Many of my favorite getaways while I was living and working in India back in 2011 were to Neemrana properties. The collection of “non-hotel, hotels” includes palaces, forts and estates built over the last 500+ years and lovingly redone as boutique hotels in destinations like Cochin, Pondicherry and their namesake town – Neemrana in Rajasthan. My last trip to the fort-palace was with four girlfriends back in 2011 when we stopped through on our way from Delhi to see the Taj. We spent a magical night at the fort-palace complete with musical performances, dancing, and a banquet under the stars. I’ve talked about Neemrana ever since and was so excited to show David my favorite hotel in all of India.
Carved into the side of a cliff and presiding over the town of Neemrana, the Fort Palace has been continuously growing and evolving over its 550 year history. On this visit we chose to stay in one of their oldest rooms – the Chandra Mahal which I hear is the favorite of Bollywood celebrity Abhishek Bachchan as well. The airy, vaulted ceilings, playful pattern mixing and massive daybed make this room my absolute favorite!
Visiting Neemrana is like spending the night in a museum, as each room holds antiquities and stories amassed by the owners over the years. Taking the audio tour is a must and a great way to orient yourself to the sprawling property the beginning of your stay. Narrow staircases leading to secluded rooftop balconies, hanging gardens grace the fortress walls and the large pool at the back of the property where the queen and her attendants used to bath is now home to a pandemonium of parrots are all waiting to be discovered. I picked up this scarf print dress from my favorite Indian designer, Ritu Kumar, while in Delhi. I love that it looks at home in so many places – from a fort in Delhi, to touring Tuscany, which is on the itinerary for later this year. I like the longer sleeves and shorter hemline so it can also transcend seasons easily, and I’m looking forward to wearing it with boots in the fall.
After the tour we freshened up for tea time – a creamy chai with extra cardamon thrown in before joining other guests to watch the nightly performance during cocktail hour. By the time the performers took the stage the air had cooled and both guests and peacocks came out to admire the sunset colors painting the sky while sipping Kingfishers or a lime soda.
One of the best things about Neemrana – is the food. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all served in a whimsical blue and yellow hand painted hall, and the servers couldn’t be sweeter. Both David and I love Indian food and and only ate Indian dishes but they have a vast selection of western and Japanese offerings as well.
The property continues to expand, and there was some minor construction happening during our stay. It was fascinating to watch the workers – both men and women – carry broken stones balanced on their head from one of the upper rooms being renovated. They’d carry them 2 or three at a time down the narrow wining staircases to the edge of the fortress and fling them off the side of the cliff into a valley. The women would carry as much as the men – while wearing sarees! On one occasion, a man was gingerly taking a bag of stones off his head and pouring them over the edge – when a slender girl about my age stepped next to him and hurled her stones into the valley below. I burst out laughing and made the universal sign for strength – flexing my arm with a smile and she returned the gesture laughing as well. Throughout the rest of our stay when I saw her we’d exchange wry smiles.
In addition to the beautiful property I just love meeting other guests, most of whom are Indians enjoying a countryside getaway from the hurly-burly of neighboring Delhi or Jaipur. One family that we met during our camel ride was on vacation from Jaipur and after we took a few photos for them and exchanged contact info they became trusted advisors on restaurants and arranging transportation in Jaipur, the next destination on our trip.
The camel ride goes from the fort down to an ancient step-well about 2 miles from the hotel. Riding a camel was totally different than I expected and I loved the ambling gate of the animal and being up so high. Our mahout (camel handler) ended up being a great photographer as well! The step-well was a majestic structure that descended nine stories beneath the earth’s surface to allow villagers to access the water table and gather water for the past 300 years. It is not longer the main water supply of the surrounding villages but is a stunning engineering feat worth exploring – assuming you aren’t afraid of heights!
All photos by David and Stacie Flinner for stacieflinner.com.