The monsoon rains have already found their way with the road. Although it is early July, patches of NH8 from Gurgaon are the consistency of instant soup. As towering trucks and pushing SUVs make their way through the muddy consommé pooling in potholes, we resign ourselves to the dull frustration that accompanies every road trip in and out of Delhi. But the feeling is short-lived. Once we exit the national highway at Kot Putli, there is real scenery, the kind that welcomes the rain. There are freshly plowed fields, sheesham and neem trees laden with fruit, and the rolling hills are green again. Even the overturned truck that fell into a ditch on the side of the road looks more like an aberration than the standard street furniture it has become on the main road. Delhi and its sprawl, swirling traffic, suddenly seem in another world.
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In the afternoon silence, a cool desorateur calls. Pigeons explode from their perches and I open the door to my porch to look out over a prospect of neem and jamun trees leading to the kitchen garden. There is a humid smell in the air. I return to the cool twilight of the room for a nap.
I wake up in the afternoon to the sound of thunder. Lightning crackles on the hilltops and the clouds have claimed the fortress. I walk to the checkered marble terrace of the Mahal and shiver as the first raindrops sting me. There is no one, nothing else around: just the sounds, sight, smell and feel of the rain, the clouds that have gathered above, the hills shimmering with occasional electric currents. The rain dies down and the sky is pink.
On the terrace, deep wicker chairs are set up under the chhattri canopies and we look down on the city disappearing into the dusk as swallows make their last dives for the day overhead. Drinks and onion pakoras, a cool breeze tugging at the tablecloth, darkness all around.
After breakfast the next day, the manager Umesh Tripathi takes me to the organic farm adjacent to the Mahal. The fields are dotted with bajra, bhindi and brinjal, lined with banana, pomegranate, papaya, guava, jamun and ber. Purple jamun nest the ground and we run them through so as not to find it too limp. Suresh the maali reaches up and finds us a bit more on the tree and we now each have a handful of fruit to eat and spit as we walk to the little dam that crosses the stream bed at the end of the farm. Again, there’s no one there, just bulbuls babbling in the bushes, a polished copper-crowned pheasant stalking through the undergrowth, a boy in the distance taking goats to graze. No sound of traffic, human buzz, machines, amplified music. Silence.
On the way back we approach a whitewashed building with a hand pump outside. It’s cool and quiet too, the compound shaded by bell trees, sacred to Shiva, their triple leaves leaving a mnemonic for his trident. We climb up the stone steps to the open pavilion where the Shivalinga is. One can sit there for a long time, doing nothing, looking at the hills and trees. Back at the Mahal, I go for a swim in the octagonal marble pool. If the Mahal is a period piece, with its arches and paneled doors, giant four-poster beds and stained-glass windows, the pool is oriental fantasy. Elephants’ heads spray water on the edges; sweets damask roses and muraiya skirt the lawns. I’m getting used to the princess life now.
Back to the terrace for sunsets, we sit under Guru Purnima for two nights under clear skies and a swirling moon. By nine o’clock the city is quiet; no nightlife in Patan it seems. As the moon rides higher in the sky, the valley is bathed in milky light. The marble terrace shimmers Taj Mahal-like. The looming hills and trees seem shrouded in mystery. The deep thump of a great owl breaks the silence; there will be a good hunt tonight. It’s been far too long that I’ve looked at the landscape bounded only by the light of the moon. Late at night I sit on my porch and enjoy the beauty. Tomorrow we go back to the city, but today, Dilli by please
Things to see and do in Patan
Just sleep, eat, read and gaze at the hills. If you feel more energetic, swim in the jewel-shaped pool, eat fruit from the trees in the organic orchard and explore the silence Shiva Temple and scenic Gopaldwara house located on site.
To walk off these delicious meals, hike up the hill to the ruins of Badal Mahal and the 13th-century Fort-Eyrie, a remnant of the area’s turbulent past. There is a baoli nearby. Go down the stairs to the well. Visit the lac bangle makers in Patan town. Or learn how to cook Laalmaas and other famous Rajasthani dishes.
How to get there
Away NH8 from Delhi is a smooth ride. Patan is located on the Kot Putli-Sikar State Highway, 23 km from the exit at Kot Putli on NH8. From Delhi, even with heavy traffic, we reached in less than 4 hours.