On a Hill Far Away
Discovering a 15th century fort-palace
If you are looking for a place to visit not too far from New Delhi and
offering a gateway to exotic Rajasthan, then the fort-palace at
Neemrana could be an ideal destination for an overnight trip.
Located about 122 kilometres from the city on the Delhi-Jaipur
highway, it dates back to the mid-15th century. Standing on a
hill and offering a sweeping view of the surrounding countryside,
the palace constitutes an imposing sight itself.
Built in 1464 by Rao Rajdeo, a descendant of Prithviraj Chauhan,
the last Hindu king of North India, the palace has now been converted
into a heritage hotel. With a mix of traditional and modern interiors
the hotel has even found its way into several lifestyle magazines.
Although marked by the absence of wall to wall carpeting, room
service, swimming pool (which is under construction) or a shopping
arcade, its spectacular location and past compensate for the missing
How the palace came into being makes for an interesting account.
A decade ago, it was just an abandoned fort inhabited by bats
and other creatures dwelt among the ruins. Its owner, Raja Rajindra
Singh, a descendant of the builder of Neemrana and his two queens
lived nearby in a simple house. A squalid little village connected
the outside world to the fort.
It was in 1980 while researching the havelis of Shekhavati
for book designer Aman Nath and French businessman Francis Wacziarg
chanced upon the structure. Though it was almost a mass of rubble
they were transfixed by its beauty. They decided to salvage it.
Six years later with the help of industrialists O P Jain and Lekha
Poddar the monument was purchased from the owner.
What followed was a painstaking saga of reconstruction. Master
masons and carpenters from Delhi worked alongside Rajasthani peasants
to restore the structure. By 1990, a major part of the work was
done. It took five years to convert it into a 12-room hotel. The
following year the hotel was thrown open to guests. In the second
year, the Neemrana resort was making profit. Today the hotel has
38 rooms which include suites and double rooms. Evocatively named
as the Malabar Room, Barsat Mahal, Chandra Mahal, Mata Mahal,
Surya Mahal and Sheesh Mahal, each is based on a theme signified
by the name. Currently restoration work is in progress in another
five to six rooms.
Jain and Poddar have disinvested, retaining a marginal share.
Aman Nath and Wacziarg, who has acquired Indian nationality are
the joint owners. Inspired by their first success, they have also
converted other historic structures into heritage hotels. The
Piramal Haveli in Rajasthan, the Hill Fort in Kesroli and the
Ramgarh Bungalows in Nainital, all have taken after the Neemrana
Wacziarg, who also runs an export consultancy, says the motivation
behind acquiring the Neemrana property which first seemed an unviable
investment was ''to look after heritage." His partner and
he had prior experience as they had earlier restored two old havelis
in Haryana. The restoration of the palace was done "on a
shoestring budget." Now the profits from Neemrana are being
ploughed back into the restoration of additional rooms which is
an extremely difficult exercise in view of the fragile condition
of the work area.
The most remarkable feature of the rooms is that all of them offer
an arresting view of the surroundings, variegated by location
- the village below, lush green fields rolling in the distance,
hills of the Aravalli range sharply etched against the sky.
A visit to the fort-palace would easily be recommended as a one-day
excursion from Delhi with an overnight stay being optional. However,
the food leaves much to be desired. The fare billed as French
and Rajasthani cuisine, laid out as a buffet could do with more
variety and finesse. Though edible it is much too pedestrian.
As the prohibition on consumption of liquor in neighbouring Haryana
is yet to spill over into Rajasthan, the bar facilities are available
to its residents.
Lack of room service may become a handicap for those not agile
enough to climb up and down the convoluted staircases. But even
so, the fort-palace remains an enchanting little get away from
the din of the city and offers offers a preview to Rajasthan.
The busiest season when the hotel registers full occupancy is
from October to April. The in between months are too hot to attract
many visitors. But those who wish to go there, do so, anyway.
During the monsoons, certainly, the raindrenched countryside presents
a bewitching picture from the hill top evoking all the magic and
mystique of this season which epitomises India.
How to reach there
We, the photographer and I, hired a car from the city taxi stand.
This, really, is the best way to go to Neemrana which is close
enough to Delhi to afford a day's trip at a comfortable pace.
Enroute to the fort-palace, one gets to view the vast, dusty plains
merging into the horizon. It was to escape this summer that the
British took recourse to the numerous hill stations they built
northwards in the Himalayas.
