As I approached the historic 14th-century Neemrana Fort Palace, my attention was immediately drawn to the grand stone signage boasting the imprint of the palace in large letters. Even more captivating was the open gate, carved with a magnificent mosaic of multicolored stones and flanked by two minarets, along with a watchful guard and a few meandering cows.
To my surprise, I discovered that this wasn’t the entrance to the palace but merely the entrance to the entrance! As our car puttered up the twisty hillside for a few metres, we arrived at a parking lot where camels were chowing down on their favourite treats. For those who couldn’t muster the courage to tackle the steep ascent, camel carts were available – and beyond that, the only way to reach the large metal gate was to hoof it all the way there!
Just as you make your way up the path, you can’t help but take in the refreshing shade that the trees provide from the sun’s rays. But the real treat awaits you when you catch your first glimpse of the majestic Neemrana fort palace from the distance. One glance at the striking fortress from afar is enough to make you forget the tiresome walk!
When I stepped through the grand, arched black gate held between two imposing stone structures, I knew I had been transported to a different, distant era. The guard at the entrance handed me a ticket in exchange for Rs. 2000 ($25) – either I could use it to enjoy a scrumptious Rajasthani lunch or as an offset against my room rent if I decided to stay.
As I stepped through the grandiose palace, a black cart to my left brought me back to the days of old, while the gleaming scanning machine to my right thrust me forward into the modern era. Everywhere I went, the limestone walls seemed to follow me, as though the entire palace was crafted from a single boulder.
But before I shuffled my feet through the scanner, I couldn’t help but spot the ancient wall clock that hung high above, ticking away the current time in a way that only an antediluvian object could. While I stepped through the limestone walls into the other side of the tunnelled space, I found myself amidst a vibrant hue of emerald green.
The ground floor of the Neemrana Fort Palace was bustling with lovebirds taking selfies, a porter diligently carrying the luggage of guests, presumably here for a grand wedding, and the occasional solo traveller like me, hesitantly scoping out the scene in search of a sign of direction.
I took a chance and strutted right by the clay Ganapati to a palace dripping in golden yellow decor. I snapped pictures, fully revelling in the lavishness of the Royal premises when suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulder. Startled, I spun around. It was one of the palace staff kindly informing me that visitors were not allowed.
Mortified, I apologized profusely and asked for directions to explore the fort in all its glory. As I stepped outside, I couldn’t help but be captivated by the stunning pink and beige structure. Its jharokhas seemed to be peering at me as if the royals of the bygone era were looking out from within. An essentially rectangular design, the palace was crowned with a dome-like structure on its topmost roof, while its walls were adorned with three jharokha windows and several arched windows. But this was merely a glimpse of the palace, the real magnificence was unveiled when I ventured up the stairs by the Ganapati mural and arrived at the first floor.
Exploring Neemrana Fort is like unraveling a mystery – with its complex layout and distinctively named zones; it’s like a cryptic labyrinth! But wait, there’s more; the terraces alone will keep your brain ticking. You’ll be astounded to discover 11 levels – each one an exquisite blend of history, architecture, and mesmerizing views. Stairs, pathways, and corridors weave together the rooms, terraces, courtyards, and lawns of Neemrana – and just a fair warning, if you can’t find your room, don’t panic!
It’s all part of the charm associated with a medieval structure. My feet felt the crunch of the stone steps, taking me to the first floor with a better view of the beautiful palace; sunlight glinting off its walls and the clear blue sky providing the perfect backdrop. I could make out the details of the palace with my own eyes – a petalled (switched off) fountain; a proud stone statue of a bulldog, a tribute to a much-loved royal pup; and the wide terrace with a sundial imprint on its floor – all of which gave me a view of the majestic Aravali mountains, the Neemrana village, and the grandeur of the fort itself.
I could practically envision the painted sundial on the floor transforming its essence when royals would grace the area with their presence, sipping their evening tea on the lavish wrought iron chairs complete with extra cushioning. As maids and royal staff may have hustled in service through the courtyards, the multitude of stone seating outside the premises gave a glimpse into the grandeur that once reigned here. As I ambled along the other side of the Neemrana Fort Palace, I was awe-struck by the breathtaking view. I was on my way to the second level when I paused in admiration of the majestic architecture of this magnificent fort. I stood, peering across the pink stone railing.
The view was magnificent – the cylindrical ramparts, the arched horizontal layout, and a palanquin-like room perched atop – all resting against the majestic backdrop of the Aravali hills. My eyes widened in awe at the sheer grandeur of this vast fort, and my mind raced back in time, imagining its glorious past. The Shatranj Bagh is an experience like no other! Perched atop the fort’s main entrance and ramparts, it’s a breathtaking view! Every evening, you’ll be warmly welcomed with complimentary tea, cookies, and cakes – what could be more magical than that!?
My journey up to the second level was mesmerizing – the ancient iron doors with their grand kundis (door handles) had me in awe. But alas, I somehow managed to make the misstep of going down instead of up – a typical mistake when exploring one of these majestic yet confusing Rajasthani forts. After much questioning and pointing in various directions from the helpful staff, I found the way to the second floor. Luckily, the forts’ ingenuity did not end there – each level had its modernized toilet, boasting ancient charm and beauty.
