Last Updated on September 27, 2008 by Christine Kaaloa
There’s a heart that exists in India, its here!
My stay at Shahi Palace Jaisalmer was one of my best memories of India and its heart. It’s not only about experiencing Jaisalmer‘s Thar Desert calm (and Shahi’s wonderful camel safari with the “Camel Man”) . It’s about the people I met and the friendships I made along the way.
Located just outside of Jaisalmer fort walls is Shahi Palace. Walking to the building I wasn’t greeted with the freshest of smells. Somewhere nearby was emitting the smell of stale drainage water. I held my breath hoping I didn’t make a mistake by booking this hotel.
When I stepped inside it was a different mood. Sandstone walls, simple but ornate, the lobby was clean and bright. The hotel felt instantly “Indian boutique”.
As a remodeled haveli (aka mansion) and small desert palace, the rooms were surprisingly fashionable and stylish. Living in New York City and having an appreciation for good design, I wonder why more chic hotels and havelis can’t hire Shahi Palace’s interior designer. The rooms are all clean and cozy. Bedspread and artwork on the wall had splashes of vibrant Rajasthan color.
Staying here was truly an oasis of peace. The food was good and rooftop view of the Jaisalmer fortress was especially stunning at night.
At night the rooftop restaurant view of Jaisalmer felt especially magical. The city was alit with lights and the Jaisalmer fort walls holding us out were lit as if in a formidable drama. I never stayed in a desert town before, so this felt oddly special. Different.
A neutral ground and haven away from friendship friction and scams
Before I arrived at Shahi, my trip was going in a wrong direction. My friends and I got suckered into a scam tour in Delhi and all my original itinerary plans were changed with our new driver, who was seemingly also firmly redirecting some of our choices to his own. Shahi Palace was my original choice of stay and so I fought to stay there, paying the additional cost over the bland hotel we were provided for by the tour.
The Shahi folks brought me under their wing and helped me turn my trip around! I was feeling pretty burnt and wounded. We were four friends smooshed into a small Tata car on a long road trip and I was resenting being outvoted by Margaret and Dan, thrown into a tourI hadn’t budgeted for and annoyed that our driver was starting to control our decisions, as my friends pandered to his whim. Personalities at this point were rubbing against me in a frictive manner in the way personalities can, when they want to be liked or accepted, but still inconsiderate of others.
Staying at Shahi allowed me time away from the situation, a neutral ground where I could think. Regina also decided to stay with me; she wasn’t very thrilled about having the tour decision made without her consent. She too was not in agreement with being on a tour and didn’t trust our driver, Kul either.We were both, getting annoyed that Kul, our driver was taking more forceful decisions, deciding what “add on” activities we should do or not, making countless commission shop stops when we just wanted to skip the shopping and do more sightseeing. He wasn’t listening to us but going in the direction of Margaret and Dan who were agreeing with him to appear amicable.
Likeability. It’s a curse humans are slave to.
There were splits in decisions of where he’d take his loyalties. If Margaret wanted to do an add-on overnight desert tour as he suggested, he would go with her and that would leave the rest of us without a driver. If we didn’t like that, Margaret would throw a sulking fit and Dan wasn’t any bettter with his need for “quality things”,where you didn’t need dirty yourself with anything ‘local’. Forget seeing India by train!
This was getting to be too much.
Indians know when a scam is a scam and they will help
The Shahi staff was amazing- honest, concerned, helpful, passionate and full of heart. At night, we all had wine at the rooftop restaurant while overlooking the fortress lights of Jaisalmer. They told us stories, we laughed and drank wine.
In daylight, the rooftop restaurant was abuzz with tourists taking brunch, checking their computers, reading books, taking photos of the view. The Shahi boys let me and Regina know that tour agents don’t charge as much as we paid and that traveling India could be done without them. They had nothing to gain by telling us this. But they knew what was happening; it was typical of scam tours.
“If you paid a Baba the amount you are paying this tour, he would pray for you for the rest of his life. .. You can feed an entire village with the cost you’re paying!” said Rahi angrily.
The Shahi guys were actually upset for us. In Indian terms, it sounded a little humorous listening to what our tour money equivocated to in India. But basically, according to them, we were pissing it away in a dirty bucket.
They knew our driver was making commissions from the tours he could encourage us to do and his loyalties were with the agent company that employed him. He was their puppet and he was maneuvering Margaret and Dan, driving the activity costs higher. It was all quickly adding up to the point where Shahi’s encouragement gave me courage to see this and decide to get off the tour.
There’s a heart that exists in India, it’s at Shahi Palace
The guys told us to have our driver leave and go back to the company. Our driver could not be trusted. Instead, Shahi Palace had their driver drive us (me, Regina, Margaret and Dan) to the railroad station in Jodhpur. Their car was bigger, more spacious, their driver didn’t have hidden intentions and I could breathe.
As we left our hotel, I felt a wave of relief. – Sbabi Palace– they are GOOD people with the best intentions.
I wish I got to spend more time in Jaisalmer. I look forward to returning to Shahi Palace the next time I return to Jaisalmer! Thanks to my new friends- you guys rock!