Devi Garh

By Sanjeev Nayyar esamskriti@suryaconsulting.net | 2007

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After seeing the movie ‘Eklavya’ the question upper most on our minds was, in which palace was the movie shot? The palace was Devi Garh, a heritage hotel near Udaipur. We celebrated our first marriage anniversary and Independence Day at Devi Garh (DG). Nestled in the Aravalli hills of Rajasthan, the 18th century fort palace commands one of the three main passes into the valley of Udaipur. Sajja Singh of Gujarat was awarded this strategically significant principality in recognition of his bravery and loyalty to Maharana Pratap during the battle of Haldi Ghati. Clicked from the entrance you see Devi Garh, garden in front is a mini golf course.

Actual construction started in the 1760s with additions made by subsequent rulers. When acquired in 1984 the property was in shambles. Its restoration and conversion into a luxury hotel took eight years. This picture was taken from the highest point in DG, gives you an overview of the entrance. In the background is Delwara village.

After checking in we decided to walk around the village. We visited a 16th century Jain temple that inspired the construction of the world famous Dilwara temples at Mount Abu. What you see is the eastern wall of DG, note fields just outside the palace. What is amazing about Delwara village is the coexistence of a luxury hotel and the village. We saw a number of villagers with cell phones, watching cable TV. Some even had a Tata Sky dish connection.

A view of DG from the western side. In front is the pool. Below the pool, next to the fire pipe is entrance to the SPA. Building on the left is the reception. Right behind is the palace. It has three floors of which floor one has a conference room and suites, two has the Durbar hall and suites and three is the terrace. Just behind the pool is the restaurant as you shall see in the next picture.

This picture shows four levels. Level one is a well equipped gymnasium, two is the Bar, three is the restaurant and four is the main palace. Window on extreme right of the picture on the highest floor is where we stayed. Not only did we have a great view from the balcony but it was Hawa Mahal meaning windy throughout the day.

You see the pool with Delwara village/hills in the background. On either side of the trees that you see in right of picture are Garden Suites. We enjoyed early morning swims or sitting by the pool side at sunset time. I used these quiet and peaceful moments to reflect on how I could grow my business and give back more to Society.

Just next to the pool is the Jaccuzi. It is very placed, in one corner of the palace, which made it more enjoyable. Very refreshing. Since we went in the monsoon season there was greenery all around as you can see.

An icon of Lord Ganesha at the entrance to the palace. The palace pandit (priest), Devi Das does puja (prayer) & offers prasad every day. There is a Devi Ma ka temple near the entrance where the Pandit does aarti twice a day. The Lord ka icon adorns the entrance to our home too. Then and now the custom remain the same.

Second level entrance. Note copper containers, wooden door with spikes. You walk into a very well defined landscaped garden with two uniquely positioned stones that you see in the centre of the picture. When a Guest walks in for the first time hotel staff throws rose petals from top, we loved it. That set the tone for a great holiday at DG. Above the trees you see the Bar and restaurant.

As you enter to your right is this stone bench. That is me with wife Aparna hidden behind. DG has a Library too which stocks some very interesting books.

To your left is an app 50 step climb at the end of which you enter the residential portion of the palace. As you enter one can see a row of pictures of Shreenathji. (Lord Krishna). Walk a little further and you enter the Durbar Courtyard. You see us feeling very much at home there.

Thereafter you climb a floor to enter the Durbar Hall. You get a great view of the hotel, village and hills that surround Devi Garh.

From there you walk pass the billiards room into the Lotus Courtyard. The black granite is cut in the form of a lotus with water flowing in it. The periphery wall done in Jaisalmer stone too is engraved with lotuses on all sides.

What you see is the Janana Courtyard (used by ladies). On the right is a fountain with the excavated stone from the 8th century old Jain temple in the village. On the left is an 18th century old swing that was used by the queens of earlier times. In the center is the back side of the Lotus Courtyard.

A close up of Aparna and myself on the swing. Exit point that you see behind takes you to Durbar Courtyard. So all courtyards were well connected.

At a level above the Janana Mahal is Ram room. This is where the Maharaja and Rani meditated. You see my rani (queen) ie wife Aparna meditating.

Before we travel inside the palace we walked around the village. Ever since the Bhil general Raja Punja and his tribe valiantly assisted Maharana Pratap in the battle of Haldi Ghati I wanted to visit a Bhil basti. Luckily there was one outside the palace. The lady that you see is a Bhil woman Jhamku Devi who is also village Sarpanch. By virtue of being declared a scheduled tribe and the seat being reserved for women she became Sarpanch but we were told it is her husband who calls the shots.

Our next stop was this potter’s home where he showed us how Pots are made. There was so much of warmth and affection as we saw him showcase his skills. When we walked through the village children told us ‘Hi, how are you’. They were quite surprised when I responded with a Namaste.

We decided to finish sight seeing on day two of the trip. Options are many. You can go trekking, visit temples and forts. One is Shreenathji in Nathdwara (24 kms away), two is Kumbalgarh (about 2 hours away), three is Ranakpur temple (about 2 hours away. About 7 kms from DG, on the top of a hill is a Mata ka temple by the name Rathasen Devi meaning Rathore (Rajput) ki Devi. You drive down to hill base after which it is a one hour climb. The pavement is cemented but steep. The second hill that you see in the picture, slightly blurred, is where the temple is located. We left the hotel at 5.30am and reached temple top by about 7am. Great view, very breezy. Panditji told us that during winter’s temperature touches zero degrees at times, on a clear day one could see the Vijaya Stambh at Chittorgarh.

