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Neemrana Fort Palace - Experience the Royalty First Hand

I have grown in the western part of the country in the state of Rajasthan - a traditional land of royal tales and forts. We have been raised in the backdrops of thick stone walled forts, opulently set up palaces and stories of valor of those ruled the states. However, this was the time for us to experience the royalty first hand - at least living in the same hallowed halls as those great rulers of the land lived their life. This was how our weekend getaway to the Neemrana Fort Palace Hotel was conceptualized. Everything post the conceptualization was a smooth breeze to a two-day adventure and fun.

Neemrana’s is a fort that dates back to the 15th century and was built when Chauhan's decided to establish Neemrana as their third capital after facing setbacks in conflict with Mughal rulers of Delhi. Even though their dominance depleted, Chauhans continued to assert themselves even though the British rule and gradually were reduced to limited wealth and power. By 1947, the rulers had decided to shift their bases and it was then that this mighty fort establishment began its journey towards shambles – the imposing walls crumbled and the ramparts gave way to rambles. However hard the rulers tried, the fort did not find a taker until later part of 1980’s when someone realized the rich heritage value of the ruins that the fort had become until then.

For the group, the first priority was to salvage the existing structure to the extent possible and restore the glory of the historic building. The hotel when first opened in 1991, had a very limited capacity and composed mainly of the restored parts of the fort which were redesigned to provide accommodation to guests along with basic other facilities. Gradually the hotel was built over the initial restoration and new construction was undertaken around the existing structure to provide additional guest rooms and facilities and today – the entire complex has over 72 guest rooms, swimming pool, multiple restaurants, Amphitheatre, conference rooms, and nicely manicured gardens. As the facility has constructed areas developed from over centuries, the various zones of the fort are categorized as ones belonging to 14th – 21st century. The new construction has been carefully done to resemble the good old look of the original fort which has been decently done.

Ramparts of the Neemrana Fort Palace
The property has been designed around a non-hotel hotel concept which means that though guests are offered all conveniences and services needed for a relaxing stay, certain niceties are avoided to still maintain the heritage nature of the facility.

Getting the Room – It’s both an Art and Science

Neemrana Fort Palace is a bit different from other hotels you have been to in terms of rooms and their set up. While most hotels may offer you a few room categories based on facilities offered and views outside of the window, this place has each room differently set up. This makes choosing a room difficult given that the parameters of each room are unique in their nature. Given the heritage nature of the property and the management having to carve out rooms from various parts of the erstwhile fort, they had to improvise based on the available structure and work within those constraints. So they have done the best they could to provide guest rooms based on leeway they had and hence each room comes out to be different based on which part of the fort they have been carved out of. Rooms have been named after their location, nearness to an internal landmark or the use of the location within the fort during the original times.

The best way to book is through the online portal of the hotel itself as they provide a detailed description of each room along with constraints if any – trust us these are important considerations if you have any ambulatory issues. Also, their portal allows us to book a specific room which is not offered through other hotel booking portals like – Make my Trip who assign a room based on availability. Also bear in mind that some of the rooms are not released for online booking and if you prefer a particular room that appears unavailable on the website, a call to the reservation office may yield some good results. Overall the booking is quick and efficient even on call and they send in a payment link for confirmation – in the meanwhile, they provisionally block the room for 24 hours.

First Impressions – Checking Into Your World

As you navigate through the narrow streets of the village, you advance to your destination and are right there in front of a clearly visible plaque announcing the place. There is a security guard who confirms your purpose of visit and allows you through. Gradually you ascend the uneven-terrain towards the large imposing gate at the end of the road. As you de-board, there is hotel personnel available to welcome you and pick your luggage. There is also a complimentary valet ready to take your car to the parking. It’s good to tip him so that your car goes to the safest corner of the parking.

