Neemrana and Kumbhalgarh - The Rajput Legacy

Neemrana and Kumbhalgarh - The Rajput Legacy

The awe - inspiring Kumbhalgarh fort is the birthplace and 'Karma - bhoomi' of the legendary Rajput warrior, Maharana Pratap. If this wasn't incentive enough to explore Neemrana and Kumbhalgarh, it also has the distinction of having the second - longest wall in the world, after the Great Wall of China!

Enjoying a hi tea on the open terrace at the Neemrana Fort resort
Hi Tea on the terrace overlooking Neemrana town


Narkanda to Neemrana road trip


Next morning we headed out to Neemrana from Narkanda. The route from Narkanda is Pretty straightforward. As suggested by Google maps, we headed South – West on NH 44. Driving past Chandigarh, we continued towards Delhi. A little after Sonipat we got onto the Kudli – Manesar – Padwal Expressway. I suppose every local MLA and corporator whose constituency this road passes through wanted her own and her mother – in – law’s village mentioned in it’s name!

This got us onto NH 48. About midway between Delhi and Jaipur lies the sleepy town of Neemrana. In all, we'd driven over around 525Kms which we covered in a decent 10 hours. This included stoppages for breakfast at Shimla and lunch somewhere between Chandigarh and Panipat. Having left at 0730rs, we reached our destination by 1730Hrs or thereabouts.

Whenever I’ve travelled across Punjab by road, the food I've come across have never failed to delight me. Even the most insignificant little dhaba will serve you the most delectable meal, no matter the time of day. To boot, it is all cooked in the traditional Punjabi style, served with dollops of fresh white butter. And of course, the ubiquitous lassi is always present on your table. So you can well imagine my horror when I realized that all traditional dhabas have disappeared from the new NH 48!!!

All we came across were plastic and chrome monstrosities bathed in a harsh neon glare. All they served was bland, sanitized and insipid fare masquerading as the real stuff! With no options left, we went into one of these joints, the name of which I don’t remember.

The Aloo and Gobi parathas were lumps of half – cooked flour, with a sorry piece of boiled potato or grated cauliflower lurking in some corner. As for the dal and subzi, the lesser said the better. In our quest for modernizing, I think we’re somewhere losing the essence of who we are. Everyone is turning into an empty clone of what we aren’t, all made from the same sorry ‘plasticky’ mould.

Finally, we entered Neemrana town. All we had to do was glance up to get a breath – taking view of the resplendent Neemrana Fort Palace! Access to the fort is through the main market. There is a small turn – off taking you up a steep winding path that ends at the massive doorway to the fort. We parked and walked in the rest of the way. 

Inner courtyard at Neemrana Fort Palace
One of the inner courtyards at the Neemrana Fort Palace


The Neemrana Fort - Palace


The fort housed the descendants of Prithviraj Chauhan III since the mid 15th century. Somewhere around the middle of the 20th century, they abandoned the fort. Soon it started falling into ruins like most other forts in India. Evidently the erstwhile owners were unable to afford its upkeep. Thankfully, the powers that be allowed this beauty to be converted into a hotel. They've not only managed to restore it to it's former glory, but also provide employment to the locals!

We had booked to stay in the 'Lehsuniya Mahal' suite. Upon entering the hotel, getting to it was no mean task! You start by navigating through a bewildering array of steeply climbing staircases. These lead to winding corridors that allow only one person to pass at a time. Once you are through these, you end up walking down passages that seemed to have been tunnelled through the very rock that housed the fort. In all probability, it was! After negotiating this intricate maze we finally reached our room.

The Lehsuniya Mahal is very comfortable, bordering on luxurious. This is very much like the rest of the fort. Despite touches of modernity, it managers to retain the original character of the place. Ornate dressing tables, colourful carpets and drapes, a 4 poster teak bed and bathrooms large enough to house a nuclear family, all come together to recreate the magic of what once may have been the lifestyle of the fort's original inhabitants.

There is no room service. Given the obstacle course you have to navigate each time you need to get to your room, that is understandable enough. I also suspect the corridors and stairways shift their position at night. Not unlike Hogwarts castle. I can't think of any other explanation for the fact that each time I'd return to our room, I seemed to have taken a different route through the bowels of the fortress! Having said that, the place is quite nice. You can spend a memorable weekend exploring the fort itself and indulging in all the luxuries it has to offer.

