“God gave man this earth and man made wonders of it”…The first shower of monsoons, after the parched long summers, heralded for us the journey to the land of deserts- Rajasthan. As planned we drove 122 kms. on the Delhi-Jaipur highway to the majestic plateau, concealed in a horseshoe formation of the billion year old Aravalli ranges, a fort palace called Neemrana. The two and a half hour drive was quite exhausting courtesy the dry summers but what waited for us was breathtaking. Although the fort palace of Neemrana is a bit difficult to locate but following the route map meticulously one can negotiate through the steep Aravali mountain ranges some two kilometers across the local village from the highway after Shahajanpur toll bridge and reach the main entrance of the Neemrana fort palace standing tall, which is also known as the Suraj Pol. As soon as you park your vehicle, you get to taste the Royal hospitality. History has it, built since 1464 AD, Neemrana Fort-Palace is among India’s oldest heritage resorts. Neemrana became the third capital of the descendants of Prithviraj Chauhan III, who was killed in battle by Mohammad Ghori in 1192 AD. This picturesque site was chosen by Raja Rajdeo and Neemrana derived its name from a brave local chieftain Nimola Meo, who when defeated by the Chauhans, pleaded that his name be given to his lost kingdom.
The fort palace turned into a retreat now welcomes tourists with a host of amiable and helpful staff, since its difficult to find your room, also known as “Mahal”, through the fort, one should be accompanied by a staff member to locate ones Mahal! Ours was Neelam Mahal or the blue safire palace, which as the name suggests is called so after one of the nine jewels, others being Mani Mahal, Heera Mahal, Moti Mahal, Moonga Mahal, Kesar Mahal, Pukhraj Mahal, Manak Mahal, Gomedak Mahal and Lehsuniya Mahal. The colour combination, furniture, antiques, paintings on the walls, floors, bedsheets, everything has the imprint of being royal and majestic with the underlying theme being of the particular gem. The rooms are furnished with an
eclectic mix of traditional Indian and colonial furniture, antiques and objects d’art The property covers 25 acres/10 hectares and the stepped palaces of this architectural jewel cut into the hillside to sprawl over 3 acres/1.2 hectares and rises to 10 levels commanding the most splendid views, including a vista pool to the horizon. From 1986, the ruins of this Fort-Palace have been sensitively restored and reconstructed. Most rooms have private balconies or terraces and the loos are designed to have views!
It was time for lunch and we feasted on a gala buffet lunch in the awesome majestic dining hall called Jalgiri Mahal. Since we were quite exhausted we decided to take a small nap and headed to our Mahal. 7pm was slotted for a Rajasthani cultural program at the open terrace besides the reception. All of us were gathered to now view the most heart warming and enthralling rich performance by a local Nritrya Kala academy- Fulwari headed by 56 year old Mr. Girraj Khandelwal, who astounded us by his spectacular performace. The evening was filled with local folk songs, dance performances, breathtaking stunts like fire spiting, balancing on steel glasses, balancing fire lit earthen pots on heads, spinning wheels on all four limbs etc…the show as just fabulous. We enjoyed the haunting and hypnotizing melodies of Rajasthani folk music. An integral part of the Rajasthani culture that made the colourful dance even more graceful was its spectacular attire and dazzling ornaments. Folk music and dances spoke of love, separation, chivalry and rivalry. It felt as if this evening should never end but as they say all good things come to an end the magic in which all of us were lost did come to an end though we kept asking for more!
Post the enthralling performance we were guided to the grand Jalgiri Mahal for dinner which hosted of ethnic Rajasthani mouthwatering cuisines!
It was time now to admire the beauty of the fort well lit with halogens, lanterns, diyas, candles, mashals and spot lights contrasting against the dark moon lit sky. One could not hold back but marvel at the beauty of this 1464A.D grandeur built by man. The story goes in 1947, Raja Rajinder Singh of Neemrana moved down to Vijay Bagh as the façade of his Fort Palace crumbled and its ramparts began to give way, for fourty years he tried to rid himself of his liability but there were no takers. Finally in 1986, the ruins were acquired for restoration. In 1991 Neemrana Fort Palace opened doors with the nobility of its façade raised, and just 15 rooms. In 2000 Neemrana won the Intach-Satte award for restoration and tourism for ‘being the foremost example of how one can pick up “architectural treasures from national dustbins and turn them around”. Neemrana was nominated for the Aga Khan Award. What was once a grand ruin now spells resplendence and charm.
After the royal treatment of the entire day we had a goodnight’s sleep and woke up to the calls of the peacocks, pigeons and parrots which are as prevalent as the caws of crows and sparrows here in Delhi! Since we were here only as a weekend getaway option we had to leave by 12 pm, which is the check out time of the resort and thus we decided to opt for the audio guided trip. The trip can be availed on request from the reception of the fort palace. The hospitable staff handed us a paper map and a sony walkman to enable us to start our exploration of this grandeur called Neemrana. Thus commenced our journey back to the time when kings and queens inhabited this beautiful place. We felt as if we were transported back in time and living through the time immemorial. The commentary was captivating and very informative, It was a Do It Yourself trip, were we had to follow the instructions of the commentator as he kept unraveling the secrets of the fort rooms, paintings, kings, queens, hidden chambers, art and architecture of the era. The trip entailed 11 important sites at various wings of the fort. The main highlights were ofcourse the Suraj Pol, the main entrance gate, the Chandrama pol, the second entrance, the Shatranj terrace, designed like a chess board, Gulab Mahal, Burj Mahal, the zanani, were only the females of the royal family were allowed, the Tulsi Mahal, Sheesh Mahal, made of glass, showcasing paintings of various kings and their grandeurs, the Shringar Mahal, the Holy Kund, the lotus pool, where the routine proceedings of kings took place, the Mahals name after the nine jewels, and then the grand finale, the Mukut and the Uncha Bagh, the hanging gardens with the most breathtaking picturesque views!
It was 12pm now, we cleared our bills and headed for Delhi. Thus ended our journey to the depths of this astounding fort palace but surely with the desire in heart to come back for more!