by Peggy Markel

I traveled by car again, to the sweet haven of Sharpura Bargh, a private boutique guesthouse halfway between Udaipur and Jaipur. Shaturgeet and Maya Singh, the owners, greeted me like an old friend.

Sharpura bargh

Maya’s warm welcome was lovely and personal (royal butlers can be a bit much after a while). A warm embrace in the simple countryside goes a long way. Though my visit to the palace “god-realm,” had been fun for a while, I felt at home in this 120-year-old country residence on 45 acres, surrounded by gardens and lakes. It provided me with the magical combination of elegance, simplicity, genuine hospitality and good home cooking from an organic vegetable garden.

Sat, the Prince and photographer, took us on a jeep safari of his grandfather’s land, the late Rajadhiraj Nahar Singh of Sharpura. Sat’s grandfather mortgaged the family’s private property and jewels to bring water to his people. In the end, he created 250 acres of wetlands, defying all odds that he would be able to build the right dams.

We rode through the town slowly as everyone bowed respectfully to Sat; he waved back kindly. The children were so polite! We did not encounter the usual out-stretched hands asking for candy or money. Instead they were genuinely smiling and happy. I asked him how that was possible– what was different about this town? He replied that they take good care to empower the rural children with books and educational grants.

He seemed well-loved by the villagers, and he told me, ‘I love to walk down the street with my camera and take photos, but some of the village men say, ‘Your highness, the King, your grandfather would not approve sir. You can drive in your car and get out to take a photo, but you mustn’t just walk down the street, sir.’ Sat said he realizes that they still live with that respect and he, with all humbleness, obeys. It said something about honoring an old system that still seems to be intact, rather than elitism.

It was a narrow, yet busy street with shop-owners hard at work selling dry goods and sweets being cooked right on the spot. There was a huge metal bowl where milk and sugar were being cooked to the delight of a small boy dancing around waiting for what would come of it. There were women at the well, women selling vegetables and fruits on the ground, men with various colored turbans pushing fruit carts and giving their children rides on the handlebars of their bicycles. It was a happy place.

Sat drove us through Gypsy villages and viewed a few of the lakes with dry beds. The villagers were harvesting wheat and looked like dots of moving color from across the vast plains. We also visited a stable gypsy village. Gypsies are nomadic people who originated from Rajasthan. Here they had been granted some land and they were quite settled and happy, although he did caution us, “I can’t leave my jeep for very long. Something is always sure to be missing.”

We bird watched in the 100-year-old mango and guava orchards. A daylight owl was sleeping in a 300-year-old Banyan tree. We enjoyed tea in the orchard and Sat gave us all muslin to keep close.

“Throw this over you if you don’t want to get stung,” he cautioned. The bees were swarming that time of year. We left soon after. It added a bit of adventure to the safari.

Back at Sharpura, we sauntered into the kitchen where the family cook was preparing a local dish of Gatta ki Sabzi, chick pea flour gnocchi cooked in a spicy sauce. It was fashioned into a rope-like form, and then cut into small bite sizes like gnocchi. The display of the spice tray common in all Indian kitchens becomes comforting after a while. It’s a distinct reminder of the importance of Indian cultural identity.

I looked around at the cabinetry. It was charming, useful, and old. Something we Americans never see. Two young helpers were present and quiet as mice. One was filling water pitchers from the terracotta jug. All homes, even Royal ones keep the water fresh, contained in terracotta on a stand in the kitchen.


A beautiful young girl dressed in a peacock-blue saree washed the dishes. She stood by silently with a shy smile as we dined with the uncle, brother to the king and a force in his own right, and Sat’s mother. Next time around she’ll give us a tea tasting.

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About Peggy Markel

Peggy Markel is the Owner and Operator of Peggy Markel’s Culinary Adventures. In 1993, she started The Ligurian School of Poetic Cooking (1993–2000), with Angelo Cabani, master chef and proprietor of Locanda Miranda in Tellaro, a small village on the Italian Riviera. For the past 17 years Peggy has traversed the Mediterranean and North Africa, from Elban fishing villages and Moroccan markets to the homes of Tuscan artisans and chefs, furthering her own exploration of culture and cuisine. “For me, a connection to real food is a connection to life.” Peggy’s journeys help people explore the cuisines of Tuscany, Sicily, Morocco, Almafi, and India.