As I navigated my way through the passageways of the fort, I marveled at the darkness that still lingered in some parts, even on the brightest days. I wouldn’t have dared get lost in these lanes at night. But I rejoiced every moment of those I spent admiring the vintage furniture that still persevered and the paintings that had graced these walls since the palace was built. Even the arched in-wall cabinets contained pottery of different shapes and sizes. In contrast, the arched windows showcased wonderfully intricate clay coverings – a feat of artistry that had stood the test of time.
Excitement surged through me as I made my way up to the second level, following the directional signage that marked the entrance to the realm of Uncha Baag, Mukut Baag, Jalgiri Mahal, Raj Kund Pool, Jag Mag Mahal, Aatam Sukh, Saat Baag, Qanat Mahal and Jazam Mahal.
Yes, the iconic Neemrana fort is a mesmerizing collage of these grand sub-palaces and gardens! The most captivating sight, however, was the wall painting of his highness, Prithviraj Chauhan III on a horse, captured in a moment of war or hunting, hidden behind large iron doors. After being bested by the illustrious Muhammad Ghori in battle, the valiant Prithviraj Chauhan III had to abandon his seat of power in Delhi in 1464, ultimately setting his sights on the future by founding the majestic Neemrana Fort Palace.
As I ascended to the top of the fort, an arched patch of dark pink with a border of the same color came into view. Around the fort, a blend of beige, yellow, pink, and green engulfed the atmosphere. The older, restored portion of the palace has walls made of stone covered with plaster, and its rooms are arranged around enchanting enclosed courtyards that provide a sense of privacy and refuge. I was immediately enthralled by the sight of Raj Kund, a pool perched atop the hill with deckchairs that begged to be relaxed in. Not to mention the charming outdoor theatre where I could appreciate the wonderful performances and plays. Raj Kund was even more impressive with its stone steps and standing lamp shades, providing a spectacular view of the world below.
The Raj Kund of Neemrana Fort is a sight to behold! Adorned with impressive antiques, glimmering raw stones, an old issue of Civil Society magazine, a marvellous wrought iron centrepiece, captivating wall paintings, and regal lounge chairs leading to the in-house Neemrana spa, this area is a true marvel. And when the natural sunlight cascades down, the atmosphere becomes even more serene and inviting – making it the perfect spot to bask in the glorious sunshine after a dip in the pool, like true royalty! Likewise, climbing up the rooftop is like entering a celestial realm, the starlight twinkles above and the views of the rolling hills and countryside below are simply stunning. Excitedly ascending the seemingly never-ending stairs, I was taken aback by the captivating series of steps, guarded by flat panels. Little did I know that I was to be treated to a royal lunch at the restaurant on the second floor of the palace premises. After reaching the top of the steps, my stomach rumbled in anticipation, alerting me that the journey was far from over.
I stepped onto the escalator in a circular rampart and was whisked away to the second level, where the delicious feast awaited. As I stepped inside the magnificent fort, a signboard proudly proclaiming the presence of Saat Baag, Aatam Sukh and Jagmag Mahal beckoned me to the restaurant. With its stylish archways, lush greenery and elegant passageways, I felt as if I had been transported back to historic times when royals once strolled these hallways. After meandering through some empty chambers, I finally reached the restaurant, its orange-hued stone walls and staff dressed in traditional uniforms a delightful sight. At the entrance, a wooden pole altar held the menu, inviting me to become enchanted by the subtle royal ambiance.
I was awestruck by the elegant green silk tablecloths, the enchanting hanging lamps, and the alluring golden artefacts – all reminiscent of the majestic palaces of Rajasthan. On my visit, the lunch menu was a delightful concoction of Indian and continental dishes. For soup, I chose the delicious Chicken Egg Drop Soup; for salads, I indulged in the delectable Chicken & Cucumber Salad, Udaygiri Chicken Tikka and Mushroom Ki Tikki; and the main course did not disappoint either – the flavoursome Mutton Goulash, Paneer Jodhpuri, Chicken Mughlai Curry, Gatta Curry, Cauliflower Broccoli Cheese Bake and Pasta in Pink Sauce at Neemrana Fort left me spellbound. The desserts there had an exciting spread, featuring Gajar Halwa, coconut dry cake, chocolate pudding (my personal favourite!), white chocolate fudge, tiramisu, and ginger jaggery ice cream.
What I found particularly delightful about this lunch experience was that it came with a thought-provoking memorandum that reminded us that, in a land where 40% of children suffer from malnutrition, wasting food is an absolute no-no. It spoke of how, by neglecting to finish off what was on my plate, I’d be essentially throwing away all the hard work of the 26 steps it took to get it to my stomach. But luckily the food that does get wasted at Neemrana doesn’t go to waste – it gets sent to the pigs! And that’s something that really warmed my heart. It even made me leave a dessert or two behind, hoping it would serve as a sweet treat for the pigs – after all, I love them too!
My time at Neemrana fort was nothing short of royal bliss! I’ll be recounting my exquisite experience at this majestic palace to anyone who will listen for years to come. If you find yourself in Neemrana, don’t miss out on the chance to witness the grandeur of a forgotten era and get a glimpse into the regal culture of the Rajasthani kings.
Where to stay:
Either Neemrana Fort Palace, which is now a heritage hotel, or Treehouse Sunrise Resort & Caravan Park, where you can enjoy the thrill of bonfire camping under a star-studded sky with your very own caravan! Or, if you prefer a bit more comfort, they’ve got you covered with their rooms with a private garden.
Written by Veidehi Gite.
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