Tag Archives: India tourism

24-Hours of Grandeur @ Neemrana Fort -Palace! 

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The view of the fort & the village from our room’s sun terrace (top most Level 14)

Summers and Rajasthan don’t go together 😀 but for the traveler-in-me this one day/night trip was like an oasis in the desert, knowing that this summer I had no travel plans (for numerous reasons).

Most importantly I have ticked off one of the experiences that was on my list — The Luxurious Neemrana Fort Experience

I have already been to three properties under Neemrana Hotels — The Piramal Haveli, Hill Fort Kesroli & The Pataudi Palace (this one is no longer a part of the group) and each one was a memorable trip.

This 15th century fort built by a local chieftain Nimola Meo was under the Chauhans (direct lineage of Prithviraj Chauhan) till 1947. Thereafter, the then raja/ruler moved out of the dilapidated fort-palace. After nearly four decades, the fort was bought by Aman Nath** (in 1986).

The fort complex from level one (early morning view)

The fort is an easy drive of ~2hrs from Delhi. We stopped for a light much on the way and in no time were at our destination.

There was a child like joy as the fort came into view 🙂  Everything suddenly felt larger than life as we alighted from our car.  There was quite a bustle at the huge fort gate with people checking in & out. A massive Suraj Pol (gate) dominated the entrance.

L-R The main entrance to the fort Suraj Pol; the entrance to the Mahals

The first look from the parking

After a quick check-in I started exploring the fort level by level (there are 14 levels). This bit is quite interesting and I am sure one will miss something or discover something that the other has not 😀 Each level and its nook and corner has something to admire! When you look down from the higher levels you will be mesmerized by the view…… wide spread fort and peaceful village surrounding it.

The view of the lovely Neemrana Fort Palace from the terrace of level 1

Inside the fort

View of the Neemrana Village & beyond from one of the turrets

I headed for our room after exploring a part of the fort. Our room was right at the top ….. yes the 14th level! This level has the Apsara Mahals namely Urvashi, Menaka & Rambha. Ours being the Urvashi Mahal.

The sparkle highlights the Apsara Wing (the topmost / Level 14 of the fort)

The mahal was exactly as seen on their official website. A high antique bed. Doors and windows with colored glasses reflecting beautiful hues. A sun terrace and cute little private sit out …… both with amazing views of sunset & the world below ❤ The bathroom had huge windows with a view. Being at the highest level gave us the liberty to leave one of them open 😉  The room was equipped with all modern facilities (except TV) and the toiletries are from their in-house spa with a hmmmm……a refreshing lemony!

The Room

Toiletries Refreshing! Lemony!

L-R The cute little sit out; the window in the bathroom; the sun terrace

After settling in the room, I headed back to my exploring.  There are two swimming pools — one for the adults and another one for the kids and their parents —- both already had plenty of takers. One of the view I most enjoyed was that of the pristine blue pools with a splash of green surrounding it against the medieval charm of the fort. The generous use of aqua color here and there breaks the monotony and gives the ambiance a peppy, grand look. It also happens to be one of my favorite colors!

The right use of aqua color here & there added pep

The vista through the arches

The amphitheater was a symmetrical delight. Arches opening to the view of the fort and village; mashaal like lights; a semi circular seating ……all came together to give it a magnificent look & feel.

The amphitheater

Views from the amphitheater

The fort on the whole has an original section; a new wing constructed while restoring the ruins and some more new wings coming up to accommodate more than its current capacity of ~190 people.

Every level and its nook and corner have a beautiful view

Once through (I am sure I must have missed a few things) we headed for the evening tea at Hawa Mahal. The seating was well arranged and there were small jharokhas too to sit by and enjoy the world outside it. I loved their in-house butter cookies.

From the Hawa Mahal (Evening Tea)

In front of the Hawa Mahal (an outside seating for meals / tea during winters)

By the time we had our coffee, my friend’s 4 year old daughter was all set to hit the pool ….. and so started our mermaid chapter. The children in the pool seemed to be having a wonderful time with many of them not willing to leave the coolness of the pool.

