Of Marwari horses, tan-coloured chais and ginger: A journey to the Fort of the Sun in Rajasthan.
A man stands upright, high in a small tree; with precision, he cuts leafy branches that fall to his heard of munching goats below. A troop of chinkara – or Indian gazelles – performs its leaping ballet through the thorny brush. Birds trill invisibly as our Jeep tyres tread the dry, dusty path.
Sandstone walls and parapets eventually appear in view, drenched in golden light from the dipping sun: the fortress hotel, Mihir Garh, meaning, ‘the fort of the sun’, rises seamlessly from the dunes of the Thar Desert. Marwari horses stamp in the dust by the walls. Alert to our approach, their ears arch inwards, resembling the petals of an unknown flower. As the grumbling engine switches off, stillness settles back into place.
I step through an imposing gateway and into the shade of a courtyard, where a fountain quietly chatters its welcome. Climbing stone steps to the upper terrace, I am greeted warmly and shown to my suite. Dark wood gleams, and breezes roll in from a private terrace, gently ruffling the curtains and Rajasthan textiles around the room.
I take a seat outside and pour tan-coloured chai, thick with buffalo milk, into a small clay mug. I pinch its handle between my finger and thumb, and sip, looking out over the level land. The ginger is fiery, the cloves spicy, and perfectly balanced with strong sweetness. Birds flutter between the terrace pillars, and occasionally stray through the open windows of the bedroom; chinkara bound through the dusty shrubs below. Further out, two guests ride brown Marwari horses from the stables back to the fort.
Its sandy facades blend harmoniously with the dusty plains, yet unlike the many historical garhs of Rajasthan, Mihir Garh was only completed in 2009. Built by local craftsmen, the design of the fort was faithful to traditional methods; the suite’s fireplace, made from dried clay and cow dung, follows the style of the nearby villages of Khandi and Haji.
Tomorrow, I will head out to explore these villages. I will walk along sun baked paths, past bright yellow fields of mustard, and stop at a village of round earthen huts, topped with thatched roofs. I’ll watch as a Marwari musician takes a ravanahatha in his hand, his prodigious black and grey moustache rolling over his mouth like a rocky cornice swept with snow. Seated cross-legged on a floor of packed earth, the small wooden instrument held out along his arm, he will sweep the strings vigorously with the horsehair bow, conjuring a sound both jaunty and melancholic; the bells of the bow jangling with each rhythmic swing of his elbow, the strings seeming to sing an invocation of the spirit of Rajasthan itself.
All images: Rich Stapleton
Cereal is one of the world’s leading independent publications, covering the subjects of travel, art, design, and style. The magazine is published biannually, is available in over 45 countries, and features content from around the globe. For more information, visit www.readcereal.com or follow @cerealmag.