The region of Alwar lies in the heart of the Aravallis, off Rajasthan’s main tourist trail and barely a three-hour drive from Delhi. The former princely state has a long history of rulers and rebels, forts and palaces, splendour and valour. Alwar finds mention in the Mahabharata as the kingdom of Matsya, one of the places where the Pandavas took refuge during their exile. It offers the visitor arid valleys and brimming lakes, grand palaces and impressive temples.
It is ideal for a short weekend and while it has everything typical of any touristy city in Rajasthan—monuments, culture, history, and the brownish look of the desert state—it still has the charm of a small town away from the limelight of the regular trail.
Alwar has a generous sprinkling of forts, palaces and cenotaphs. The most prominent is the Bala Quila or Alwar Fort, sitting on a hill 300 metres above the city. It is believed to have been built by Hasan Khan Mewati in the 16th century and passed through the hands of several rulers until it was finally annexed by the Kacchwaha Rajputs in the 18th century, but no accurate information on its history exists. Another prominent structure is the Nikumbha Mahal Palace, with its delicate latticed balconies. The ornate City Palace or Vinay Vilas Mahal was built in the 18th century by Maharaja Bakhtawar Singh in a fusion of Rajput and Mughal styles. It houses some rare masterpieces including Rajput and Mughal paintings from the 18th century, swords of Akbar and Aurangzeb, and stone sculptures from the 11th century. The splendid Rani Moosi ki Chhatri is a testament to the fine design tradition that once flourished in the region. The royal cenotaph is Maharaja Bakhtawar Singh’s ode to his wife. With interiors covered with gold-leaf paintings of exquisite floral patterns, the chhatri is a visual treat. The Tomb of Fateh Jung is a five-storeyed bit of splendour, considered to be a masterpiece of Indo-Islamic architecture.
In Alwar, a short walk through a narrow lane could take you back to a bygone era. Close to the City Palace, for instance, is Hope Circus, probably named after Sir Victor Alexander John Hope better known as Lord Linlithgow, once the Viceroy of India. Take a leisurely stroll by the Jai Samand Lake, which was constructed by Maharaja Jai Singh over a century ago. Though most of it is dry today, it is testimony to the water sharing treaty between the princely states of Alwar and Bharatpur. It retains beautiful chattri-like structures on its banks, in which royal visitors once entertained themselves. A walk through the lush Company Garden takes you back to the reign of Maharaja Shiv Dan Singh in the 19th century, who created these vast, grand lawns. Shimla House, built by Maharaja Mangal Singh is a large, vaulted structure that was designed to keep occupants cool during the ferocious summer. All of Alwar’s history comes together in the City Palace’s Government Museum (entry Rs 5; 10 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.; closed on Fri), which displays rare artefacts, such as Emperor Akbar’s sword and an illustrated Mahabharata on a 200-foot-long scroll.
Alwar town is the headquarters of the district of the same name, and there are plenty of interesting things to do and places within a short driving distance. Around 90 km away is the famed Neemrana Fort, an icon of the Chauhan dynasty that has been converted into a heritage hotel. Close to the fort is the impressive Neemrana Baoli, a stepwell believed to have been built in the 18th century to provide water for the fortress. About 50 km southwest of Alwar is the Sariska Palace, admired by visitors for its opulence. It was built as a hunting lodge towards the end of the 19th century by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh. The palace is on the threshold of the Sariska National Park, which is home to a variety of wildlife (closed Jun-Sep). In 2005, it was declared that there were no tigers left in Sariska, possibly due to poaching. Three years later, the long process of reintroduction of tigers began and now there are believed to be 13 surviving adults. Apart from tigers, the dry tropical forest supports wildlife like the antelope, wild boar, hyena, monitor lizard and more. The park is also a haven for birds, both resident and migratory. No visit to Alwar is complete without a stopover at the allegedly haunted town of Bhangarh—but only during the day. Legend has it that anyone who spends a night in this town never returns. One of the stories associated with Bhangarh, claims it was cursed by a sage who allowed the complex to be built on the condition that the shadows of the palaces never touch him or his retreat. When this rule was flouted, the entire town was razed to the ground. Despite being in ruins, the town’s crumbling temples, havelis and pavilions have an otherworldly charm.
