From palace to retreat Vilas Palace – Mandavi, Gujarat

 India’s palaces have evolved..

‘We all look in awe at a majestic looking palace with mountains and pine forests as a backdrop, like something from a film. No-one speaks as the truck turns into the little track leading up to Jasanghari.’ 

As Jo arrives in Jasanghari, in Finding Jo, she is in awe: ‘I step out of the truck and my eyes are captivated by an array of multi-coloured flowers and plants, and tall oaks and pines. A stone palisade runs around the flat roof of the ornate building, and above it a sculpture in stone. At the front of the building are two statues of women, each holding a flaming torch above their heads.

‘I can hear cooing, howling, tweeting, warbling, howling. Like nothing I’ve ever heard before. I stand entranced.’

Jasanghari is a fictional retreat in a former palace (not a real one either). There were over 80 such palaces in India, many of which are now exclusive hotels. The palaces were home to the monarchs of India – kings and princes – and each ruled a specific area. When the British took over India they left most of these monarchs ruling their localities, but enforced some of our customs on them.

Jasanghari is not a real place, but it has become real for me, and some readers of Finding Jo have asked me where it is because they want to go there. It portrays an idyllic setting for people to unwind, but with so much more.

The facility to learn meditation and mindfulness, do as much yoga as you wish, indulge in favourite hobbies like painting and cooking, eat healthily and join in activities enables guests to take themselves out of their normal lives, truly unwind and drink in the surroundings. Meeting different people and like-minded souls and having the opportunity to open up in private about the trials of your life in a safe space far from home is something not many people have the opportunity to do. Relationships and friendships flourish and thoughts and experiences that have never been talked about can be freely expressed.

Jasanghari is not a luxury hotel – no ensuite bathrooms, basic but healthy local food, no swimming pool or smart cars. It appeals to a certain type of person and allows visitors to get back to nature and live a simple life, away from the rat race.

In recent years increasing numbers of people seek this type of break from life, whether it’s for a couple of weeks or like Jo and her friends for much longer. Attitudes have changed in the last 20 years and many now believe that they can have a better life with less stress and they want to achieve it.

Extract from Finding Jo, Frances Ive available in Kindle and paperback versions from Amazon worldwide.