After an hour of swimming we headed back to our room to catch the sunset and some rest. The sun was a big orange while bidding us good bye for the day. I wish it was cloudy for those beautiful sunset experience. Gradually the fort was all lit up and the village lights twinkled as well. It seemed we were looking at a starry sky.

Sunset from our mahal’s sit out

Sunset from our mahal’s sun terrace

A quick shower, some peace time and we were all set for a scrumptious buffet dinner at the Jalgiri Mahal.  The dinner room was tastefully done up (again the use of aqua was just the right choice). The buffet spread had variety for both the vegetarians & non vegetarians. The live pasta counter was popular with the chef whipping lip smacking pasta for us 🙂

Jalgiri Mahal – Dinner

Sinful but yum dessert! From inside the Jalgiri Mahal.

Once we finished dining we went down all the way to look at the fort in the night with lights on. The nights are so peaceful in villages…….. a far cry from the noisy cities. Even though it was summer, the weather there was much tolerant and breezy. We spent some tranquil time there and called it a day while making the final ascent to the top. The fort lights went off at 10 pm and in no time we were ready for slumber-land.

Neemrana Fort-Palace & Neemrana village at night

The next morning I did wake up early to catch the sunrise but I guess I was late. Nevertheless, I had the whole fort to myself as most were either still asleep or in their mahals. Through out our stay we heard the peacocks but saw none……. until now! From the fort rampart I could see the village houses and on the terrace of one, a peacock performed for good 8 mins non stop. I watched its show like a true admirer.

From one of the gardens

My morning stroll (read climb) was through and back in the room we readied ourselves for breakfast, camel cart ride and then check-out.

The breakfast, a lovely spread of Indian and continental, was served in the Jalgiri Mahal. In winters, seating for breakfast & lunches extend to the sun basked terraces as well.

Jalgiri Mahal – Breakfast

Breakfast

We ate like queens and strolled down to the entrance gate for our camel cart ride.

Camel Cart Ride

The ride took us through the Neemrana farmhouse where they grow their own organic vegetables and have cows/buffaloes for milk. The highlight of the ride was the Rani ki Baoli or Neemrana Baoli (stepwell).

The 9 storey Rani ki Baoli or Neemrana Baoli

The step well is under the government, littered by people and needs some maintenance from tourism point of view. Built in the 1760s it is a 9 storey stepwell. I had read somewhere that its being developed as a crafts haat (bazaar) under the Rural Tourism project (Union Government). The steps leading down to the lowest storey were pretty worn out. Though I did not go down I managed to take a shot of the stepwell 2nd -9th storey from the top floor’s broken edges.

Different views of the 18th century stepwell

Once back from the ride we went through the check out process. Certain feedback was shared with the GM of the fort who was prompt in taking note of them. Hopefully they turn into actions as apt.

Just before leaving I went into their Neemrana Shop to see if I could pick up something as a souvenir……. and I did find a couple of things 🙂  Their shop has an interesting collection of handicrafts from Indian villages/state famous for it. An outlet is there at Khan Market, Delhi though I found the collection at the Fort more varied.

Pic: Google Searched

…………………… and with this we moved out of the fort back to our home! We returned with a spring in our step and joy in our heart ❤ The getaway to this magical fort was bliss!

I look forward to experiencing more properties of Neemrana non hotels as and when my pocket allows ;-D

A watchful dog or is there a story of this dog?

