Anchored by history and heritage, Fort Unchagaon’s white facade is a museum of memories. The majestic structure stands frozen in silence; the occasional creak of the old doors being the only reminder of human presence.
Three hours from Delhi, this heritage hotel is a dream that the inheritor of the fort, Raja Surendra Pal Singh, has been married to for the past three years. Singh and his brother wanted to spruce up the old-world charm, preserve the past. When they decided to open the fort to tourists-with add-ons like air-conditioned suites, badminton court and billiards room-they created spaces where bygone centuries continue to be alive. Imperial furniture, old transistors, bell jar-shaped lamps and fascinating family portraits… everything exudes the class and essence of the colonial period.
For those seeking solitude, this is the place to be. There are a million and one nooks and crannies one can disappear into with a book or a cup of coffee. The bedrooms, though modernised, have no TV sets. The décor of all 27 rooms is in harmony with the period theme. Huge poster beds, old cupboards and large windows conjure up the atmosphere of homes during the Raj. Beyond the rooms, large balconies beckon gently to idle away. Sauntering through the house is like chancing upon a delectable nugget from the past. Countless staircases lead onto many little terraces, all nicely done up with colonial armchairs and artistic side-tables.
The fort is divided into two branches-the old residence, a section of which is still reserved for the Raja, and the Collector’s Court, which used to be the main office of the jamindars in the 18th century. Today, it has a conference hall and seven bedrooms that display the grandeur of the past. On the walls are pinned old photographs, etchings and water-colour paintings depicting the sporting lifestyle during the Raj. Portraits of wolf traps, keepers leading out dogs, deer-hunting, tiger-shooting and elephant safaris narrate stories of the life of royal hunters.
Spread across 180 acres, the fort gives an opportunity to be part of an era that continues to wield magic, mystery and awe. The old residence area has been modernised with a huge snooker table and a badminton court. The living room is a mini museum, with imposing portraits of the ancestors, tiger skins and a rare collection of swords. Sharing space with these are photographs of Jawaharlal Nehru and many other VIPs who had visited the fort.
Although there is a lot that one can do within the premises, Leisure Hotel offers many more for the restless souls. From horse-riding to boat-cruising, activities are plenty, and a day or two will not be enough to explore all. If you happen to be in Unchagaon on a weekend, a stroll through the vibrant Saturday haat is a must. From colourful bangles to fresh jaggery and traditional artefacts, you can take a unique souvenir back home. Pottery enthusiasts can try moulding a diya at the nearby potters’ village.
A bumpy tractor ride through sugarcane fields lands you on the banks of the Ganga, where, if you are lucky, you might just spot the Gangetic dolphins. Sitting under mud roof and savouring the smoky preparation of gur is another fascinating experience in the village. The people in these rustic factories make sweet slabs that gradually harden into jaggery, within minutes. The hotel makes arrangements for Twenty20 cricket matches. Together with the hotel staff, guests and family members, you can spend afternoons in the field right next to the main residence, and win another exciting vacation as prize.
The gong bell reminds one of the passing hours, and, as dusk sets in, the fort gears itself for a cultural evening. Folk singers and dancers from the village present a splendid evening under the starry sky.
What makes the stay at the fort a memorable affair is the excellent service by the bearers and staff. Chefs offer a huge spread-from dadi ma’s recipes to traditional Indian, Mughlai, Continental and Chinese. Baked beans, potato wedges, idli sambar, chhole bhature, veg cutlets, Mughlai toast, tandoori chicken-Chef Vir Bahadur Adhikari and his team offer the best that you have ever tried at a hotel. “We specialise in Mughlai food, especially non-veg. Everything that we use in the kitchen-vegetables, fruits and dairy products-are from our own farms, and this adds to the taste,” says Adhikari.
The British handed over the fort to the Singh family during the 1857 mutiny, a gift for their loyalty. Since then the family has been upgrading their abode every second year. Although the heritage hotel boasts of the best from the past and the present, Raja Surendra Pal Singh plans to make it a top-class hotel, with all the imaginable comforts. “We have a huge place for a golf course near the orchards. We plan to develop a nine-hole golf green there. The fort will also have a swimming pool and a spa very soon. We have been developing the fort in our own ways, and would continue to do that,” says Singh. He has plans about introducing village tourism in Unchagaon. “I have been talking it out with the government, as this would benefit the villagers in more ways than one,” says Singh.