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But the best was yet to be as we learnt at Gajner, after a 6 hour long drive. Gajner Palace is a beautiful 19th century pink sandstone building with pleasant courtyards filled with large, leafy trees. The jarokhas facing the lake and courtyards are beautifully carved and the corridors are lined with pillars and wildlife paintings. Our room was no 106, on the first floor. It was spacious and high ceilinged , with old fashioned brass beds, carved fireplace, antique wooden dressing table, old English wall paper and a luxuriant carpet. The jarokha window brought in a fabulous lake viewt-we could see ducks, spoonbills and herons on the water, and an endless number of blackbuck antelope, chinkara gazelle, blue bull and wild boar coming to drink water all day. The dining hall was great as well, and so was the drawing room used for conferences. We were delighted to have breakfast on a biradari overlooking the lake and watching imperial sandgrouse flying in to drink water in large flocks

With Gajner as the base we visited Bikaner. The 16th century Junagadh fort, here, we found to be as impressive as Kumbalgadh and Mehrangadh, but lacking their formidable hilltop location. Inside, it was one of the prettiest of forts-we saw the beautiful red and gold painted walls of Lal vilas, the mirrorwork of shish mahal, the marble decorations and carvings of Chandra Mahal, the magnificent laquer painted Anup mahal, chambers with superb furniture-and a WWII period biplane. Lalgadh palace is another of the beautiful sandstone palaces with plenty of carvings and latticework, surrounding a huge courtyard garden. It is set in some 25 acres of park-like grounds. The Sadul sinhji museum in the Lalgadh has a number of paintings and photographs depicting the recent history of Bikaner.


We returned to Jodhpur, and this time, decided to stay at the Balsammand lake Palace, which had the combined advantage of being located in Jodhpur yet far away from the busy areas of the city. Balsammand palace was built as a pavilion by Maharajah Sur Sinhji in the 1600s, facing the Balsammand lake, Rajasthan's oldest artificial reservoir created in 1159 AD, was converted into a summer palace by Maharajah Jaswant sinhji and later renovated by Maharajah Umaid Sinhji. Fresh winds from the lake waft into the latticed windows, arches and Jarokhas of the palace, but as the suites in the palace were under renovation, we stayed in cottage-like rooms in the 175 acres of fruit orchards, flower gardens and lawns behind the palace, which were simple but comfortable. Here, my wife, Jyoti, felt really royal walking among the peacocks and roses, relaxing by lily pools, sitting under domes on the lakeside and strolling through mango, banana, papaya and pomegranate groves which resounds with the sounds of Indian grey partridges, lapwings, peafowl and parakeets. Meals were served in a royal tent on the lawn and we enjoyed breakfast on the lawns beside a lily covered canal with a delightful bridge enhancing the old world charm of the property.

As Jaisalmer was not on the agenda, we headed for Garha near Shergadh, 2 hours from Jodhpur, where we were assured was one of the greatest seas of sand dunes in India. The sand dunes were indeed splendid, and we met Brigadier Udai Sinh at his resort, Desert Hermitage, and enjoyed a chilled beer and a delicious home spread with him. The Desert Hermitage is a cluster of 6 cottages, and is known for it's camel safaris to the sand dunes. We opted to return to Balsammand palace for the night, and drove down to the marketplace around Jalori gate and the railway station to pick up embroidered leather footwear, including camel leather mojdis, other handicrafts, and Rajastani snacks.


Finally, homeward bound and pressed for time, we cancelled our proposed stay at Mt Abu, and headed instead for Balaram Palace on the Abu-Ahmedabad highway. This is one of India's most exciting renovations-the palace was beautifully painted and restored, and the Nawabi style gardens have been professionally landscaped with exotic flowers, Mexican lawns and modern fountains. The swimming pool is one of highlights of the palace-it is half way up a cliff and fed by a natural rock spring. We had room no 201, the Nawab suite, with a lovingly furnished visitor's room and a good sized bedroom. The bathroom had dressing area. wash basin, tub, centrally heated showers and western toilet fixtures. It was equipped with terry cloth bathrobes, shampoo, shaving kit, toilet requisites and even a hair dryer! The windows brought in fabu1ous views of the garden, the river and the hills. The dinner was one of the best meals of our trip-we enjoyed the soup, baked macroni, paneer methi, malai kofta, pulao, cheese nan and vanilla ice cream with hot chocolate sauce, and the management was very efficent. At night, we walked along the hills in the full moonlight, and awakened at leisure for a breakfast of French toast with melted butter and honey-a fitting end to our honeymoon trip full of honeyed memories and moonshine!


North West Safaries & travel services offers 12 day honeymoon packages in India with accommodations in Udai bilas palace, Shikarbadi hotel,, Sardar Sammand lake palace, Gajner palace, Balsammand lake palace and Balaram palace resort.

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