The Maharajah’s castle

The Maharajah’s castle

"This autumn, my daughter Marie-Charlotte and I went to India, to meet plant producers.
Each day spent in the country of the “sacred cow” brings its share of surprises, even when the day promises to be ordinary."

Jean-Marc Réa

We woke up at 6:30 am this morning and now, we wished we could head for our hotel as quickly as possible. It is already 8:30 pm and obviously, Shailendra, our 23 year-old-correspondent and businessman I told you about in the last episode, has no intention of letting us go so easily. Our late arrival forced us to visit their Amla fields on the run, and now, he and his friends want us to stay for a snack. As they planned to drive us to our hotel, I suggest that we leave now and invite them for dinner there. I can see that my proposition makes them feel uncomfortable, but on my insistence, they finally agree.

And we’re off, in the dark, the chaotic roads crossing villages with no electricity. We can still glimpse unusual and picturesque sights. Animals of all kinds seem to come out of nowhere, like flashes before our eyes. I am stunned when I see those women, sited in semicircles by candlelight, to listen to one of them who seems to teach, like in ancient times. And how could I forget the joyful groups of people dancing in the dark, to the sound of the tambourines?

Our hotel is called « Fort Begu ». We booked it on the Internet, like we did for each hotel of this trip. Our choices are sometimes smart, sometimes a bit less and we are used to the “Indian surprises”; but we certainly did not expect to see two motorcyclists, waiting to escort us as we neared our destination! We must admit that those motorcyclists have nothing to do with our national police: their motorbikes are more like motorcycles and are wearing 1930s-paramilitary style clothes.

Finally, the householders enter the room; the youngest man is about 30 years old and seems to be acquainted with Shailendra’s uncle. The other one is his 70-year old father. We quickly understand that we are facing a real Maharajah and his son, a Prince. They chose to become entrepreneurs and turn their ancestors’ home into a luxury hotel; but a very special kind of luxury. Their attitude of a hotel manager and his assistant quickly becomes an attitude of hosts, receiving us with full honours.

We are led into a small room, where all the furniture seems to come from a museum. We are asked to show our passports, and then we are offered refreshments with the Prince, quickly joined by the Maharajah. A young maitre d’ serves us; he wears black jeans, a black vest, an almost-white shirt, a black tie and a pair of woollen, white with a bit of black in the end. I can feel that Shailandra and his uncle are uncomfortable. The latter excuses himself, claiming he has an appointment. Shailandra want to leave with him, but on my insistence, he ends up staying. I will later understand that I just made a mistake. You will know, too, if you read the next episode.

Our hotel looks more like a giant fortified castle, and the staff waiting for us reflects the motorcyclists. The two people transporting our luggage in another car quickly unloads the bags and leave very quietly. Only Shailendra and his uncle, about 30 years of age, stay with us.

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