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Saturday, 7 April 2007

A date with a 14th Century Fort

To say that we had become sick of our daily routine when we decided to take a break would be an understatement.

The daily chaos of our respective offices had probably got us to a stage of crashing. But to avoid any tussle with our bosses, we decided to keep it for our off day.

One day break it would be, we decided. And the fact that it was the Valentine’s Day eve added the romantic element!

Our decision to explore the
Neemrana property at Alwar was the result of my husband’s hours of web search and then finally on instinct.

Neemrana Fort Palace was already booked and only a suite was available which was to cost something above 6000 per person per night. Well, that sounded little too extravagant.

Our holiday plans almost got shelved when my better half discovered this another Neemrana property near
Alwar. Another call to the Nizamuddin office of Neemrana and we found out that there’s a room available at the Hill Fort, Kesroli costing Rs 3,500.

Again extensive Internet research and we found the fort palace quite attractive. The hotel phone lines were not reachable we didn’t want to make any advance booking at the head office.

So after hours of discussion we finally planned to take the plunge and just embark on our journey in the morning, hoping to get the room.

Off we went at sharp 5. The road instructions written in my untidy handwriting in my diary and some unreachable phone numbers were all we were armed with.

To make the beginning even more filmy, heavy rainfall and an overcast sky greeted us when had just about reached
Gurgaon. Trying to keep a steady conversation with our cab driver, Sujith was keeping his fingers crossed. The huge blanket type shawl I decided to keep came quite handy as we wrapped ourselves in it.

It was sensible not to stop anywhere but of course the driver had to have his tea break and we stopped at a shady looking place midway. It was freezing outside and that kind of increased our excitement for the trip. We started approaching our destination at around 8.15. The diary instructions did come handy as the ever helpful Rajasthani people guided us to the place.

The Hill Fort, Kesroli

12 kilometers away from the city of Alwar, the drive up to this fort turned heritage hotel seemed like a chase to no man’s land. As the car chased a narrow path in a seemingly thinly populated village we wondered if there can ever be a hotel in such a place.

But there was and we found it standing proudly a few meters away in the road we took. It looked quite dilapidated and a far cry from the beautiful photo we found on the Neemrana website.

It didn’t seem quite as dilapidated when we came to know that it is the oldest heritage hotel in the country. Well, this 14th century fort has surely stood the test of time, we thought.

Our driver was given instructions to wait since we were not even sure of getting a room.

A steep staircase led us to the hotel. There was no well groomed receptionist greeting us at the reception there. Instead a kuta pyjama clad, graceful looking man approached us. Out came the big fat register to check the status of the rooms available. But in the ancient ambiance, the absence of a computer didn’t even strike us.

Yes, a room was available which was to cost us Rs 3,500 for a day and night. The food charges were separate of course. The atmosphere had already enamored us and we were ready to shell out the cash. Payment made, we were ready to check out our room.

A twin bedded Papiha Mahal was what we zeroed down on after rejecting a double bedded Tota Mahal. The name was a little deceptive considering the size of the rooms.

At least the two Mahal’s we saw weren’t too big. But one step into the mahal, and we were transported into a different era. Everything from the walls and the furniture had an ancient touch.

The only sounds to be heard were the chirping of the birds, the cow and the tractor. But there was not too much time to sit and marvel as our stomachs growled for food and we rushed to the breakfast buffet.

With huge cane sofa like chairs, the dining space was quite cosy and comfortable with birds giving us company as they kept descending every five minutes to check if there’s something worth pecking.

We filled ourselves to the brink with break rolls, fruit cake and omelette. Nothing traditional about it, the breakfast like a meal cooked by a loving mother.

A selection of tea leaves from the Neemrana tea gardens were there to choose from. Refreshing, the tea seemed like a perfect end to our hearty breakfast.

This time when we went back to our rooms, it dawned on us that here there is no television set to keep us occupied! So, it was just the two of us and the rustic surrounding for company.

Bath can wait, it was more important to discover the place, we decided. Three of us-- me, him and our camera set out to discover the place.

As we explored the property, we found that we were probably the only Indians staying the place that time. All the rest of the place was occupied by people the goras who seemed to have been enjoying a long vacation there in the Indian countryside.

