Supping on hunter's platter at Ranbanka Palace

Friday, 29 April 2011, 10:13 Hrs
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Jodhpur: Cocooned in the deep shadows of towering trees, Ranbanka Palace has carved a niche of its own in heritage tourism, offering traditional art and craft, affordability and mouth watering hunter's cuisine. Owned by erstwhile Rathore royal and polo ace Karna Vijay Singh and wife Shweta Rathore, the palace, converted into a heritage resort in 2000, is now a hub for local crafts under a revival programme undertaken by its owners. The intention is to resuscitate traditional livelihoods.

The palace overlooks the imposing Umaid Bhavan Palace in the heart of Jodhpur, 590 km from Delhi.

Every evening, performing artists and craftspeople flock to the sprawling lawns of the retreat to showcase their skills. The performances include traditional puppet theatre, local dances and music - both instrumental and vocal - of the desert.

Artisans spread their wares on the manicured lawns for guests to browse through items ranging from handcrafted jootis (shoes), accessories, bags, trinkets and dolls.

Guests shop as they dine at the open air restaurant, the Ranbanka Bagh, breaking off between courses to buy the items. Jootis crafted from camel, buffalo and goat leather by Manohar Lal of neighbouring Nagaur, whose family has been in the business for 700 years, are in great demand.

"The idea is to connect the two heritages - the ancient heritage of Jodhpur and the heritage of the palace - and combine the old and the new that works in India. We are reviving the heritage crafts too and providing employment to villagers and local artisans. That is the way to go for heritage hospitality in India," Rathore said in an interview.

Ranbanka is part of a family palace that dates back to 1927. Named after the clan's war cry, "Ranbanka Rathore" (the invincible Rathore), it was built for Ajit Singh, the younger brother of Maharaja Umaid Singh of Jodhpur.

"Erstwhile rulers brought the English guests home and lodged them in rooms dotting the sprawling property, outlying the living quarters. The tradition sowed the seeds of the country's first heritage retreat. Ours was one of the first homes to open up for hospitality in the early 20th century before independence," Rathore said.

Ranbanka Palace, built in the style of early 20th century Rajasthani mansions with domes, arches, lattices and modern interiors in red stone, opened its door to visitors in 2000.

The palace has a long tradition of "shikar" or hunting, which finds its way into the numerous stuffed and mounted animal busts adorning the rooms, the rich smattering of tiger art from Ranthambore and the family photographs of hunting.

"We began with 30 rooms in the main quarters and have now expanded to 80 by refurbishing an old maze of dilapidated stables and palace offices into a new modern wing," Rathore said.

The palace flaunts its cuisine, catering to local diners, army officers from the cantonment, wedding entourages and occasional foreign film crews.

In keeping with the hunters who owned the palace, Ranbanka's signature dish is the "junglee murgi" (wild chicken).

It is a hunter's concoction of jungle fowl cooked in a sauce of red chilli paste, peppercorn, bay leaves, chopped onions, garlic, desi ghee (clarified butter) and salt - minus water. Traditionally, the bird, diced in small cubes, is cooked in an open pan on an open hearth.

The traditional "laal maas" is another dish reinvented to cater to tame palates.

"It is essentially a dish of lamb or mutton cooked in red chilli garlic paste, clarified butter, curd with crushed onion juice. The meat is usually eaten with crisp 'moti roti', usually served crunched and crushed," chef Syed, in charge of the kitchen, told us.

The tariffs are reasonable given that the palace is barely three kilometres from Jodhpur airport, said the retreat's general manager Devender Wallia, who expects a rush of guests during Holi, the festival of colours.

"The rents for the room classified in four categories vary between 6,400 to 9,800 in the peak season," Wallia told us.
Source: IANS
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