Some quick take offs

  1. Though winter is the best time to visit the fort, late summer (close to onset of monsoon) and monsoon are not a bad choice either. There was quite a rush even in June when we went
  2. To get rooms with lesser price ensure you book early because they are the first ones to be taken
  3. Ample parking space is there and if you have a driver, they have a free dorm facility for them (first come first serve) with food which is chargeable.
  4. I was pretty happy with their service be it at the entrance, the reception, the bell boys, the room service or their staff at the restaurants and other facilities. Smiling, efficient, prompt and helpful.
  5. The fort may seem like a maze in the first instance….. but its simple if you stick to a path pattern. However, at every level their staff is there to guide you if you feel lost.
  6. There are a lot of activities to choose from — you may opt for rejuvenation at the spa; spend some cool time in the swimming pool; enjoy the grand vistas and architecture through fort exploration; feel the adrenaline rush while zipping across Neemrana with Flying Fox; be part of the rustic life and enjoy the camel ride to the baoli; take a vintage car ride like royalty; hit the in-house gym to keep up with your fitness regime; on weekends connect with your roots through cultural programmes or simply relax “doing nothing”
  7. Try to indulge in activities that you may not get to experience in your town or city.
  8. The higher up the rooms the better the views.
  9. There is no room service so avoid taking elderly people as it will not be convenient for them to keep climbing up and down (there is no lift facility)

 

Beautiful, isn’t it!

 

 

 

**Aman Nath is a writer, hotelier, and architectural restorer. He is the co founder & charirman of the Neemrana ‘non-hotel’ Hotels along with Francis Wacziarg. He has co-written and authored many illustrated books on Rajasthan and Indian arts that have won him National awards and is also the first Indian whose book has been chosen by Christie’s for worldwide distribution. Neemrana group of hotels is renowned in restoring ruins and turning them into heritage hotels. The hotel group has been for the Aga Khan Award (2004) and have won awards from UNESCO & the Indian travel industry. 

 

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HAPPY  TRAVELLING!
Monika Ohson / TravelerInMe

Thekkady, for the spice & wild

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After Munnar our next destination was Thekkady.

The drive to Thekkady from Munnar via Kumily is scenic. Woody forests and spice plantation now take over the usual tea plantation. A tip off … Do have a good breakfast before leaving Munnar or get something filling packed as you will barely find a place to stop and eat.

 

SPICE PLANTATION TOUR

Our first stop was at the The Periyar Spice & Ayurvedic Garden on the Thekkady-Kumily highway. Their designated guide took us through an educational guide of the spice and Ayurveda herb plantation in their garden. In the end …… we shopped 😀 Fresh spices and Ayurveda produce are a must buy when in Kerala! You can also opt for them as souvenirs because Kerala is known for its spices!

King of Spices “Black Pepper” is native to south India and is extensively cultivated there. It is the world’s most traded spice. Currently, Vietnam is the world’s largest producer.

Queen of Spices “Cardamom” is the world’s third-most expensive spice after Vanilla & Saffron. India was the largest producer till 2000, thereafter, the position went to Gautemala.

Immature cocoa pods have a variety of colors, but most often are green, red or purple and as they mature, their color tends towards yellow or orange. Kerala is the top producer of cocoa in India while Ivory Coast is the top contributor in the world.

The first cultivation of coffee in India happened in Chikmagalur (Karnataka). Though Kerala is the biggest coffee producer (esp Robusta variety). The coffee beans when immature, are green. When mature, they have a brown to yellow or reddish color.

We were told its made by ants ….. though I have a feel its a wasp mud nest.

The “Torch Ginger” plant. The showy flowers of the plant are used in decorative arrangements, while the flower buds are an important ingredient in the Malay (Peranakan) dish laksa.

 

BOAT RIDE @ PERIYAR WILDLIFE RESERVE

Once through the spicy trip, we headed straight for Periyar National Park & Wildlife Sanctuary notable as both an elephant and a tiger reserve. The park is situated in the Cardamom Hills and Pandalam Hills of the Southern Western Ghats and is a repository of rare, endemic and endangered flora and fauna. It also forms the major watershed of two important rivers of Kerala, the Periyar and Pamba.

At the main entrance of the reserve you will need to buy the entry tickets. The vehicles are allowed up to a point and from there you are on foot! A lovely shaded walk amidst massive, tall, old trees for a few minutes and you are at the boating ticket counter.

