And here we are. We made it! It actually wasn’t as bad as everybody told us it would be. Given the stories we heard before we left Bucharest, I was expecting this 13-hour train trip in India to be a nightmare. But no, there were no assaults from bugs, no rat invasions, no starvation, no stolen goods. On the contrary, we even got to sleep tight, to enjoy a well-deserved rest. I feel that our first train ride, from Delhi to Jodhpur for our stay at Kings Retreat Hotel, was a total success.
Thank God we left Delhi! My first city ever where I wouldn’t want to return. We wait for the other passengers to get off the train. I think to myself that maybe we have been unfair to Delhi, that maybe the poor fellow isn’t as exhausting and unattractive as we saw him. It must be Ladakh’s fault – we enjoyed it too much and it raised the bar too high. What if I planned this trip wrong? I wonder if we should have stayed longer in Ladakh and skipped the cities. I don’t know, but I sure know that I am sweating like hell and sure miss those few degrees in Ladakh.
We get off the train and an unbearable heat strikes me. And it’s only 8 AM! God, I do hope this Jodhpur greets us nicely, that we will enjoy it and make us not want to leave it. A pungent smell of spices (do these guys cook somewhere in this train station?) follows me as I clumsily look for our hotel reservation in Jodhpur. I hate hotels, they are much too impersonal with their dozens of rooms. Oh, how I will miss the locals in Ladakh with their tiny houses in which they welcomed us so warmly!
And our warm Kings Retreat in Jodhpur appears…
Ok, here it is – Hotel Kings Retreat. Why in God’s name haven’t we booked a homestay in Jodhpur? I quickly remember that I didn’t find anything available on the internet and that I found this hotel to be more intimate, cozier, given it only has 7 rooms (don’t ask me how I choose the hotels in which we stay because my criteria are way too quirky).
We hop on a tuk-tuk. Vlad tells the driver at least 4 times the name of our hotel. No reaction! Did I choose an alien hotel that nobody heard of? I immediately show him our reservation and we get a cheerful “Aaaaaaah” – as if I’d just enlightened him. Ok, so knows the hotel, I can relax. We pass a cool square with a clock tower (it reminds me of Sighișoara). There is a pleasant smell in the air (and this is India) – it’s like that spicy tea from Delhi – the famous masala chai.
Check out these little fancy and winding streets our tuk-tuk is passing! Does he really know where we need to get? Oh, there is the sign – Kings Retreat Hotel. Phew, we made it safe and sound, and actually very quickly. A very nice man greets us. He speaks plain English and welcomes us with a kind smile. It looks like we won an upgraded, they give us a better room than the one we had booked. Somebody up there cares for us.
A hotel with a view
I am not here to review the hotel, so I won’t let myself get stolen by the wonderful little indoor garden from the ground floor. But it surely looks nice. Let’s go upstairs and check our room. Vlad has a serious smile on his face, my lil’ sis aka cousin, Teodora, also looks excited. A canopy? Check. Huge bed? Definitely check (we instantly cancel the extra bed we had asked for because this bed is big enough for the three of us). Clean room and clean bathroom? Check. A green curious lizard on the wall? Check. It looks like I made the right choice!
We drop our bags, hop on the bed, but I obviously don’t feel like doing nothing. I start harassing both Vlad and Teodora to go check the terrace on the rooftop. I know for sure that one of the reasons for which I chose Kings Retreat was the view of the Fort… What was its name? Fort Mehrangarh, my little genius Teodora instantly adds. I go running upstairs, not quite getting why I have a huge smile on my face. I wonder if the man’s smile is contagious. And voila the Fort! But, Jesus, it is too hot! I do not last longer than a minute and I go downstairs like a reptile, desperate to cool itself.
We grab something to eat. Tasting the food, I am already relaxed and highly doubt that we will have any food problems here. We go to the reception to check what we could see today. Another man with an even bigger smile greets us. I wonder if these folks have a problem and they suffer of acute kindness? He introduces himself, Vishal Bali (his name instantly makes me think of Indonesia). We quickly understand that he is the owner of Kings Retreat. He tells us that he wants us to feel at home and he helps us plan our day.
Getting help with planning our day
As usual, hearing his good English, I take advantage of Vishal and start bombing him with questions about Jodhpur and its hidden gems. I feel he is a bit disappointed that we only have two days for sightseeing. I wonder if we will also feel the same the day after tomorrow when we leave for Jaipur? He asks me if we will also visit Jaisalmer. Ah, damn it, I knew this town is worth visiting but we really don’t have time for it. To compensate our itinerary’s lack of Jaisalmer, Vishal suggests a dinner in the desert. I look at Vlad who doesn’t seem excited about this. But then Vishal adds that the dinner also includes traditional music and dance performed by members of a local tribe. Ok, sold!
He hands us a map, a ton of explanations and wishes us a wonderful day. And I think he tells us at least three times to call him in case we need anything. On our way to the famous Mehrangargh Fort, I analyse whether the nice guys from Kings Retreat and kindness will make us enjoy the city better. In the end, I think there must be something true about the saying that it’s the man who blesses the place.