Alwar Bagh is a good option for those who want to enjoy the town but avoid its hustle and bustle. Located close to both Alwar and Sariska, this hotel has a heritage look and comes with a luxurious pool (97993 98610; www.alwarbagh.com; doubles from Rs 7,000).
MGB Hotels is an option if you’d rather stay in the city. It has modern guest rooms and is near the railway station (0144-2700600; www.mgbhotels.com; doubles from Rs 4,999).
Neemrana Fort Palace, built in the 15th century, is a well-known fort turned heritage hotel with suites, duplex rooms and tents (01494-299900, 94140 50068; www.neemranahotels.com; doubles from Rs 7,000).
Amanbagh is an uber-luxurious and expensive resort built in an oasis in the desert, in Ajabgarh 14 km outside Alwar. (01465-223 333; www.amanresorts.com; pool pavilions from Rs 1,11,300).
Alwar is a vegetarian’s delight. Always packed to the hilt is the venerable Prem Pavitra Bhojanalya, which serves exceptional vegetarian food; don’t miss their divine kheer. If you can’t do without meat, head to The Bridge, the restaurant at MGB Hotels (Rs 300-350 per dish). Alwar is also famous for its kalakand or milk cake. Few visitors leave without a box of the sweetmeat from Baba Thakur Das at Hope Circus.
• A portion of the Bala Quila is currently under renovation. Visit the museum, which is a recent addition, inside the fort. Entry free.
• Rakesh Panwar is a knowledgeable Alwar district guide and naturalist who can show you around (Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details).
Not very far from Bhangarh, outside Alwar, is the site of Neelkanth, a set of ruins in the Ajabgarh area that is rarely visited. This site, thought to be dedicated to Shiva, looks like it was razed to the ground by bulldozers. Mounds of carved blocks of stone litter the complex. It’s as if 80 temples were demolished and their constituent parts jumbled up. While conservation efforts are on, it seems quite obvious even to the lay viewer, that some pieces of reconstructed pillars don’t quite fit or match. Just a short distance away, are the ruins of another shrine, the Santinatha Temple, which has a huge statue of the Jain tirthankara Santinath. Both these sites are said to date back to the 10th century A.D. Standing in the midst of these ruins one is struck by the fact that for all we know of our country’s history, we really know so little. Everything about why these were built, what religion their patrons were from, or even why they are in complete ruin, remains a historical mystery.
Appeared in the December 2012 issue as “Royal Retreat”. Updated in March 2018.
Alwar is located in central Rajasthan, 150 km northeast of the state’s capital Jaipur. It is 160 km/3 hours south of New Delhi.
Rail From Delhi, there are plenty of trains that stop at Alwar. The Ajmer Shatabdi (2 hour 40 min) is a chair car train that is convenient and fast. In the afternoon, you can take the Ashram Express (2 hour 40 min).
Road Alwar is around 160 km/3 hour from Delhi. It’s on the same superb state highway that connects Delhi to Jaipur, though the drive isn’t particularly scenic. However, there’s great dhaba food along the way, including piping hot paranthas and Jaipur’s famous churans.
The most common mode of local transport is the auto rickshaw, but they don’t charge by the meter so you might have to bargain hard. There are also cycle rickshaws. It’s most convenient to have your own vehicle to go sightseeing in Alwar.
Alwar is definitely a winter destination: temperatures between April and June shoot over 40°C. Winters range from pleasant to cold, and temperatures can drop to as low as 8°C from November to February. Another good time to be in Alwar is in the monsoon, as the lakes fill up, arid stretches of almost desert turn green, and rain keeps the temperatures low even in the day time.