Bringing in the harvest at Shahpura Bagh country house


For families en route from Udaipur to Jaipur, or coming from the Araveli Cottages and Tented Camp in rural Rajasthan where they can volunteer with local communities, Shahpura is the perfect half way stopping off point. This tranquil town set on the plains is home to the beautiful Shahpura Bagh, a 375-year-old country house retreat, once the summer residence of the Rulers of Shahpura and still owned by the family.

The serene white building with wheat fields out front, transports families back to the days of the Raj, with chintzy meets Indian furniture and old black and white photographs of the maharajas, some featuring dead tigers after a shoot which of course seems shocking to us in more enlightened times. It may be frowned upon but it’s a fascinating insight into the way things were.

All nine bedrooms are vast double height rooms with tinkling coloured glass chandeliers and old-school ensuite bathrooms. Best of all are the vast gardens, now home to one of the most elegant infinity pools you’re likely to discover in Rajasthan with draped pavilions for flopping out in the shade. There’s even an alfresco bar under a block print canopy where you can ring the bell for assistance with a cool drink.

Traditional day beds by the pool at Shahpura Bagh

Sundowners at Dhikola Fort

A pre dinner treat is a trip to the family’s Dhikola Fort, a 30-minute drive away. The fort has seen better days but that doesn’t take away from its beauty or intrigue. The government doesn’t pay for any upkeep, so it’s up to the family to invest in the repair of this mighty castle. We’re taken onto the ramparts and invited to take a seat with incredible views over the plains and the village, whilst an elderly gentleman with an impressive rainbow coloured turban and grey mustache serves us drinks as the sun sets.

As darkness descends burning torches are lit across the fort giving it a Lord of the Rings atmosphere with incredible swirling bats. There’s the sound of partying in the village below and at one point all the lights go out. It’s a power cut, such is life here, but the parties continue.

Next morning, after an Alice in Wonderland style breakfast under the trees with fine china and a natty tablecloth, it’s fabulous to stroll around the lake, a verdant wetland which is a sanctuary for wildlife. We spot dozens of peacocks in the forest and out on the lake itself there are herons, cranes, water buffalo, cows and horses. Personally I could have chilled out here for a week or two but Jaipur was calling us!

The serene pool at Shahpura Bagh

The lowdown

Shahpura Bagh can be booked by Audley Travel as part of a wider itinerary.

A 12-day tailor made itinerary through northern India with Audley Travel including 4 nights at Me to We’s Araveli property (all meals and experiences included), one night in Shahpura, two nights in Jaipur, one night in Agra and two nights in Delhi (all B&B) starts from £3,995 per person based on four travelling (two adults, two children), sharing two rooms. Includes private, guided excursions in each destination, international and one domestic flight as well as a private vehicle and driver throughout.

Read about volunteering holidays in rural Rajasthan.

Tips
Visit your GP six months before travelling to check up on what immunisations you all need and get them done well in advance of travel.

The best time to go
From October to March after the monsoon and when the desert sun isn’t so intense.