“What is maya?”, he asked us casually over a rather impromptu dinner after a riveting performance of local artists under the cool evening sky. Right after that he showed us a clip of me making a video that he recorded on this mobile phone and invited us to join him for dinner and conversations. As food continued to fill our plates, he gave us the story of Neemrana hotel and his life on the fly, and how he loved it because he was doing something he was passionate about. Yes, we were having dinner with Mr Aman Nath, founder of Neemrana Hotels and often rightly credited with pioneering the concept of heritage Hotels in India in the early 1990s with the first and flagship Neemrana Hotel.
I think my love for exploring the heritage of India is rather obvious, and it’s that love that got me here. I was spending my weekend at the rustic beauty, Tijara Fort non-hotel, located in Rajasthan but just about 100km from Delhi. My stay was charming, and meeting Mr Nath himself was the icing on the cake. He even showed me a picture of his youth, and I almost saw my own image in that. Fascinating, and inspiring.
The present day fort is full of beauty and class, but the history of the fort itself is far more melancholic. Built in the Afghan-Rajput style with early colonial influence, the Fort was befitting a king and his queens, but was suddenly abandoned even before it was finished. But what exactly happened?
Well, if you like the stories of kings and queens, you will love the story of Tijara even more. Of course, we need to go back a little - well a couple of centuries actually. Bakhtawar Singh was a king of the state of Alwar, and during one of his expeditions he fell in love with a beautiful Muslim girl Moosi. He made her his mistress, but they never got married. When the king died, she committed sati (burnt herself on his funeral pyre) and hence became a maharani. All this was fine, but she also had a son, Balwant Singh, and the son now became a contender to the throne. To avert any family feud, the land was divided between both the, now-legitimate, sons.
The new King, Balwant Singh, decided to build a new fort for himself and that’s how the idea of Tijara Fort was born. However, ten plus years into construction, Balwant Singh was murdered and his short-lived dynasty came to a sudden halt. Unfortunately, with his death the work on the ambitious Fort also stopped. The empire was absorbed by Alwar state once again, and no one gave much thought to the fort and it continued to be ravaged by nature as well as villages around who plundered it of most of its architectural wealth.
A century and half later, the Fort was resurrected from the dead by Neemrana. In January 2016 the hotel opened its gates to guests, and for the first time ever someone actually stayed in this flamboyant Fort.
It’s not just the history and and unique design of the fort that’s interesting, it’s rooms are equally unique too - every single one of them. Each room has been designed by an artist, and a reflection of his/ her creative vision for the space. The rooms in Rani Mahal (Queen’s Palace) are all designed by female artists, while all the rooms in the Mardana Mahal (Men’s Palace) are designed by male artists. I room I stayed in was designed by Anjolie Ela Menon, and I must mention that her work truly made my stay memorial - imagine sleeping in a room uniquely designed by an artist. Marvelous indeed! And if art on the walls isn’t enough, the view from the room was simply to die for. I had never quite realised how beautiful Aravalis were before I saw the gorgeous sunrise from my bedroom window.
During my stay, another room in Mardana mahal was getting ready and I even had a chance to interact with the artists doing the room, Dev Chang and Ujjwal Prataap Singh.
Typically food at all Neemrana hotels is simple and delectable. The best part - you can even get tawa roti (wheat, of course) with all your meals. Meeting the rather fit Dev and Ujjwal gave me a bit of a complex, and I ended up taking lots of fitness tips from them both. But, of course, the starting point of my new life was postponed from the coming Monday as I had binge-eat the desserts with every meal!
Perhaps my most favourite part of the property was the rather large pool near Queen’s palace. I spent two entire evenings swimming and floating in the relaxing water, and would recommend it to all the guests who visit the fort. It’s truly an experience to float in the water looking at the beautifully lit Rani Mahal!
Frankly speaking you can easily spend your weekend at the fort itself, but if you like exploring, like I do, you will love the place even more.
So this region of Rajasthan had a large Muslim population, but most of them migrated to Pakistan during partition in 1947. What they left behind are the numerous tombs and mosques, dating back to the days of India’s first Mughal king,Babur’s, son. Do stop by the Lal Masjid, and if you can, also climb up to the tomb for some great views around and below.
To reach: Tijara Fort is located at a distance of about 100km from Delhi, a little off the Delhi-Jaipur highway and near Alwar. The road is good till Tijara, but to reach the town you do have to cross the narrow and winding lanes of the village. The road which takes you up to the fort on the hill is also work-in-progress, and must be approached with caution. It’s not exactly ideal for a small car.