Two-three hours (depending on roads and cow traffic) towards what seems to be the middle of nowhere lands you in the tiny village of 6,000 residents. Though throughly cliched, “off the beaten track,” might be an appropriate description of Narlai. The reason to come here is to experience rural India, within the comforts of a world-class heritage hotel. No one I’ve talked to knew of this place, even those who holiday frequently in India, this added to the appeal. I found it through Truffle Pig (who arranged our honeymoon), and trust them entirely with any suggestion. It certainly lived up to all expectations.
Though Narlai is rural, parts of town showed a fair amount of prosperity, while of course poverty existed in the area, Narlai felt surprisingly well-off (relatively) given it’s isolated location. Locals were friendly, or at least left us alone, which suggests the heritage hotel, Rawla Narlai is a positive addition to the community. It’s always a risk visiting these sorts of places, you have to be careful that the money you’re spending is bettering the community, not exploiting it for the amusement of western, or wealthy local tourists. I got the distinct impression that Rawla Narlai does good within their community, providing income and opportunity. Aside from that, the hotel itself is gorgeous. Each room, in typical heritage fashion is unique. Though, apparently they have a newer section, which we did not explore. The staff is helpful and engaging, the food, which is your only option in the area is quite good.
In terms of activities, Narlai is geared towards relaxing. Though we took advantage of the miles of dirt roads to go on several runs around the countryside, as well as hike up the large hill in the center of town. But mostly, one would bee most likely to go for strolls or relax by the pool, or gardens with a book.
Because it was Christmas Eve the hotel put on a “gala” for the guests. The evening began with all of us gathered around fire pits near reception. While they prepared to transfer us all to a nearby step well for dinner, they had a local magician perform. Which, was just, odd. It was highly entertaining in the “why am I watching a magic show in the middle of rural India” sort of way. Though many of the guests got into it, we mostly just watched with a fair amount of confusion. After this, they handed out head wraps for the men and shawls for the women. We were then given the option of taking an ox-drawn cart to the step well, or taking safari jeeps. Though one might argue that a the ox option was more experiential, one member of our group quickly (and correctly) ascertained the jeep option would be preferable overall (there are a lot of potholes, it was cold, potential ox-flatulence?). As a result of our curmudgeonly decision to take the jeep we arrived quickly to get our pick of seating in front of various bon fires, and un-restricted access to the open bar.
While sipping our drinks and staying warm by the fire waiters passed around appetizers, we wandered around the edges of the step well, lit by hundreds of tea-lights. Eventually we made our way over to the main dining area for dinner and entertainment.
It was a pretty unique way to celebrate Christmas, certainly unforgettable. If we could, Alex and I would spend every Christmas in a far-flung location. We don’t really celebrate the holiday, but it is a perfect excuse for travel and adventure. And experiences like this one.
After dinner we took a Safari truck back. The next day we spent running, wandering, eating, and gearing up to head even further afield. From this rural town we’d head out into Leopard territory to stay at an even more remote location, accessible only by Jeep.