The Her­itage Drive

Part five con­tin­ues the ex­plo­ration of forts around the coun­try

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Our quest to dis­cover forts dot­ting the In­dian land­scape con­tin­ues as we and the Hyundai Verna head out to ex­plore not one, but two lo­ca­tions that have stood the test of time. Fort Trip with Hyundai has, so far, taken us far and wide in search of such places, but for the fifth edi­tion, we de­cided to look closer to home and made our way to Ti­jara and Kes­roli forts. The Ti­jara and Kes­roli forts have one thing in com­mon. Both are cur­rently un­der the care of Neem­rana Ho­tels and are be­ing run as ho­tels.

Our first stop was Ti­jara. Lo­cated around 108km from New Delhi, it takes around three to four hours to reach de­pend­ing on traf­fic on the busy Delhi-Jaipur high­way. While an early start helped us avoid traf­fic, heavy rains en route did ham­per our progress but we made it to Ti­jara in un­der four hours, thanks in part to the good roads and Verna's 121bhp power unit. The road lead­ing up to the gates of the fort is cob­bled wind­ing path. Ti­jara fort sits atop a hill over­look­ing the coun­try­side of Al­war.

It was in 1835 that Ma­haraja Bal­want Singh, who lorded over a third of Al­war, com­mis­sioned the con­struc­tion of the Ti­jara fort. It was in­tended to be his pri­mary res­i­dence com­pris­ing Ma­ha­rani Ma­hal for the ma­ha­ra­nis, Mar­dana Ma­hal for the king and princes and a com­mon area la­belled Hawa Ma­hal. But his al­leged mur­der ten years later meant the fort was left un­fin­ished. It re­mained un­der the pos­ses­sion of the state fol­low­ing his death un­til Neem­rana Ho­tels took over in 2006. Af­ter around 10 years of care­ful restora­tion and con­struc­tion work, the Ti­jara Fort Palace, as it

AF­TER AROUND 10 YEARS OF CARE­FUL RESTORA­TION AND CON­STRUC­TION WORK, THE TI­JARA FORT PALACE WAS OPENED TO THE PUB­LIC IN 2016

is known called, was opened to the pub­lic in 2016.

The decor of each guest room has been done up with in­puts from artists, fash­ion de­sign­ers and the likes en­sur­ing a unique am­bi­ence in ev­ery room. The lo­ca­tion of the Ti­jara fort palace atop a hillock en­sures fab­u­lous views of the sur­round­ing ar­eas. The staff in­formed us that the Ti­jara Fort Palace is a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for wed­dings and fre­quented by trav­ellers from Delhi look­ing for a quick week­end get­away.

But as much as we wanted to, we couldn't stay too long to ad­mire the grand halls and marvel at the Ra­jput-Afghan style ar­chi­tec­ture as we had an­other fort to ex­plore. We made our way down the wind­ing path and hit the Al­war-Bhi­wadi road once again. De­spite rains over the past few months, the roads in this part of Ra­jasthan seem to have help up well. Rough patches were few and far be­tween, which meant progress to Kes­roli was brisk. Lo­cated 66km from Ti­jara and 162km from Delhi, Kes­roli is rel­a­tively smaller com­pared to Ti­jara and hence, has a lesser num­ber of rooms as well. How­ever, built around 700 years ago, it is much older. In fact, it is one of the old­est her­itage sites in In­dia where one can stay and has been op­er­a­tional as a ho­tel for longer too. It was built by the Yadu­van­shi Ra­jputs, who are said to be the de­scen­dants of Lord Kr­ishna. They con­verted Is­lam in the mid-14th cen­tury to be called Khan­zads. The Kes­roli Fort was con­quered by the Mughals and then Jats un­til the Ra­jputs took back charge in 1775. Be­tween 1882

and 1934, it re­mained un­der Thakur Bhawani Singh’s pos­ses­sion. Restora­tion work at Kes­roli started in 1995 and it opened its gates to the pub­lic as ho­tel in 1998 chris­tened Hill Fort Kes­roli.

Over here we helped our­selves to a meal at their restau­rant ac­com­pa­nied by a se­lec­tion of their best desserts. Like Ti­jara, this one too is lo­cated at a height so one can en­joy views of the coun­try­side and hills.

If you’re plan­ning on ven­tur­ing out to ex­plore the ar­eas sur­round­ing the Ti­jara and Kes­roli forts there are sev­eral op­tions. One of them be­ing the Silisehr lake. Nes­tled among the Aravali hills, it cov­ers an area of 7 square kilo­me­ters and said to be home to more than 250 crocodiles. Un­for­tu­nately though, we weren’t able to spot any. There is road that leads up to the Silisehr fort palace. There is a Gov­ern­ment run guest house and also has a cafe over­look­ing the lake. The only dis­ap­point­ing bit is that the menu isn’t very ex­ten­sive. Those look­ing to delve deeper into his­tory of Al­war can head to the 17th Cen­tury Bhangarh Fort. Com­pared to the lake, this fort is far­ther from Kes­roli and Ti­jara lo­cated at a dis­tance of 99km and 147km re­spec­tively. The 17th cen­tury marvel is open to the pub­lic. A word of cau­tion, though, this fort is said to be haunted. En­try into the fort is re­stricted af­ter sun­set. Sariska Tiger Re­serve is also a cou­ple of hours from ei­ther fort. Apart from Tigers, the na­tional park is also home to the In­dian leop­ard, striped hyena, wild boar among other an­i­mals. It re­mains from July to Septem­ber so, those look­ing to go tiger spot­ting will have to plan their trips ac­cord­ingly. Plus, there are spe­cific tim­ings for the sa­fari as well so we sug­gest you look them up be­fore head­ing to Sariska. And of course, pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tions like Jaipur and Pushkar are all within driv­ing dis­tance. Un-

KES­ROLI AND TI­JARA GIVE

US MERE MOR­TALS A CHANCE TO EX­PE­RI­ENCE THE ROYAL LIVES THEIR OC­CU­PANTS

ONCE LED

for­tu­nately, time con­straints and in­ces­sant rain meant were able to check out only Silisehr lake be­fore mak­ing our way back to Delhi via NH48, which by now was chock-a-block with cars fer­ry­ing peo­ple home af­ter a hard day at work. This pushed the time take for our re­turn jour­ney to well be­yond the four hour mark.

The Ti­jara and Kes­roli forts give us a glimpse of the op­u­lent life­styles led by the Ra­jas and Ma­hara­jas who used to rule these lands. Some might ar­gue that their cur­rent sta­tus of pri­vately run ho­tels re­stricts their ac­ces­si­bil­ity to the pub­lic to an ex­tent. But the com­pany is re­spon­si­ble for car­ry­ing out restora­tion and pre­serv­ing the gran­deur of these forts. Also, the fact that they are be­ing run as ho­tels gives us mere mor­tals a chance to ex­pe­ri­ence the royal lives their oc­cu­pants once led. Or, at least some of it.

Ti­jara Fort is lo­cated just 107km from the cap­i­tal but traf­fic on the Delhi-Jaipur high­way can ham­per progress

In­puts from artists, de­sign­ers and aes­thetes have in­flu­enced the decor of each guest room (be­low) of the Ti­jara Fort Palace

The con­ver­sion of Kes­roli (left) to a ho­tel has re­sulted in the in­clu­sion of mod­ern ameni­ties like a pool. We got a chance to sam­ple a se­lec­tion of desserts (be­low) at Hill Fort Kes­roli's restau­rant

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