The lovely wooded /shaded walk to the Periyar boat ride section. Most of the tress are very old & massive!

One of the outlets for snacks and sanctuary souvenirs

On entering the boat ride area its wise to get the tickets first and thereafter enjoy the place — be careful of the monkeys while enjoying their antics, the interesting cut outs from tree trunks, have some light snacks / basic food or seat yourself in the waiting area till your ride slot comes.

The ticket has mention of your boat and once seated you are given life jackets to wear. There will be instructions to maintain silence or soft whispers and not to get up from your seat and run to the windows (which also means try to get a window seat if you are into photography)

 

Statue depicting the Periyar Tiger Reserve

View from the waiting area of the Periyar Reserve

Here & there you will find interesting wildlife sculpture crafted from tree trunks

View of the reserve (building) from the boat

Ours was the last slot of the boat ride, 3:30 pm. We were lucky to get a small boat (must be a 18-seater) and I did get a window seat 😀 The ride began and our boat had one forest ranger behind the steer and another as a guide.

The boat ride in Periyar Sanctuary

Inside view of our boat

Its mesmerizing seeing the wild landscape of Periyar. The different shades of nature, wildlife and the tranquility of the river! Now if you are lucky you can spot a herd of wild elephants (attraction of the ride) and not so common birds/animals. Unfortunately, no elephant sighting was seen on our boat ride day…… though folks on the ride a day ago did! As usual, the best time for sighting of wildlife is summer 🙂

 

Gaur or Indian Bison and flock of Cormorants from the boat window

Sambar Deer

Gaur or Indian Bison

The Indian Cormorant. You will often find them standing in the sun with their wings spread out to dry (they have less preen oil than other birds)

A flock of Indian cormorants swimming across

If you do not sight much wildlife ….. you can sit back and enjoy the bounty of nature!

The surrounding forest comprise of tropical evergreen and moist deciduous trees like  teak, rosewoods, sandalwood, jacarandas, mangoes, jamun, tamarind, banyans, sacred fig etc. Also more than 150+ varieties of grass grow here. If you happen to opt for a program that takes you inside the forest you may spot many animals and birds besides the flora that you may not see from the boat ride.

 

The trees made a delightful sight with different colored / hued leaves

White necked or Wooly necked Stork

The unforgettable part of the Periyar landscape are these submerged trees, said to be alive for 120+ yrs

 

Some quick tips / pointers to help you plan a trip to Thekkady:

  • Please ensure that you do online reservation /  booking for the boating as well as eco tourism program(s). There are only a few tickets sold at the counter as main reservation is online (https://www.periyarfoundation.online/)
  • In case you are unable to do so, you need to be there really early to stand for more than an hour in the queue to get your tickets (as was in our case; online booking could not be done due to some technical glitch. But we were lucky as the tourist season had just begun so not too crowded)
  • Also please note and remember that only 2 tickets are issued per person. So if you are 6 people, 3 need to be standing in the line 🙂
  • It is wise not to carry food item in your hand once inside the reserve as langurs / monkeys roam freely and they are known for snatching food and drink items
  • There is a small grilled canteen in the campus where you will get some basic food items and snacks (nothing fancy)
  • There is a waiting hall with seating where you can relax till your boat ride time comes
  • There are stay options within the reserve and if you plan to indulge in their eco tourism program it would be a wonderful idea to stay there
  • The Eco Tourism programs offered by the Periyar Tiger Reserve are Nature Walk; Cloud Walk; Green Walk; Border Trekking; Bamboo Rafting; The Bamboo Grove; Jungle Inn; Bullock Cart Discoveries; Jungle Scout; Tiger Trail
  • They have their retail outlet where you can buy souvenir items like t-shirts, caps, hoodies etc

my suggestion: to really enjoy the treasures of the reserve you must stay for at least 2 days and indulge in more than one of their Eco Tourism programs.

 

Sunset captured on our return from the boat ride

Some landscapes have a distinguishing charm ….. Periyar is one of them!

