How can it be that a town of two thousand people (give or take a thousand), a hundred temples and shrines (give or take a dozen), and a 350 ft high granite rock (give or take an elephant) doesn’t feature on Google Maps?
You can zoom in ‘til the holy cows come home, but you still won’t find Narlai (pronounced ‘Gnarl-eye’). Such unexplainable oddities are par for the course in India, so it’s not totally surprising that this typical Rajasthani town has slipped between the cracks.
To get there, you’ll need a car and local driver (who knows both the way and the unwritten rules of the road). Narlai sits about halfway between the well-known cities of Jodhpur and Udaipur, and is a two to three hour drive from either. You’ll know you’re close when the rolling Aravalli Hills flatten into the Thar desert, or vice versa. Don’t expect a ‘Welcome to Narlai: Gateway to Good Times!’ sign and don’t be shocked by the dusty dirty streets, or the pigs that roam on unsolicited sanitation patrol. This is real rural India, a glorious and baffling blend of sights, sounds and smells. Local gents sport gargantuan turbans, magnificent moustaches and tiny traditional jackets (see ‘The Dude’ in our photos). Brass bands meander in search of celebration and a reason to belt out tunes until 4:00 am (you think I’m kidding, right?). In the festival season, cows are painted horn to heel in pinks and yellows and firecrackers shock the smoke-filled air. Abnormal is the norm.
And yet, it can also be a sensationally serene place. Climb the numerous stone steps to the top of the massive rock which overlooks the town, lean against the legs of the white concrete elephant (again not kidding) and watch the sun set over the desert—you won’t find a more peaceful setting. Actually, that’s not quite true. Walk back down the steps, and find your way to Rawla Narlai, the only game in town. This 17th century fortress turned hunting lodge turned boutique hotel is an oasis in the middle of the mayhem. Rooms are not fancy, but just like the town, they’re filled with character, charm and good intention. It’s worth adding that the hotel’s website has a knack for being hard to find; every other day or so it seems to disappear (still not kidding). How Narlai is that?