Jaipur is the most important royal city of the Rajputs. Golf is a royal and ancient game. And Mayo College was established as a school for Indian royals during the Raj. Mix it all together and you get the Jaipur Golf Carnival organised for Mayo alumni at that most royal of golf courses, the Rambagh Palace course. I had come down from Delhi to play this tournament a few times before and given the legendary hospitality of the local Rajput alumni, it was always a great weekend out .
Not finding anyone from my 1974 batch, I teamed up with Hari Maira and Rohit “Bobby” Tandon from the 1971 batch. Three years apart is a yawning gulf in public school life, but as you grow older, these differences cease to matter and we all become friendly Golfers-in-Arms ! I had fond memories of Bobby who was School Captain in 1971, which was the year I joined, a position akin to Zeus on Mount Olympus. Known equally for being a great sportsman and for his abiding love of fair play, he made life easier for me as a young fresher in a senior house and I have never forgotten his kindness. Hari Maira and I had many Mayo and Sanawar friends in common besides being fellow residents of Gurugram, and we drove down together in his Innova.
On the course we were joined by my batch mate Bhawani Singh (of Hyderabad Golfing Blues) and the current head of the Old Boys Society. I cleverly aligned myself with Bobby, by far the best golfer amongst us, claiming House allegiance (we were both from BT House) and so it became a Test of BT the Best vs. All the Rest ! I happily rode along in Bobby’s unruffled slipstream as his loyal wingman while Bhawani and Hari huffed and puffed, but failed to blow BT House down. My own game was pretty pathetic except for one glorious par on a par three called Grand Canyon. Having seen the real thing only this past summer, I felt that I owned this hole and for once I was right. For golfers as for the sundials of Venice—Horas non numero nisi serenas. We count only the happy hours . . . or the good holes.
One of the princely advantages of being a Mayoite is the fact that we are never short of lovely places to stay in Rajasthan owned by our fellow Rajput classmates. In the case of Bobby and Hari, that person was the affable Randhir Singh Mandawa, middle scion of the Mandawas, one of the founding families of Mayo College. A few years earlier when my daughter Tarini turned 21, we had taken her and her friends to Castle Mandawa, the family stronghold in Shekhawati, for the weekend and had a marvelous experience. So I was greatly looking forward to staying at the Mandawa Haveli in the heart of Jaipur.
The haveli did not disappoint. Set back from the main thoroughfare, it was an oasis of calm and peace, away from the hustle and bustle of Jaipur. It was built in 1896 by Thakur Bhagwat Singh, the 15th ruler of Mandawa, as a town home for his clan. It was converted by his grandson, Thakur Devi Singh, into a luxury heritage hotel with all modern facilities, including a decorative swimming pool at the back. Randhir had us all upgraded to the deluxe rooms, which offered more than enough space for one person, with a spacious separate sitting area. My room was beautifully appointed with antique Rajasthani furniture, and I sprawled out on the four-poster bed wondering what gambols it had witnessed between Mandawa royalty and their consorts in the distant past. Sadly, such amenities are no longer provided for guests, in case you were wondering.
The entire haveli was done up in pastel shades with borders of deep ruby red which gave it a very attractive appearance, particularly when lit up at night. The courtyards and gardens were beautifully kept, with a profusion of plants, and we had our breakfast sitting out in the morning sun while the friendly staff plied us with liberal quantities of masala omelettes and chai. In the afternoon, following the Rambagh golf game, I soaked my weary limbs in the swimming pool which was shaped like an ornamental jewel, its intricately tiled floor patterned like a peacock’s fan clearly visible through the translucent water. However, I did not linger long—the water can be on the chilly side, so a heated pool would be a good option to consider. While the Mayo golf dinners kept us away from the haveli in the evenings, there is apparently a regular puppet show on the grounds. The staff can also arrange a lovely evening under the stars on the sand dunes with dinner and music, a Rajasthani experience I would thoroughly recommend.