 

Read more about my Kerala Trip…..

Kerala on your mind? Here’s my #KeralaNotings
Trivia: Kerala Trip Take Offs
Alleppey Backwaters: The Kettuvallam Sojourn
Munnar, a piece of heaven on earth!

 

….and, if you like what you just read, do ‘like it’ & ‘share it’. Non WordPress users please ‘rate’ it to express your appreciation 🙂 Also do not forget to ‘follow the blog’ to remain updated about newer posts ❤ 

 

HAPPY  TRAVELLING!
Monika Ohson / TravelerInMe

Stay @Bundi Haveli –Traditional yet contemporary

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Our first experience of staying in a haveli was in Udaipur and it taught us certain things. 1. Most of them would be housed in the narrow by lanes of the city 2. They may look simple from outside but the real essence is once you step in and go wow 3. Most of the popular tourists sites are close by (at times walking distance) 4. They have wonderful views of some of the monuments 5. You feel you are “at home”

So Bundi Haveli was no different. Just what we wanted — heritage property, traditional, comfortable, peaceful, clean, warm and good food. After a long day full of climbs, walks we felt tiredness leaving us as soon as we entered our room and made ourselves comfortable.

My favorite spot was the jharokha or window sit out. Watching sunrise along with the view of the Garh / Bundi Palace.

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I simply love these jharokha (window) sit outs. Don’t you? ❤

sunrise

Sip coffee/tea and enjoy the sunrise from the jharokha sit out

The rooms are clean, spacious and snug. They are have a beautiful traditional look and feel with all basic modern amenities. The haveli houses 2 suites, 8 deluxe rooms and 2 standard rooms. Each one with a different look but same essence.

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Suite 1

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Suite 2

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Deluxe Rooms 8 nos

 

One can have a leisurely walk down the aisles or even some rooms, if unoccupied, to admire the display of traditional Rajasthani art and culture through decors tastefully selected.

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They have an in-house restaurant, again tastefully decorated, where you can have scrumptious food preparations. The menu is a good mix of Indian (including Rajasthani) and continental cuisines. For breakfast we were lucky to have some delicious aloo parathas on request. The chef and his team do a wonderful job in preparing tasty food, presenting it well and serving on time. I am a little choosy about how my coffee is made ….. but I was happy to get one as desired 🙂 The restaurant has a green space seating as well.

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There is shop inside the haveli that sells jewelry, clothes and souvenirs that showcase Indian tradition. One must remember that Bundi is famous for miniature ‘Rajasthani’ murals. You can pick up some amazing miniature paintings by artist Yug (seen the photo below) right inside Bundi Haveli. He also has some beautiful work replicating the ones you will be admiring in Chitrashala. The miniature paintings of Bundi is a must buy for self and as gifts to carry back for friends and family.

shopping

 

The Nawal Sagar is right across the road, so you can go to one of the eateries out there and relax amidst the old city life or just take a stroll around the lake. Most of the places like Garh (Bundi) Palace, Chitrashala, Taragarh Fort too are close by. The by lanes that lead you to them are strewn with some interesting cafes. One can either opt to walk or take a tuk tuk (three wheeler auto) to these places from Bundi Haveli.  Their rooftop terrace offers a 360 degree view of the town.

The staff here are polite, prompt and ever smiling. One of them, Vikram Rawat, had attended and served us well. They even helped us arrange a car to drive us down to Jhalawar post our Bundi stay. So in case there is any help you need you know you can approach the staff!

You can read about my Bundi trip here . Get to know a little about the city and what all you can do there.

 


Even though the accommodation was sponsored by the owner Surenderji, this in no way effect my views / opinions shared above. (Bundi Haveli website)

 

….and, if you like what you just read, do ‘like it’ & ‘share it’. Non WordPress users please ‘rate’ it to express your appreciation 🙂 Also do not forget to ‘follow the blog’ to remain updated about newer posts ❤ 


HAPPY  TRAVELLING!
Monika Ohson / TravelerInMe