Rajasthan has got to be one of my favourite destinations. Part of it stems from spending two years of my adolescence in Jaisalmer. The other part stems from the fact that it is so gosh darn gorgeous – I can’t even!
Back in college I had always wanted to go to Neemrana after listening to countless accounts of how fun the zip-lining was. But slowly, that enthusiasm faded – Neemrana started to seem like a cliché picnic spot for every bored Dilliwalla.
My first ‘visit’ to the Neemrana Fort Palace in 2015 was with my family and it ended in an abrupt decision to go back home. The entry fee of 1,500 rupees (back then, now of course it costs more) multiplied by four people for just a few hours of wandering around just didn’t seem worth it.
So this time, I decided to get my money’s worth and actually stay there a night – as a young girl in Jaisalmer, I always wondered how it felt like living in the fort there, and I wasn’t going to give up a chance of doing so, with a friend in tow.
We got to Neemrana around 11 after stopping for some GREAT dhaba paranthas (with generous dollops of farm fresh butter!) and the BEST masala chai I have ever had – shoutout to Hotel Highway King (I feel like I just had to mention this here!).
The drive up is winding, almost like going up a mountain. And right at the end of the road lies a grand door – the entrance to the fort also called the Surya Pol or the Sun Gate. Notice the spikes on the door (like most forts from this period) which would act as the first barrier against an attack.
If you look up from the Surya Pol, you can just about make out some parts of the fort and it looks kinda small – don’t be fooled!
Upon entering, we were hit by a blast of bougainvillea – sprawling down from every vertical surface. Ah it was BEAUTIFUL. But nothing compared to what we were about to witness.
We left our bags at the reception, downloaded free audio-guides on our phones and set off to explore the fort – there was no time to waste!
Remember how I spoke of not being fooled by the seemingly small size of the fort from the entrance? Well, yeah that’s what we did and we got lost so many times – of course we didn’t mind. We were eager beavers lost in one gigantic 15th century fort, not unlike a maze. The audio-guide was helpful and we managed to retrace our steps back and forth to most of the important sites listed on it.
The Neemrana Fort was built in 1464 and was the third capital of Prithviraj Chauhan III’s descendants. During the Raj, the kingdom suffered and lands were given away to the realms of Alwar, Patiala and Nabha among others who would entertain the sahibs. Still, they managed to hold on to the little they hand.
Just before Independence in 1947, Neemrana’s Raja Rajinder Singh moved out and the crumbling Neemrana Fort Palace was left to the forces of nature, to obscurity.
Now this is where it gets interesting – the oldest caretaker there told us that the owners of the Neemrana group came across this crumbling relic and managed to acquire it in the 1980s for a paltry sum of INR 1,00,000 (disclaimer: I can’t confirm the veracity of this).
But there was a LOT to do. The fort was in such disrepair that the duo Aman Nath and Francis Wacziarg had to pump in lots of money to restore it to its former grandeur and convert it to a boutique resort. In 1991, they finally opened the doors with a modest 15 rooms.
The fort was expanded overtime and now they have a mix of 72 heritage suites and rooms along with hanging gardens, two swimming pools and a convention center!
There are a total of 8 wings at Neemrana Fort Palace, tiered one on top of another, each of which were made during different centuries starting from the 15th. Here’s a map:
We booked into one of the cheaper habitations, the 18th century Baag Mahal in Wing – I (the oldest) which quite frankly provided us enough adventure in itself.
A long room, it seemed like it was passage into a rampart where there is now a romantic octagonal seating. It opens out into a garden (which lends it its name).
What is most interesting about this room is its entrance which opens into the bathroom. It was a constant game of Marco Polo when one of us had to go to the bathroom. Also the stairs were REALLY steep, definitely not recommended for the elderly.
Of course there are lot of things to do here (read: zip lining, vintage car rides and camel tours) but we decided to make our way across to the 21st century with a map we really didn’t understand because that’s where the heated pool was waiting for us as were great views of the sunset.
We climbed higher and higher…
Ended the evening here, just as the fort lights were switched on:
(BTW, the dhaba just outside the Surya Pol is highly recommended. Didn’t want to spend a lot more money on food inside the fort. And the food here was so much tastier! Breakfast is included in the tariff as is the evening tea.)
After a swim and a quick dinner at the dhaba downstairs, we wandered around the lit fort and watched a traditional Rajasthani performance.
It was so romantic and other-worldly. We sat for a while at the red sandstone amphitheater and the hanging gardens before ‘lights out’ at 10 PM.
We woke up early and put on our shoes – can you believe there was still a lot more fort left to wander around? We decided to end our explorations at the dining room for a much deserved breakfast. On the way we came across many photos of the fort from back when it was acquired. And woah, it looks nothing like it does now.
And I only have this to say – kudos to the Neemrana people for preserving what would have been a pile of rubble, plastic packets and rubbish, cattle poo and condom wrappers on the side of the highway right now.
Take my advice: don’t come here for the zip lining, stay here for the history.