After a day wandering around Jodhpur, we return to Kings Retreat. Where we dine on the rooftop terrace, with an amazing view of the lighted fort. Vishal asks us whether tomorrow first thing in the morning we want to take a tour of Jodhpur on bicycles! My eyes instantly start glowing so it isn’t difficult to accept. Oh, I love this city more and more.
Jodhpur on two wheels
I jump off the bed at the sound of the alarm. Thank God, I am a morning person and I love waking up as early as possible. Actually, I have had this thing since I was little – if I stay too long in bed I feel like I’m losing a lot of precious time. Vlad and Teodora aren’t exactly as I am so I have to grab them away from the bed. Nevertheless, I am so enthusiastic knowing that the bicycles are waiting for us downstairs.
We meet our guide, Daanish. Another one with a smile all over his face! Although it’s only 6 AM and they are all cheerful and smiling. We get on our bikes and start the tour. The guy who greeted us yesterday also joins us. As such, he and Daanish flank us with their bicycles to make us safe, and they also make sure we have enough water.
Given that we are only 4 in the tour (us three and a young Japanese guy), I feel I can launch my questions and curiosities towards Daanish. And yes, his English is so good, why not take advantage of this and squeeze some facts from him? Therefore, tons of questions keep appearing in my head and I certainly don’t get shy. Poor Daanish, after a while I start feeling bad for harassing him with my questions. But this actually doesn’t seem to bother him, he tells us tons of stories and curiosities about Jodhpur, Hinduism, gods and goddesses, local legends. So we couldn’t have started our day in a better way!
After our bicycle tour, it is difficult to say goodbye to Daanish. But we return to Kings Retreat and after we grab something to eat, Vishal helps us plan our day. He calls for a tuk-tuk for us and suggests some sightseeing. Vlad (the family’s dealer) asks the driver how much a day with him costs us. Bam, the Indian sets a price, Vlad raises his eyebrows. But he doesn’t get a chance to negotiate as Vishal comes to the rescue and starts an Indian negotiation. So we happily assist and thank Vishal for a considerable discount.
The heat takes a toll on me. We go sightseeing, we wander around, but I cannot wait to get to our cool room at Kings Retreat. We take a rest and then we go downstairs, excited for our desert dinner. Vishal greets us warmly. I feel he is a bit nervous, I watch him making some phone calls. He tells me smiling that the driver that was supposed to take care of us is nowhere to be reached. But he starts laughing and tells me that some Indians act like this, you cannot rely on them.
I look at Vlad with a sad face. I really wanted to see those dances! And all of a sudden we hear Vishal: Ok, guys, are you ready? Huh? I thought we didn’t have a driver. No, but you have me, Vishal tells me. I will take you and take good care of you. Yes, this man is willing to take us himself rather than cancel our dinner. Hmm, if only all hotel owners acted like this.
A dinner to remember
Vishal gives me such a positive vibe, this Maharaja of Kings Retreat. And how I love that he talks a lot with us. He tells us stories about India, about Hinduism, about himself and his family. And boy, does he drive nicely! Finally, we meet an Indian with which I am not afraid to get in the car. I don’t feel any panic at all and I can be all ears to his stories without having my eyes distressingly glued to the road. He stays with us the whole evening, taking such good care of us. However, I wonder if he does the same with all his tourists. But I highly doubt that we are anything special, but I sure know that was an unforgettable evening.
After a wonderful dinner, (I will tell you another time about it) we head back home. In the car Vishal tells us he hasn’t read anything by Mircea Eliade. This is something I must handle. In the car, the radio is playing Guns N’ Roses. We are in the middle of Rajasthan and time has stopped. Now yes, I am sure that tomorrow morning it will not be easy to leave Jodhpur. I would have stayed longer, we’ve grown attached to this blue city, to Kings Retreat and its warm and smiling people.
Yep, I was pretty right last evening. I don’t want to leave this place. And Vishal doesn’t make things better – he comes to us with a bunch of sandwiches to have on our train journey. I have never been to a hotel where the owner gave us sandwiches. Now I know! Kings Retreat is no ordinary hotel, it’s a homestay in the shape of a hotel!
We returned home convinced that Jodhpur is our favorite Indian city. Is it the city the one that stole our hearts or its people? I have no idea. But I do know that we’ve kept in touch with Kings Retreat, with Vishal and our beloved Daanish. Vishal sends me now and then Indian stories and it is a pleasure to chitchat with him on Whatsapp (Long live technology!). And as soon as we got home I searched the holy Indian Amazon and sent Vishal the English version of Maitreyi. I do hope he enjoys my beloved Eliade.
And I know one more thing. This adorable recipe of people + cozy place + blue city got us wanting to return as soon as possible to India. So yes, we will see each other again, we will tell each other stories again and enjoy the warmth of Jodhpur’s people. Thank you, Kings Retreat, for getting us to love India.
Note for grumblers: This article is our way of saying thank you to Vishal and to the entire Kings Retreat staff. We wanted to surprise him, to return the kindness he showed us. But this is not a review of the hotel, I just wanted to point out what this experience meant to us. We weren’t financially rewarded for writing it (our reward lies in Jodhpur’s smiling people).