The idea of checking in to a hotel in a 19th-century fort just over an hour’s drive from my Gurugram home seemed too good to be true. So, late this summer my husband, son and I zipped down the highway to Neemrana’s Tijara Fort-Palace in Alwar district, Rajasthan. Sitting atop a hill circled by verdant fields as far as the eye could see, the hotel’s tall, restored ramparts nurture seven terraced gardens. Tijara Fort-Palace is everything you would expect from a Neemrana property: rustic charm, sprawling grounds complete with quiet, contemplative corners.
Built by Alwar’s Maharaja Balwant Singh in 1835, the fort-palace comprises three palaces: Mardana, Rani and Hawa Mahals, built in Rajput-Afghan style with distinct colonial influences. The boutique hotel opened last year, but work is still in progress. So expect to walk past some rubble as you make your way to your rooms or to the dining hall. Our room was in Mardana Mahal, and had all the creature comforts, including elegant vintage furniture, armchairs to lounge in, and cosy alcoves with cushions. I noticed that Tijara’s rooms are stylishly dedicated to well-known Indian artists, designers and photographers. Anjolie Mahal, for instance, is named after Anjolie Ela Menon and has a large frescoed wall created by her; the Raza-Manish Mahal displays the work of S.H. Raza and his student Manish Pushkale. The grassy courtyard leading to the rooms in Mardana Mahal, and the roofed patio beyond it, seemed perfect to curl up with a cup of tea and a book. As the sweltering afternoon cooled down, we made our way to the open-air pool, joining nearly all the other guests at Tijara to soak ourselves in some regal views of Rani Mahal’s facade from the water. I wound down with a Swedish massage at the spa nearby, which offers deep tissue therapy, Thai, and Balinese treatments too.
Later that night, as we waited for the dinner buffet to be laid out, I was drawn to the sound of qawwalis and folk songs being sung by a bunch of local singers in the gardens behind the dining area. The music, and the fading evening light framed by the arches of the fort, made it all very sigh-worthy. The sweetness in the air was matched only by the dessert I had after dinner: home-style cheesecake served with mango ice cream, which was worth second (and third) helpings.
Tijara Fort-Palace is located in the city of Tijara, 117 km/3 hr southwest of Delhi and 77 km/2 hr from Gurugram. Alwar is the nearest railway station that connects Tijara to major Indian cities. The closest airport is in New Delhi (92 km/2 hr) (www.neemranahotels.com/tijara-fort-palace-alwar-rajasthan; doubles from Rs6,500).