotel
A view from Raas hotel in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. Courtesy Raas hotel

Westerners go to India to find the exotic. Indians go to Rajasthan.

This northern Indian state is home to tigers, Mogul palaces and brilliant tie-dye fabrics adored by photographers and Condé Nast freelancers. Its deserts and warren-like cities are roamed by camels and unwashed Californians who favour organic millet.

Last month, Oprah advertised its charms to housewives across the US when she briefly touched down in the Rajasthani capital of Jaipur to speak at a literary festival.

The name Rajasthan means "land of kings" - but today, anyone can come. And more reasons are emerging for businessmen to join the hippie tourists and former talk show hosts.

Foremost among them is black gold. An oil rush is set to unfold if prospectors get New Delhi's permission to start pumping at fields with Jungle Book names such as Mangala and Aishwariya. The aim is to produce 300,000 barrels per day, or nearly half the nation's entire output today.

Second: actual gold. Jewellery designers are moving to Jaipur and other ancient royal cities for the services of artisans whose skills have been passed down over generations. Collectors can have their pick from the shops of other local craftsmen, such as miniaturists who paint tiny elephants on small wooden disks and tanners who fashion briefcases out of camel hide.

Meanwhile, luxury hotels are opening in the most remote corners, attracting tourists inclined to shell out for sesame-honey spa scrubs and cashmere and gold-thread shawls costing 30,000 rupees (Dh2,236).

The latest entry is Jodhpur's Raas, an 18th-century haveli - or private mansion - complemented by new rose-sandstone buildings that look as modern as Norman Foster's designs in the Middle East. Balconies sheltered by stone mashrabiyyas offer views of a royal fort atop a hill. Equipped with a kitchen that bakes perfect pizza and an icy pool ringed by white chaises longues, it is the perfect place to recover after battling with the chaos of modern India.

Travellers who venture outside this refuge need not fear the street's gritty black and yellow rickshaws. A blue and white tuk-tuk is always on call to circle around the walled city. Unfortunately, sightseers actually have to climb the hill to get to the palace on top.

ayee@thenational.ae

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