“Will you take tea on the terrace this evening?”
A turbaned man in a starched white uniform with big brass buttons enquired of me, as I stood on a terrace surveying the lands around me, as though I was queen of it all.
“Yes please. I’d like to watch the sunset.”
In truth, I really do feel like royalty. As though the sunlight-gilded lands around me belong to me. Today, I am a queen and this is my palace. A majestic citadel built in the 15th century, sprawling over six acres, spilling down in turreted walls and fortifications along the slopes of a hill, overlooking a lush landscape.
The Neemrana Fort Palace Hotel is a heritage hotel—one of the oldest palace hotels in India. It was restored with care using local materials and labour, not only to bring the heritage structure back into use, but also to generate livelihood and bring economic revival in the local village.
As I sipped my tea, the sun began to sink leaving streaks of pink and purple in the darkening sky. The palace behind me lit up in warm yellow lights twinkling along its corridors, like jewels glittering on an Indian bride. It was indeed a marvel of ancient architecture. Strains of local Rajasthani music floated past. A peacock cooed in the gardens. China tinkled as elegantly dressed guests were served tea. I could picture what life was like for the royal family and the hundreds of courtiers and staff who lived with them 500 years before.
The Neemrana Fort Palace now has over 70 completely refurbished rooms ranging from a comfortable double (starting at $100 a night) to royal suites and luxurious chambers housing families of four (up to $500 a night). They overlook hanging gardens, an old-fashioned arena, open courtyards and terraces that serve as restaurants and two outdoor pools. The restoration was careful to preserve the old-world charm of the rooms, with elaborate archways, raised platforms, ornate wooden beds tucked inside alcoves, sumptuous fabrics hanging on the walls and sheer curtains fluttering in the breeze.
When I’d walked around admiring the historic architecture, elaborate art and fertile gardens, I poked my head into the little shop carrying Rajasthani handicrafts, which are famous across India. I browsed the local textiles, jewellery, pashminas, art and other trinkets before settling on a silver engraved ring, a little reminder of my reign as queen. Adding a touch of opulence to the already luxurious experience was an in-house Ayurveda spa with decadent treatments starting at just $20.
The cuisine served at Neemrana is a range of Indian—especially Rajasthani—specialties, complemented by Chinese, French and other international dishes. Breakfast and afternoon tea are included with the room and $25 adds lunch and dinner. On the weekends, local Rajasthani folk musicians and dancers perform in the courtyards. I considered taking a vintage car ride through the village ($25 for up to four passengers) but settled on an old-school camel ride ($10)—after all, Rajasthan is the desert state of India. Or the edge of it, at least.
While Neemrana is in the state of Rajasthan, it lies on the Delhi-Jaipur highway and is only 100 or so kilometres—about a two-hour drive—from Delhi airport, making it an accessible getaway or a relaxing stopover on the way to completing the Golden Triangle tour of Agra-Delhi-Jaipur. After a weekend of pampering and romance, I continued my journey into Rajasthan for more palaces, deserts, a camel festival, tiger safari and other exotic adventures…