The journey to Neemrana
Neemrana is about 120 kms from Delhi, located on the main NH8 highway. Depending upon the traffic and the time of the day, it takes anytime between 2-4 hours to reach here. There are three toll tax points enroute – one at Gurgaon, the next one at Manesar and the third one at Shahjahanpur (at 116 kms point from Delhi ) as one enters Rajasthan. One passes through Gurgaon & Rewari districts of Haryana and Alwar District in Rajasthan. The main towns en-route are i) Gurgaon, ii) Manesar and iii) Dharuhera (in Rewari District of Haryana). The expansion work on NH8 is underway to make it 6 lanes each and this often creates huge bottlenecks on the highway. What amazes me is the fact that the expansion work on this highway seems to be never ending work. I remember driving to Jaipur last time in 1997 and the road was equally chaotic due to the ongoing work to make it four lane. I really wish the work gets completed sometime! Because of the ongoing work in stretches and towns such as Manesar & dharuhera en-route, the journey may get terribly slow in bits and pieces as happened with me. I encountered a traffic jam at i) gurgaon toll point, ii) a 15 kms stretch while passing through Manesar and again iii) while passing through Dharuhera. It gets dusty, horney(remember, we Indians love honking!) and never ending. Thankfully, i am yet to complete “the girl with the dragon tattoo” and it came in very handy in these stretches. I thought of this treacherous bit something worth undergoing to seek a peaceful time in Neemrana, to be with nature and away from the crowds and traffic and this is when i got concerned as I kept noticing huge bill boards promising ‘flats at affordable rates’ and ‘offer to invest in new shopping malls in Neemrana’ throughout the journey. The last thing i wanted to see here was another unplanned, haphazard growth in the name of urbanisation. After entering Rajasthan on this NH8 at Shahjahanpur, the first town is Neemrana, which falls in Alwar District. On my left was a huge Industrial belt of RIICO followed by NIIT Neemrana.
Neemrana Fort Palace is just within first 3 kms on NH8, to the right of NH8 and one has to be careful to look for a signboard on the main highway (a small one though). I took the right turn and passed through “Liberty footwear” factory followed by Neemrana village. One will have to take a right turn from a point where “sub-tahsil office” is on the left and the road leads up to the Fort. Vehicles cants go inside the fort and one has to walk up about 250 meters to reach the reception. It’s a sudden change from all pollution, congestion & traffic I went through the journey and suddenly it was all quiet and quaint and I felt refreshed. It was literally being in nature. The fort-palace is a garden palace, located in an area of 6 acres and built over 12 layers tiered into the hills. There are two parts in the Fort hotel- the original portion and the new block where the architecture has been kept in sync with the original design of the palace fort. The original terrain and vegetation has been left untouched and one sees ‘kikar’ (acacia karoo) trees all around. There are two swimming pools in the Hotel and are well maintained. For an hour or so as one enters the hotel, the place looks like a complete ‘Bhul-bhulaiya’ and one would surely lose his/her way while going up to the room.
I checked into the fort –Resort and realised that there are no numbers to the room and all have names. I was in “Donna” room and had to walk up about at least 50 meters to come up to my room. What amazed me as I entered the room was that there wasn’t
a Television or internet! And it was such a big relief. I went around and saw other rooms too. Rooms in the original Fort are at various levels and the room architecture is different in almost all the rooms. Few have stairs as one open the room and washroom are at different level. Each room has a small balcony. I also noticed that there is no intercom and one has to dial the number to access the reception. It’s not only being in nature and a very conscious effort has been made to minimize the interaction with the outside world and that’s the beauty of Neemrama. It is truly peaceful and one feels refreshed and recharged.
In the evening, there was a cultural program and traditional Rajasthani folk dances were performed. Maybe because it was a weekend but it added that extra zing. The dinner timings are from 8-10 pm and which again is a refreshing discipline.
I happened to meet Francis Wacziarg, co-chairman of Neemrana Fort-Palace this morning and complimented him for a very subdued presence of outside interference and almost a perfect blend with the nature. He informed me that there are about 25 Neemrana “non-hotels” and that, in addition to the heritage sites in the North, Neemrana is planning to arrange similar wonders now in South India including Hyderabad. He also explained how they have worked concertedly towards creating a new niche whereby the experiencing of history in once abandoned architectural treasures has now been added to the Indian tourism repertoire and thereby turning India’s neglected architectural ‘waste’ into World heritage assets.
I went to see the Neemrana Baoli in the morning. It’s about a kilometre from the Fort-Palace Hotel, to its right and one has to walk through the village. Built in 1760s it is a 9 storey underground structure of majestic scale and is in a state of complete neglect. It was built by the Rajas of Neemrana for famine relief. Traditionally baolis in Rajasthan have acted as sarai for the travellers. I have seen Baolis in Gujarat (adalaj Vav, Rani ki vav & agrasen vav) which have been restored and are heritage site for the tourists. The one at Neemrana is certainly very impressive in its architecture and I wish its restored and beautified at the earliest. I did go down all the way and it was some exercise. The visit to neemrana is incomplete without visiting the bauli.
I came back in the evening today totally refreshed. I heard a gossip how, Neemrana- a vast and splendid ruin was acquired initially in 1977 for a ridiculously paltry sum of Rs 2.2 millions (just hearsay and am not sure about its authenticity) but then I marvel how it was turned into a world class heritage hotel with painstaking efforts and ensuring the ambience is not polluted in the name of modernity. The “Neemranification” is a term now symbolises a new blend of restoration, rebuilding and revitalization of ruined architectural wonders. The term has become almost synonymous with a foremost example of architectural restoration-for-reuse.
No wonder, Queen Elizabeth’s niece Princess Sarah Armstrong Jones on her honeymoon at Neemrana Fort-Palace wrote “simplicity and style are so difficult to achieve together...Neemrana is one of the most beautiful places we have stayed anywhere in the world”. Another comment in the visitor’s book says “The Neemrana hotel is India’s best-kept secret”.
Neemrana is a phographer's delight and even an amateur novice like me couldnt resist. More photographs can be seen here.
It was my first visit to Neemrana Fort-Palace and certainly not the last....