Raja-sthan – the land of the mighty Rajput rajas. Well-known for its forts and palaces, the north-western Indian state is now synonymous to award winning world class hospitality and ancient wonders of thriving kingdoms.
One of the most outstanding examples of this amalgamation of luxury and history is the Alila Fort Bishangarh. From a fortress to a luxury hotel, the walls of this majestic building has seen three centuries of the changing times.
The 230-year old warrior fortress, located an hour’s drive away from India’s pink city, Jaipur, is today a luxury resort offering sweeping views of a busy life of the Bishangarh Village, from where the resort gets its name, and the grandeur of the Aravalli hills.
The architecture is purely Jaipur gharana, symbolic of days bygone when the rajas reigned over these lands.
Perched high up on a granite hill, the Alila Fort Bishangarh had slumped to a deserted ruin after what seemed like a glorious period of fine warrior spirit. Rao Rajendra Singh, the current ruler of Shahpura, inherited the fort and decided to transform the building into a modern offering of luxury. A Jaipur-based architect couple then converted this fortress keeping the original structure intact and adding the highest order in luxury and comfort.
On completion of the 10-year ecological restoration project and driving away the bats, snakes and monkeys who had taken fort in this fortress, what endured is a haven of mystery. This Jaipur gharana is accentuated with Mughal arches, jharokha-style windows, jaali screens and cupolas in addition to a secret British turret which today houses a fine collection of cigar and cognac. An old council room has become the library and the fort’s dungeon has now become the Spa Alila Wellness Centre. Guests will not only get a treat of Indian royalty here, but also western therapies.
The best way to relish on this luxurious monument is to experience its true treasures. The resort features four restaurants, all offering a gastronomic treat. From sleeping quarters of the kings to an all-day dining space, Amarsar is a culinary journey offering dishes inspired by the Silk Route – for instance, Afghan noodle soup, Cantonese roast chicken and Lahori fried fish.
Breakfast at this cool and marbled venue includes breakfast of the warriors – grilled lamb’s liver on kurma roti or the keema khagina eggs. Vegetarians can relish on the local village breakfast. Indian tapas and a selection of smoked meats, including sandalwood-smoked lamb bootha is a specialty at Madhuveni while Nazaara serves Rajput dishes slow cooked in traditional sand ovens with the backdrop of views from the terrace. The menus are designed by Executive chef Nishesh Tripathi with celebrity chef Ranveer Brar.
Guests also get the chances to explore local favourites on a curated tour around the local villages to be able to experience the local flavours.
Rooms at Alila give you the chance to live like royalty. There are 59 suites in total, each offering grand views of the Rajasthani landscape through ornately designed, large jharoka windows. Each room also offers a day bed to sit back and relax – just how the kings and queens did, like the yonder days. I enjoyed a view from the sixth floor and woke up each day of my stay at the property as a king would have, beginning each day with a sweeping glance of his prosperous kingdom and his chest swelling with pride.
The Alila Fort Bishangarh does that to you – it takes you a few centuries back in time when land and man obeyed to the commands of a wise and just ruler.
Although majestic, the rooms are designed in a minimalistic manner, enhancing its appeal of elegance. The bathrooms was huge – another indication of the lavish pampering that royalty once enjoyed. A store tub adds the cherry on top.
Alila offers not just a gastronomic haven in the lap of utmost luxury but it also offers a taste of the life of the locals – the decendents of a once-flourishing kingdom. The hotel curates experiences for guests to get a feel of life in this rustic village. We were invited to the home of Daya who lived close to the hotel. We had lunch at their warm home where we were treated to a traditional fare in an authentic manner.
Other interesting activities include learning pottery from local porters and visits to a 4,000-year-old temple – Kalka Mata. Worshippers from near and far climb the 500 steps to the temple to pray for wishes to be fulfilled. These activities reflect Alila’s commitment to support and encourage the local community that they set foot upon.
My experience at Alila was most fulfilling because not only did I get to enjoy luxury at its finest, but also because the property gives life to the pages of history textbooks I grew up with. My fascination knew no bounds and I am confident that there will be many who would agree with me.
Where: Alila Fort Bishangar
Off NH-8 at Manoharpur, Bishangarh Village,
Jaipur, Bishangarh, Rajasthan 303103
Phone: 01422 276 500
Note: The critic was invited by Alila Fort Bishangar but all the opinions expressed herewith are his own