Clicked from temple top. It was very cloudy in the morning so picture is blurred. White structure that you see in the center is Devi Garh.

Aparna at temple entrance. The hotel had packed a breakfast hamper for us. After a one hour climb and darshan that was just what we needed.

Stone inscription at Sas Bahu temples in Nagda (20 minute drive from temple). Assignable to early 11th century, this twin Vaishnava temples are more evolved style prone to profuse ornamentation, entered through a detached makara-torana. Actual temple name is Saharastra bahu (1000 arms) i.e. Lord Vishnu with thousand arms. Its original name has got distorted to Sas Bahu.

1. An overview of the temple complex. Temple on right is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and one on the left to Lord Shiva. The larger temple i.e. one dedicated to Lord Vishnu is surrounded by 10 subsidiary shrines. Each shrine has a Panchayatana sanctum, a vestibule, a mandapa with lateral transepts and porch enclosed by a balustrade. The Vishnu temple has icons of Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and Rama, Balarama and Parachurama.

The entrance to temples, side walls are exquisitely carved with sculptures and decorative signs. During a Muslim invasion in the 14th century a large part of the temples were destroyed.

1. You see an overview of the temple complex from another side. Temples are on the banks of a small pond, place is very beautiful. One thing came out clearly. Before destruction these temples were magnificent. There is an old Jain temple enroute to Sas Bahu temple.

1. On return from Sas Bahu temples you take a slight detour from the main road, drive through a rough road to reach a Shiv temple and Samadhi of Bappa Rawal (ancestor of Maharanas of Mewar). Just opposite the temple is Bappa Rawal pond ie what you see. Also in the picture is our driver Uday Mali. He looks a simple village guy but behind that is a smart brain who also buys and sells land continuously. We were told current family net worth is app Rs 1.3 crs. He lives in a village and files an income tax return too.

Enroute is Ek Linghji. It is famous for its 108 temples. Eklingji is an incarnation of Lord Shiva and the family deity of the Maharanas of Mewar.

A couple of hours away are the Ranakpur Jain temples. If you have the time a must visit. Keep 2 hrs for temple.

So also a couple of hours away is Kumbalgarh Fort. If you are fond of forts a must see. Keep 2-3 hrs at fort.

You see the private swimming pool ie part of the Presidential Suite. In the movie Eklavya, Amitabh Bachhan is blind folded by Sanjay Dutt who then throws a pigeon in the air with ghungroos tied to her paws. Based on the sound of the ghungroo Amitabh throws his dagger such that it cuts the ghongroos from her feet. Before the ghungroo falls on the ground Amitabh catches it. This was one of the most outstanding scenes in the movie Eklavya. I spent hours along the private pool trying to fathom how any one could manage this feat.

You see the private Jaccuzi i.e. attached to the Presidential suite. When used, curtains cover the Jharokha’s to bar view from restaurant and bar. Two sides could be left open for a splendid view. In the centre is entrance to the suite.

Located on the second floor is Hawa Gokhda, amongst the most amazing places in the palace. It has windows on three sides; some covered with glass other without. Cool breeze flows in. DG organizes a candle light dinner here. Guests sit on either side of the white mattresses that you see. We started with wine followed by dinner. The environment is very romantic.

Aravali Suite Bathroom : Most spacious, bright & tastefully designed.

Palace suite. Loved this small room for many reasons. One is the Amethyst precious stones in the wall, two it is lit only by candle light; three windows give you a view of the village.

This is another palace suite called Marigold suite and has marigold flower painted on the wall. This is another very well done up suite. What I liked is that every suite is unique in its own way.

Aravali suite. The main specialty in this room is white marble and glass work in niches. You see the well crafted marble bowls.

Sheesh Mahal : A small & intimate private dining venue to create a romantic experience.

Palace Suite. The main specialty in this room is balcony and Lapez Lazuts is the semi precious stone of beautiful glass work on the wall. <

The Palace Suite where we stayed. Right in front is the bed. On the wall is a beautiful painting with a mattress in front. Most of the time in the room was spent here chatting or watching classic movies on DVD.

The palace has a bar and bar deck which is open air. The latter is a great place to enjoy a drink. It has loungers and chairs as well, is very windy in the evenings. Try the palak pakori chart, stuffed aloo, spinach and paneer kathi rolls. By the poolside a musician played the instrument Jal Tarang. Its sound was very soothing and broke the monotony of silence that existed at night.

This is the restaurant. We enjoyed every meal be it breakfast, lunch or dinner. Great view overlooks the swimming pool. Great ambience. We loved the pudhina ka chatni (mint sauce). If you are having breakfast or dinner sit in the open air portion of the restaurant.

We liked Devi Garh so much that Aparna and I wanted to become employees of the hotel. She could handle human resources while I could become a Duty Manager. You see both of us at the Reception counter. As it was time to leave we became Devi Garh sick, did not feel like leaving the place. I believe that the Government of India should encourage setting up of heritage hotels in rural areas. The hotel has a positive impact on the town/village economy, provides employment and business opportunities for locals. I was surprised to meet a Cable Operator in Delwara who provides cable t.v. services to app 225 village homes @ Rs 100 per month.