Lehsuniya Mahal suite in Neemrana fort palace
Ranga relaxing on a settee - extra bed in the Lehsuniya Mahal. Don't miss the authentic sepia - toned pictures on the wall!


New Years eve with the visionary of Neemrana


The next night was 31 December. Like most resorts / hotels, Neemrana too had organised a gala dinner which was compulsory to pay for. The lawns on the side of the hill were done up for the New Year party. The decor was tasteful, luxurious and reflected the touch of a discerning individual.

What made it even more interesting is that the lawn isn't at ground level. It is actually on the side of the hill. The hill in turn is ensconced by the fort. So you have the ramparts and other structures of the fort surrounding the lawn on 3 sides. This immensely adds to its character.

As we settled down at our table, the manager came bustling over. He insisted I come and meet the owner of the place. He'd been tickled pink since the time we'd arrived and was very keen that the owners meet us. We usually get this reaction from a lot of people on our road trips. I guess travelling and discovering by road is still a novelty.

As it turns out, the owner was a distinguished looking man in his mid 50's. He sported a well coiffed beard and the most piercing eyes I'd seen. He introduced himself as Aman Nath and explained how he'd taken over the fort in 1986. He'd painstakingly restored and opened it with just a handful of rooms in 1991.

Since then, restoration and maintenance of the fort is an ongoing project for him. The zeal and passion with which he undertakes this was amply evident in his eyes. There was unbridled pride and love. It was like this wasn't about building a hotel as a commercial enterprise, but a means to restore these mute monuments of India's medieval glory to their former splendour! It was a privilege and honour to have met someone who has such a profound impact on restoring our crumbling monuments to their former glory in a self - sustaining fashion. More power to Aman nath and his tribe!

Neemrana Palace, Neemrana Fort Palace, Neemrana Fort, Window
One of the several passages leading up to our room at the Neemrana Palace


After a memorable couple of nights at the Neemrana Fort Palace, we headed on towards Mumbai and home.

Kumbhalgarh Fort


Our next halt, again along NH 48, was the fort - town of Kumbhalgarh. Here, we stayed at the Club Mahindra Kumbhalgarh resort. This is one of the properties which Club Mahindra has built themselves, and that reflects in the layout, construction and attention to detail. The luxury tents are exactly what the name suggests - luxurious! Each of these tents is constructed on a stilt, straddling an artificial moat, and has every creature comfort one could ask for, besides a semblance of privacy. The property itself is spread over 10 - 12 acres of manicured lawns, and is again a self - sufficient oasis, pretty much like all properties that Club mahindra have built (can't say the same for their affiliate properties though!). We spent 2 nights here, which involved walking around the area and availing of the spa and other facilities the property had to offer.

Welcome break beside the lake en route our trek to Kumbalgarh Fort


Besides exploring the area around the resort, we spent one evening visiting the Kumbhalgarh fort. This is a world heritage site, built in the 15th century by Rana Kumbha. The day we were there, there was a light and sound show at night, retelling the story of how the infant prince Udai was smuggled to Kumbhalgarh when Chittorgarh was under siege, and his subsequent elevation to the throne. Ahmed Shah, the Sultan of Gujarat, and the dreaded Mahmud Khilji tried to conquer the fort, but failed. While Akbar briefly managed to gain possession of the fort after the victory at Haldighati, this too was short - lived, with Maharana Pratap wresting it back from him.

For us though, clearly, the most special thing was that the Kumbhalgarh fort was the birthplace of Maharana Pratap. The sound and light show retold this history, and all I could think about is why we weren't taught this while in school! Tales of such valour and magnificence reduced to an apologising after thought, while all we are taught is how the history of India is restricted to the Mughals and Gandhi - Nehru family. Pathetic, to say the least. It was heartening to see people thronging to the Kumbhalgarh fort, and listening to an abridged commentary on its history.

Finally, we headed back to Mumbai. The drive back was uneventful in itself, other than the superb meal we had at the Ahura Hotel in Ambivali. This little gem is bang on NH 48, albeit on the North bound carriageway. It has pretty much all you'd want to have by way of Parsi food, including Akuri, Salli boti, Berry pulao, Lagan nu custard and an in-house bakery selling freshly baked cookies and other goodies! After stuffing ourselves to the gills, we managed to crawl back to the car, for the 120Kms to head back home.

It was good to be back home after nearly 17 days on the road - 17 days of experiences and memories that'll last a lifetime!

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