It’s precisely 105 kilometers from Delhi, spread out on a hill top in the Aravali range, the protective wall of the fort is dilapidated at many places, but restoration has been going on for a long time to resurrect the Tijara Fort-Palace, a fort, which according to a legend, was never completed by a Rajput ruler.
The legend says — Rao Raja Bakhtawar Singh ascended the throne of Alwar in 1790 at the age of 15. He fell in love with a village girl and took her to his palace. She became the Maharaja’s favourite mistress and was known as ‘Moosi Rani’. In 1808, she gave birth to a son named Balwant Singh and a girl named Chand Bai. The Raja died in 1814.
In 1835 Balwant Singh started the construction of a Fort-Palace after the name of his mother Moosi Maharani and a grand Hawa Mahal. Famous architects and masons from Kabul and Delhi were engaged, but in 1845 he died an unnatural death. The construction was never completed and the structure stood in the wilderness in ruins for over a century.
Restoration and completion of the incomplete structure was taken over by the group of Neemrana Hotels after it was leased out to the chain of heritage hotels by the Rajasthan State government.
When I drove to the Tijara Fort-Palace, ascending the serpentine pathway seemed adventurous. The pathway was still under construction. Signboards indicated the directions to the Fort. Finally, a large gateway welcomed me inside. Leaving the car in the parking area, as the giant gate was closed behind me, I walked up to the reception going up a flight of stairs. Having completed my check-in formalities, I was led through a broad corridor which opened into a large terraced garden. A green carpet spread all around. Construction labour was still working on a structure beyond. At a distance, I could see a large building with large domes at each corner of the square-shaped structure – “That is the Rani Mahal where we have a room for you,” pointed out the staff who had accompanied me. It was a walk of almost 400 metres through the lawns; As we crossed the ‘Bar’ which was nearing completion, the crimson ball of the sun slowly slid itself behind the hills blurring the view of mustard fields all around. I missed it – the picturesque sun set must have been a heavenly bliss.
On the left side of the garden, restoration was in full swing – the Mardana Mahal was being readied for guests.
The sun had set; the hills all around, but lower than the one we stood upon, were covered with a thin steamy layer of fog. A cold breeze made me take shelter in my room in the Rani Mahal. A large room which had one of the towers a part of it, converted into a sitting area, gave a view of the entire Fort and the hills behind. Fields on one side appeared dark green, getting grey slowly as darkness descended.
Clad in a woollen pullover, I came out to a large balcony near my room. The right place to have an evening cup of tea and morning breakfast, I thought to myself. Ordering my favourite leaf tea, I relaxed on a chair. Noisy parrots and tiny birds were the only sounds audible in the quiet environs.
The hills seemed like lifeless sentinels except for a few lights that flickered at a distance in some small village. Soon the parrots were silent and there was no sound around. A serene calm all around.
It seemed a different world – once a while I heard the staff members at a distance talking among themselves.
Back in my room, I found it warm and cosy. A room heater had been kept running to make it comfortable for me. The temperature outside had gone down making the night cold. My room had a large bed with almost an 18 inch high mattress. There was a large table in the front portion with six chairs, a mini-refrigerator and a tea maker. A large bathroom with high ceiling typical of yesteryears was attached to the room.
Dinner, I was told, was to be served in the ‘Hawa Mahal’ restaurant. As I walked out of the Rani Mahal, I felt a cold wind blowing. Once again I walked through the terrace garden to the ‘Hawa Mahal.’ Several large entrances in the structure with five feet thick walls had been covered with glass to keep the wind out. Inside, a huge chandelier made out of bamboo hung from the large ceiling with several light bulbs glowing inside.
A typical Rajasthan ‘thali’ had been pre-planned for my dinner. It was an assortment of several vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes with Indian bread and rice.
After the meal, I retreated back to my room. There was nothing to do, except sleep.
Morning at 7, it was still not bright sunlight, but it was not far away either. I made a cup of tea for myself and kept looking out of the window towards the fields. The yellow mustard flowers were spread out on the green plants like tiny gold coins all over. I had planned my breakfast on the balcony facing east.
Soon the table was laid. Fresh juice, eggs, toast and stuffed ‘parathas.’ It was to be a busy day as I had decided to explore the Fort. By the time I had done my breakfast, the labour working on the ‘Mardana Mahal’ was already working. I could see half a dozen mules loaded with stones trotting from one place to another. A big bulldozer was also levelling the ground near the ‘Mahal.’ However, the noise hardly disturbed me as it was quite far and curtained by the garden.
The ‘Rani Mahal,’ which has been operational since January, has 21 rooms and suites designed by renowned artists and architects, each one is named after the designer. There are no room numbers. They have a name – Laila Mahal was my room.
Each room was different from other, a different decoration, colour scheme and furnishing. Most of the heritage hotels have rooms with different designs, but here we had rooms from different designers and artists.
From the second floor, one could see the entire expanse of rural landscape around. From another one could watch the resurrection of the ‘Mardana Mahal’ during the daytime. The ‘Rani Mahal’ spread out on four levels also has an elevator for those who cannot go up the steep stairs. The glass elevator shows the fields around as it sweeps up and down.
The Tijara Fort-Palace had opened its gates to guests barely four weeks ago. While the restaurant is operational, the bar was nearing completion in the midst of the terrace garden. Next couple of weeks the Bar will be serving. The ‘Hawa Mahal’ restaurant is serving, while the ‘Mardana Mahal’ is partially ready.
Restoration is a tedious job and it takes patience and time to make a royal property look glorious again. Balwant Singh could not complete the Tijara Fort-Palace, but it is almost done now by Neemrana Hotels.
For Delhi’s fun loving people, Tijara Fort-Palace is an ideal getaway for the weekend. Two nights in the location can re-vitalize your senses and the body with a spa taking shape soon. A little over two hours drive can take you far from the maddening crowd of Delhi.