On our little exploration spree, we finally climbed on to a place that gave us a view which is still etched in our memory. Perched on a slightly balcony of the fort, our eyes were treated to an expanse of a lush green field. On the left side was the village Kesroli whose menfolk were now in the field with their cattle.

For us, fed on a daily diet of an air mixed with every toxic element in the atmosphere, this sight almost seemed like a dream. Cattle was the Maruti 800 here and the tractor the luxurious big car!

Well, what else can one ask for? Of course we know that this is not how the place would look like in two months from now. The lush green field would be replaced by a parched land and there would be an ever present look of thirst in the faces of the happy villagers now. It will surely be easy on our pocket, we were told by the waiter later.

But it was the parrots which caught the fancy of my husband who went wild clicking one after the other. Oh yes, I was also obliged to be in some of the frames with the parrot seemingly sitting over my head!

Not his fault of course, in Delhi, parrots can only be found nicely locked up in their cages being trained to imitate the cruel human conversation. But here, they were freely flying around, unaware of the luxury of the freedom they have.

After the photography session, we retired to our room where the elaborate hot water bath soothed our nerv

No fuss over dressing, we marched for lunch almost in our night wear. Forget a candlelight dinner, we’ll have an open air lunch was what we decided.

The food shall be served in our favourite balcony, we ordered as we sat marveling at the quiet around us.

It was no ordinary lunch as we devoured our chapattis with broccoli, paneer, potato, chicken roast, baby corn, cabbage and dal. A little rice and curd for our south Indian taste buds and we were sure that we’ve had one of the best meals in a long while. The cream caramel and payasam ended the meal perfectly.

And now, our only thought was how fast can we hit the bed. Time moves surprisingly slow at such places as it was only 2.30 when we drifted into our sweet slumber.

When my eyes opened, I wondered where I was. It was probably the best afternoon nap, I’ve enjoyed in years. The mobile phone told me it has been three hours since I’ve been sleeping.

Wondering if I’ll be able to sleep at night, my husband was woken up. how sleep starved we were, I discovered later in night!

Since Alwar was just next door, we thought we should at least pay a visit once. Moreover, my mother had ordered me to buy a sweet which is the specialty of that place. What sweet it was, it was left to me to discover.

The 12 km journey was not pleasant as the chaotic roads gave us a trailer of what awaits us in Delhi.

The market was all shut but thanks to the eager-to-help people, we discovered the most famous sweet shop.

Kalakand, the sweet was we discovered that the place has a street dedicated to this sweet which is called Kalakand market.

We found out and reached the 60 year old, famous shop. With the suggestions of the unassuming owner, we bought small boxes.

Curious to find out the reason behind closed shops, we probed further and were told, “It is Tuesday, the day when the shopkeepers go to Sadar Bazar in Delhi.”

We longed to get back to the quiet of our fort, after all, it was just a one-night luxury for us! Night time, the fort looked beautiful. Illuminated with lots of small bulbs, it was a lovely sight.

But now, for the first time, we felt the place was too quiet and some company would have been welcome. The firangs, it seemed felt none of this as they happily downed bottles of wine at the dinner table.

The dinner was not something to boast about but soothing it surely was. It’s probably 12 or something, we thought when we reached back to our room, but it was actually just 10 pm.

We settled in our beds and chatted till what seemed like ages, but it was only 11 we discovered. Surprisingly, we again had a dreamless sleep and got up fresh at 8.

We didn’t feel nostalgic about leaving but we were full of sweet memories of the one day we spend at The Hill Fort, Kesroli.

After another photography session, it was the payment time. Some amount was paid in cash and the rest we were to pay by our debit card. I was having a cheerful conversation with a British lady who wanted to know where was Fab India in Delhi, when I overheard the hotel manager saying we can’t accept a debit card because our phone line isn’t working.

Ah, now we know why no one picked up the phone when we called from Delhi. But here was another problem at hand. The American Express card came as a boon as it saved us a 24 km drive to Alwar to find an ATM. The security check they asked for was only our mobile number. Well, talk about trusting a person!

After checking out the well stocked but over priced Neemrana Shop, we were on our way back to Delhi, dreaming of staying in the Neemrana Fort Palace on the next chance we have.

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