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I spent a long weekend in Gwalior, the capital city of the erstwhile Scindia dynasty, and simply loved the city. Staying at Neemrana's Deo Bagh, a lush and sprawling 5 acre heritage hotel, I had the best of both worlds - silence and solitude like the royalty once enjoyed, while being just a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle of royal Gwalior. I can easily imagine myself visiting the city again and explore its numerous hidden facets, a feeling that I last had at Bikaner.
Well, to understand Deo Bagh better we need to go back about 500 years when an important Mughal General camped in the city. Much in the Mughal style of flair and aesthetics, the General built himself a house outside the city, complete with a char bagh (four gardens) and a Baradari in the centre. Later as the Marathas marched towards Delhi, they took over this place and modelled it to their needs and style.
Today, hundreds of years later it's a heritage hotel called Deo Bagh, drawing its name from Deorao Jadhav whose family owns the property and the lands around. The garden complex houses the exquisite family temples, a ‘hathi khana’ for elephants, stables and cenotaphs for the family members. In addition to that new rooms have been added to accommodate guests with all modern amenities, and built in the same architectural style of the original house.
It's actually a little odd to call Deo Bagh a hotel - to me it was more like living an experience. As I mentioned, the hotel has a new and an old section, and being a sucker for history, I requested for and stayed in the oldest part of the complex - a room on the top floor called 'Sakhya Raja Mandal'.
Even though my room, especially the bathroom, were fit to house a royal, I spent quite some time outside in the open. Because that's how the hotel is - most of it is open space with a small built up area (only 15 rooms). It's quite an experience to either climb up on the terrace or walk around in the gardens for your early morning tea (for me that's 6am). However, there's actually a lot to do in the hotel complex, and if you are willing to hear all the stories, it can easily take a day to know it all.
Let's start with the Char Bagh, the original Persian style garden around which the property is developed. If Char Bagh is the body, is heart is at Baradari- the Mughal era structure which is surrounded by water to keep it cool. It's a great place for breakfast, a romantic date or just to sit around with a cup of tea. The happy-go-lucky squirrels will certainly give you company at all times of the day.
Close to Baradari is an old family Shiva temple. The priest comes early morning, so if you want to see the deity, you need to leave your beds early :)
The two Chhatris built in 1856 and 1907, are both works of art and very well preserved. And if that's not enough to get you interested, Hollywood movie 'Singularity' was actually shot there!
Apart from all the architectural heritage, there are guava orchards, numerous peacocks, and some interesting birds too. I am certainly a failure when it comes to sighting birds, but here even I did better than usual!
As I mentioned earlier I stayed in a room in Deo Palace (the old section) called 'Sakhya Raja Mahal'. It's one of the largest rooms and has a bathroom to die for. Once I confirmed that Gwalior didn't particularly have a water problem, I took long soaks in the tub. This was certainly one of the highlights of my trip. My room also had a balcony running on three sides, which allowed for great light and ventilation (I used the AC, though back in the days it would've been even more relevant).
I came to Deo Bagh after weeks of being away from home and was pleasantly surprised by the simplicity of food. Yes it's made in the hotel, but tastes quite like well-made home cooked food.
I, in fact, had my breakfast in special places each day - one day on the terrace outside my room, another day at the Baradari. Do request the staff of the hotel manager if you have any such special requests and they will do their best to keep you happy. I would strongly recommend trying out a meal at the Baradari.
However, if you visit Gwalior you would certainly explore beyond the hotel, and the city aha so much to offer. There is no way you can see it all just within a weekend unless you are a superman like me (just kidding, of course). So to help you plan better, here are the five must-visit places in and around Gwalior - Gwalior fort complex, Scindia museum modelled after the palace at Versailles, Tansen Tomb in the honour of the great musician, Mitawali and Batukeshwer temples and Gujari Palace.
Gwalior is well connected by all means of transportation. You can easily drive from Delhi through the excellent highway - is about 300+ km and the journey takes about 6 hours. I came from Lucknow and it took me about 7 hours in a cab to reach the hotel.
Gwalior also has an airport and there are regular flights to both Delhi and Mumbai. The tickets are surprisingly very well priced.