As the car races down the highway, the mind goes blank and a feeling
of calm pervades it, reflecting the stillness of the plains. In
a couple of months these will transform into fields laden with
grain and mustard flowers, a metamorphosis that owes to natures's
regenerative powers. The first phase of the journey ends at the
border of Haryana. From there begins Rajasthan. On the way, one
can stop for tea at a dhaba, one of thousands of roadside
eating places for a back to basics taste.
We now come to a part of the desert state which is the very antithesis
of its portrayal popular with tourists - that of picturesque old
towns amidst golden sands, herds of camels, gorgeously dressed
women and proud men in equally arresting attire evoking a sense
of timelessness. But all we could see are a few stray camels ambling
along. The raiments of the people are unremarkable. And with the
green-clad hills of the Aravalli range gradually coming into view,
the terrain is not arid but a refreshing departure from the preceding
Periodically, one must be careful about directions as there is
a chance of overshooting the byway leading to Neemrana. The car
goes slowly, first reaching the village. Before turning right
towards the fort-palace, it may be worthwhile to drive further
down towards the fields. From there one gets a full view of the
smoky white structure nestling on the hill against a verdant green
A little backtracking and the car begins to ascend to the fort.
The approach road needs to be mecadamised but when it comes to
realise the extent of work that has gone into restoring the palace,
it seems a minor inconvenience. Huge imposing dark wooden doors
forms the grand entrance.
The entrance fee for non-residents is Rs 100 per head. Two children
below 12 years are allowed free entry if accompanied with parents.
A step inside and one discovers a world of perfected interiors
where restoration work is still on in some wings of the palace.
There is no single theme for the decor which is an amalgamation
of traditional Indian and colonial styles with a dominant format
for each room or suite. Meticulous attention has been given to
details, right up to the original Anjolie Ela Menon painting in
one of the bathrooms. The formal dining hall is on the ground
floor but most guests seem to prefer lounging in the buffet room
on the first floor which provides a charming view outside its
For those in search of activity a trek up to the hill top is suggested.
A somewhat strenuous climb is rewarded with a glorious view. "I
am master of all I survey" - this best conveys how one feels
at the summit. A few kilometres from the fort lies a baoli
- a deep, old reservoir of water which appear to arouse strange
fears in the local people. It is suggested as another excursion
point. And if one wishes to meet the two widows of the late Raja
Rajindra Singh, one could try visiting their bungalow near the
village. That should round up the trip in terms of variety.
There are other ways of reaching Neemrana than hiring a car. One
could board a deluxe bus (Rs 125 per seat) to Jaipur and alight
at Behror which lies midway between Delhi and Jaipur. From there
taxis and jeeps transport passengers to the fort for less than
Rs 100 per head. Alternatively, one could take a bus to Shahjanapur
from Delhi. An hourly bus service connects Shajahanpur to Neemrana
which lies about 6 kilometers from there.
Photographs by Phal S Girota
- Bed tea, breakfast and evening tea are included in
the room rent.
- Fixed menus for lunch and dinner priced at Rs 200 and
Rs 250 respectively. Half rate for children below 8 years. The
rates for non-residents are Rs 300 and Rs 350.
- One extra bed can be provided at Rs 300.
- 12 per cent sales tax on food and beverages.
- Rooms are available at day rates 0900 hours to 1700 hours at 60
per cent of the daily charge.
- 25 per cent off season discount on air cooled rooms
from April to September.
- Cancellation charges: two days in advance is 10 per
cent; one day in advance is 50 per cent; if some rooms only are
cancelled it is 50 per cent; the same day is 100 per cent.
- Deluxe suites vary between Rs 3,000 and Rs 5,000 depending
on the kind of amenities they offer which could mean a terrace
or two bathrooms in the highest range or neither in the lowest.
Double rooms and ordinary suites vary between Rs 1,000 and Rs
3,000 per night again with fewer amenities at the lower scale.
Single rooms cost Rs 1,000 with toilets in a curtained enclosure.
The two cheapest rooms are for Rs 700, with access to the public
bathrooms. Most rooms have private balconies or terraces.
- For bookings you could contact:
A58, Nizamuddin East, New Delhi 110013, India
tel # 91-11- 4616145, 4618962, 4625214
Or fax # 91- 11-4621112, 4634208
Or telex # : 031- 66539 DAG IN
Or Neemrana Fort-Palace
tel # 01494- 6005, 6006, 6007, 6008.
For information on New Delhi check out our New Delhi City Guide.