Someone guides you to the reception – a couple of minutes through the imposing gate and the narrow path through the historic monument. The check-in process is pretty smooth and the reception is different from standing stalls that most hotels have. Here they have seated tables and they invite you to take a chair while they process you in. Once you fill in the necessary paperwork, they would provide an overview of the hotel, summary of available facilities and events scheduled and breakfast information. They also provide a pamphlet with the information along with details of various parts of the complex. Once you are set, you are ushered into your room with the usher acting as a guide through the distance to your room.

We had booked the room named – “Baag Mahal” – which was a 10-minute hike from the reception. As we moved on the guided tour to our room, we realized that this is not a place for someone who has mobility issues. The place is hardly wheelchair friendly and we do not blame them for this. The forts were built on hills and the terrain is pretty uneven – this makes the entire area unfavorable for assisted mobility.

Accommodation and Rooms – Your Own Portion in Heritage

We passed through the narrow trails, hiked uphill and went across the huge halls when the usher stopped in-front of a low-height gate – one the type of which we see in old village huts with a big metal lock. The key creaked inside the lock and the door flung open to invite us. As you enter the “Baag Mahal” room, you are welcomed by a small toilet cum bathroom and a set of stairs downwards taking you to the main part of the room. The narrow circular stairs are difficult to navigate and one needs to be careful steering through one stair at a time. As you alight the stairs you are presented with your guest room. Given that this room is in one of the oldest portions of the fort, the age shows but that is the charm of this heritage property.

Baag Mahal - The Abode beside the Garden
This particular is a room designed linearly as a long-narrow structure like a train bogey. The room was actually a corridor overlooking the garden – the reason why the room is called “Baag Mahal” - which now has been set up as a cozy double room. There are two beds attached across the length and various utilities are spread around thoughtfully. Through the real estate is costly at this location, the size of the room is generous and amble walking space is available. While considering the non-hotel hotel concept one may not expect luxuries, yet the equipment provided is decent too for the heritage hotel tag that it carries – a cabinet to arrange stuff, antique designed stools, a small dining table, a dressing set, air conditioners, geysers, electric kettle, and minibar-refrigerator. What stood out for me was decent room lighting and plenty of electrical sockets all around. Of course there is no television set which you may find as a conspicuous miss but that is what they clearly indicate in all their communication. Also, there is no intercom service in the complex. Both of these are made up to some extent by workarounds – mobile numbers of reception and housekeeping are provided in the room and a TV lounge is available in Hawa Mahal terrace.

While we were pretty satisfied with the room so far, the best was yet to come. Towards the other end of the room, there was another short flight of stairs taking us to a covered private terrace. This was a watchtower sort of hexagon terrace covered all around with plenty small windows – jharokhas – all around. There was seating designed along the periphery with a big table in the center. The terrace overlooks the Aravalli Hills and the Neemrana village on one side and the Saraghati terrace gardens on other. This was where we ended up spending most of the time that we were in the room. The lower part of the room has another door which opens up directly into the gardens. Despite being in desert rooms enjoy the ancient architecture which kept them relatively warm even in December cold. We used no woolens in the room and had to shed quilt in the night, though the same time at Delhi is pretty chilling.

Experiences, Events, and Activities – Things to do

Once we had the chance to relax and rejuvenate from the drive, we were tempted to check out what all was there to involve ourselves over next day that we would be here. The options available do not disappoint you a bit. There is something for every taste and one would get a chance to explore the history and nature based on their preference. There is a well-developed sloping trail that spans through the fort from where distributaries take you to your rooms. At regular intervals, terraces have been developed and are used to serve various purposes. We started with a walk on the stone trails uphill and strolled across the facility for about an hour before coming back to the Satrap Terrace which is a nicely done garden with a large wooden table where serving was set. It also is a perfect location to witness a lovely sunset in the backdrop of the village below. As the sun bid farewell for the day, the raging warmth gives way to cool breeze and chirpings of birds indicate time for homecoming. One can definitely spend some time in the garden chairs embracing the calm and cool as the villages around and the fort walls within lit in glittering lights.

