Barely 100 kms from Delhi, this early 19th century palace is a classic combo of regality and modern art.

When it comes to heritage revival, nobody does it better than Aman Nath. He is like a magician who seems to turn ruins into elegant heritage properties with the magical touch of his intuition, imagination and practiced skills.

The historian cum renaissance person who writes, designs, lectures and promotes Neemrana, started his saga of resurrection with the eminent Neemrana Fort Palace which has been drawing crowds since 1971. His uncanny talent to restore old properties into viable economic properties continues and today he carries the credit of reviving and running as many as 17 stunning heritage hotels in the Neemrana portfolio. Aman Nath’s pet project, the Neemrana group of hotels is a gorgeous testament to the fact that history when restored and resurrected can emerge far more beautiful than probably, the original product.

Amongst these seventeen properties distributed in different states of India, the youngest addition to this attractive portfolio is the Tijara Fort Palace, which needs to be experienced in order to be truly admired and appreciated.

Located below the hillocks of the Aravalli hills is a sleepy pilgrimage town of Tijara in India’s glittering state of Rajasthan. The construction of Tijara Fort Palace, which began with artisans from far off lands was pioneered by Prince Balwant Singh in 1822. However, due to his premature death in 1835, the construction stopped midway. Taken over by Rajasthan government and leased to Neemrana Group of Hotels, Tijara Fort Palace now operates as a stunning boutique hotel against the charming backdrop of mustard fields. Within a short span of two years of its inception, it has won the distinction of Best Boutique Hotel by the readers of Indian travel magazine – Outlook Traveller.

After fifteen years of toil and renovation, the heritage hotel has acquired its current dreamy outlook. Spread across eight acres, the hotel is divided into three resplendent sections – Rani Mahal, Mardana Mahal and Hawa Mahal. While Rani Mahal was the residential palace, Mardana Mahal (along with its rooms) is particularly known for its spacious garden courtyard. Hawa Mahal, perched on the edge of a cliff, catches the breeze that blows over the fields and its terrace feels almost like being in Tibet!

A multi-tiered garden surrounds the Hawa Mahal where the Kaanch Mahal restaurant is located and a sunken swimming pool ahead adds to the luxury factor. A Japanese garden curated by Resident Manager Vivek Shukla is another unique selling point, while plenty of hanging gardens spread across the property give it a stunning look.

The distinct attribute of Tijara Fort Palace is that a very thin line exists between old remains and new construction. It is enigmatic as we try to find what is original and what has been added. Royalty, albeit in rustic setting is the buzzword at this property. Hand drawn frescoes add to the heritage look. Steep stairways, narrow doorways, exquisitely carved jharokhas stand as sentinels of typical Rajasthani architecture.

The hotel property is divinely beautiful and the more I discover its intriguing facets, the more interesting it gets. However, it is the incorporation of the irresistible art factor that got me super engaged. Yes, the unique selling point of this heritage property lies in the fact that each of its seventy plus rooms are exquisitely designed by an artist of renowned stature. Each room is an exquisitely designed space, breathing life into glorious past and at the same time reflecting the playful, artsy and creative personality of its creator.

One can enjoy paintings by Anjolie Ela Menon, Amrita Shergill and her nephew Vivan Sundaram, Sanjay Bhattacharya, Rohit Chawla, Ghulam Sheikh and Gargi Raina. There are rooms adorned with photographs by Raghu Rai or famous fashion designers like Ritu Kumar, Gaurav Gupta, Manish Arora, Meera & Muzaffar Ali contributing their innate touch through their fabrics, upholstery, etc. Ramachandran’s beautiful paintings of Yayati adorn the Durbar halls on either side of the Mardana Mahal gardens. Famous wedding set designer Sumant Jaikrishnan has designed one of the halls and the creators of popular outlets like Fab India and Good Earth have lent their designer touch to their respective Mahals.

Taking things to another level is the fact that each room is named after the artist who has lent his unique touch to the room. Immortalization of designers by way of christening the rooms after them has been a first of its kind. Nath’s idea of honouring artists, craftsmen and aesthetes in such a distinctive manner has surely struck a chord in my heart and with the creative community of India. Tijara Fort Palace has become a museum of posterity for India. These attributes make each room unique. Hence, one has the chance to try a different room with a different experience on every visit.

The palace seemed like a large open-air museum and I took time to explore its nooks and crannies. The pictures of restoration at various stages can be found on several walls that give an insight into the story of the team’s hard toil behind the present-day splendor. Antique beds give an ancient feel while historic artefacts have been strategically placed throughout the property. Vivek Shukla, the resident manager informed us that apart from being a popular getaway, the fort palace has become the hottest attraction for weddings and conferences, too. A farewell party for the previous French ambassador to India was held in the Mardana Mahal, whose courtyard Darbar Hall stands out with its stunning blue panja durrie weave tiles designed by Aman Nath, that can be easily mistaken for a durrie.

Since the hotel is located on a hillock, the hotel facilitates 360-degree picturesque views of the surrounding Aravalli Hills. The views from the terrace of Hawa Mahal are mesmerizing. Clouds, as if kissing the mountains was the first view that I saw in the morning from my bed across the window. What a fabulous sight!

For outdoor- loving guests, there are facilities for cycling tours around Tijara Fort Palace. Cycling around mustard fields surrounded by Aravalli Hills with camels and local villagers for company and cool breeze swaying at your face is a delight in itself. Of course, the cycling tour gives the added advantage of getting spectacular views of the palace hotel from different angles!

Meals at TFP are a celebration by itself. It is like being treated to a sumptuous Marwari dawat (party). A heady mix of tasty Rajasthani fare with North Indian food topped by the mind-blowing hospitality of its chef Ramji Lal and his team was like an icing on the cake of Tijara FP. Continental cuisines are also offered.

Even though the fort is in a close proximity to the city of Delhi, TFP is a different world altogether. The rustic charm of the ancient architecture, the sprawling gardens, the tranquil aura and above all, the TV-free with intermittent wifi connections, offer the perfect setting for a stress-free getaway. ■

Travelers’ trivia
Tijara is roughly two and half hours drive from New Delhi, the capital city of India.

October to March is the best season to visit this property.
Around – Tijara Jain temple, Babar’s Lal Masjid and more but odds are high that you may not want to leave the fort!
It pays to know that detailed descriptions of the rooms are available on the website so do go through them before picking one for your stay. Choose a different one for each stay for a totally unique experience.

Written by: Bandana Jain
Photos: Bandana Jain

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this article was published in OutdoorUAE printed magazine issue #92 December 2018 – January 2019

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