(Shahar Palace rooms)One of the joys of visiting a touristy place is there's always a wide array of accommodation options. I, again, decided to go to Jaipur rather late in the day so ended up having to book into three separate hotels for the five-night stay: one budget, one mid-range and one five-star. I rate each one highly, for different reasons.
Night one was spent at Shahar Palace. It's an 80-year old, rambling family home, or small palace really, converted into a series of rooms opening out onto a sprawling, beautiful green garden featuring a small fountain. Sitting here in the blue-skied sunshine after my seven-hour journey from Delhi packed in the back of a 4x4, knees-to-chest style, alongside garrulous travel companions and no iPod, it was possibly the most relaxed I'd been in weeks.
The owner is a retired military colonel, former polo player and a minor royal. Despite some initial terse moments over an overbooking he and his family turned out to be wonderful, warm and charming hosts. His 20-something son is a professional polo player (polo is an extremely popular pursuit in Jaipur, with all its royalty and horses) and spends much of the year travelling the world with his four horses, playing in various competitions.
The room was better than you'd expect from a budget hotel: clean and neat with a TV, a proper shower in the quite-fine bathroom and a lovely wooden wardrobe. It was a bit dark, however, but I'd handed my original, sunlight-drenched upper floor room to my bookclub friend who'd organised the trip. She deserved first pick.
(Khandela Haveli central courtyard)
Next up was Khandela Haveli, in the suburb of Bani Park which is home to numerous similar guesthouses. As the story goes, the haveli (rooms built around a central courtyard; a popular structure in desert Rajasthan) was originally in the small neighbouring city of Khandela, and had been dismantled and rebuilt in Jaipur. The place looked extremely new and well-maintained so I'm not sure about that story, but whatever. It was absolutely lovely: cosy, intimate, lovely touches that weren't over-the-top, TVs and nice bathrooms and so on. We stayed here for two nights; first in the sprawling royal 'suite' then in a normal 'deluxe' room; both were great.
(Rooftop dining area, next to the pool; Khandela Haveli)
Next door to the hotel is Hotel Mahal Khandela. It's run by the brother of Khandela Haveli's owner. When I brought this up with the manager his eyebrows shot up and he archly said, "Who told you that?" (It was the polo-playing son from Shahar, but I didn't tell him that.) Perhaps Khandela v Khandela is Jaipur's own Ambani v Ambani.
(Le Méridien Jaipur)
For the final two nights we were the guests of Le Méridien Jaipur. It is important to note that Le Méridien is actually situated on the outskirts of Jaipur, past Amber Fort, and a good 45 minutes by rickshaw, at least half an hour by car. As my whole reason for being in Jaipur was to go to the literature festival it was a bit of a drag, but that most certainly does not reflect on the hotel, which has an incredible amount of space and virtually no neighbours. It's also in the process of being extended.
(Musicians stroll through the gardens and entrance way; they play a traditional Rajasthani instrument that's kind of like a violin made of bamboo; this guy's dad sits in a corner of the hotel grounds making the instrument)
As would be expected from a five-star property, Le Méridien is beautifully outfitted, furnished with antique-like fittings that hit just the right mid-point between beige anony-hotel and jarringly ornate Rajasthani. Service is seamless, there is a beautiful pool in which to swim in warmer weather, and a few different restaurants from which to choose. Our room had a rain shower, a bath, a four-poster bed, nightly turndown, a flat-screen TV, and a balcony overlooking the pool. Best of all, deep fluffy pillows, in-room AC controls and a soft doona.
Verdict? I'd definitely stay at any, or all of them again. I think Shahar is best if you're with a group; Khandela is great for couples, particularly if visiting parentals are part of the package, and Le Méridien is best if you're after a relaxing weekend getaway, rather than an action-packed few days of frenzied shopping and eating.
But when I go back I think I'll give Khandela #2 a try. There's nothing like a bit of brotherly rivalry to amp up the experience.