Mesmerizing Sunset over an Evening Tea
Later, one can move towards the amphitheater where a lively cultural program highlighting traditional dance and art is performed. What stands out is the famous “Kalbelia Dance” where artists perform unbelievable stunts – broken glass walks, balancing a tower of pots, standing on nails and what not – all while maintaining perfect grace and tune with the Rajasthani folk songs. All these adventures were undertaken by artists from local tribes who inherently believe that they are blessed to not be harmed while performing the traditional ritual. The one-hour performance is a treat for anyone who is interesting in delving into the local culture. This is followed by a dinner in one of the restaurants within the complex.

One can enjoy melodious hymns in evenings and mornings as there is a big temple downhill where prayers are performed at specific times and one is treated to jingling bells and devoted songs. For mornings, one has multiple options to keep them busy. Starting from a relaxed start to the morning and a breakfast at the Jalgiri restaurant, one can choose to take a camel ride across and around the complex. The “Ship of the Desert” takes you through an exhilarating ride for about an hour. If you are into the auto world, there is a vintage car maintained by the management and you can opt for a variety of ride options which take you through the village in typical good old bumpy fashion. Once you have explored the area on the ground, it is time for a view from the sky and you can move to one of the Flying Fox ziplines which flies you across the fort walls offering the thrill and mesmerizing views of the area around.

The Beauty Multiplies in Night View

If you are inclined and energetic enough, take a visit to the museum shop which showcases various Rajasthani folk items for purchase – good place to pick souvenirs only if you are a tourist as most stuff is pretty much at a premium. There are two swimming pools within the complex where tourists can unwind and relax while also shedding a few calories in the process.

Food and Service – The Things That Keeps You Going

There are multiple restaurants around the complex and each of them is used for different meals and menu options. The restaurants cater to your taste and offer you a plethora of choices – from traditional Rajasthani meal to an international buffet. Evening tea is served on the Hawa Mahal or Satrap Terrace and is a lavish spread of coffee, tea, and cookies. Hawa Mahal also has a bar with an outdoor seating to embrace the nature. Jalgiri restaurant serves the complimentary breakfast for all guests and offers a wide variety of cuisines to align with everyone’s taste. On weekends and occasionally on festivals, a Rajasthani Meal is offered to guests and there is mandatory dinner to enjoy on weekends. The food is good and would suffice most of the requirements you may have.

Service is really courteous and prompt - shows are timely and everyone we interacted with was helpful and guided us nicely. There is no intercom service but the introductory briefing pamphlet and marker in rooms carry the mobile and landline numbers for housekeeping front desk and luggage help - the response was prompt for our requests for toiletries and other essentials.

Some Additional Considerations - you may want to pay attention

The Realms in the First Light of the Day

  • Neemrana Fort Palace is located slightly off the NH8 highway connecting Delhi and Alwar. We started around noon of 27th December and took the expressway for about a two-hour drive.
  • The last mile 2o minute takes you through the Neemrana Village which is a small-townish village. If you are one of the explorers, you may take a tour of the village but that is what you can do if you are left with energy and enthusiasm after all that is available within the complex.
  • If you prefer, there is an option to explore the fort in a day visit - the management provides an option to visit the fort for about 2000 Rs. per person which includes access to certain portions of the fort and a lunch buffet. However, we recommend taking the stay package given restrictions in day package.
  • We recommend best time to visit the fort is during winters as the scorching summer sun would prevent you from exploring the fort to a large extent.
We checked out the next afternoon and it was a pretty smooth process. Housekeeping helped us with the luggage and after settling the bills, valet fetched our car. It was definitely a worth spending the weekend at this heritage property and an experience worth remembering. Such facilities show how we can restore our historic monuments some of which have lost their charm owing to the apathy of administration and tourists. It is possible to restore the glory of these memories from our rich history if careful and considerate attention is paid to details and efforts are made to rejuvenate history from shambles. Of course, one has to be careful not to interfere with the ecological balance of these sites in aim for development but small steps – one at a time – would go a long way in attracting tourists towards these monuments.

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