Ahhichatragarh, better known as Nagaur Fort, is like no other place on earth. Where else can you walk the battlements of a huge 12th century stronghold, wander its many painted royal palaces and water gardens, and then sleep right there in rooms used for centuries by the queens of the Maharajahs of Jodhpur?
Set in the middle of Nagaur city - yet separated from the hustle and bustle by 20-foot-high sandstone walls - staying at Nagaur Fort offers visitors a unique perspective. We enjoyed the intriguing juxtaposition of two fundamentally different environments - beyond the walls, where the city teems with the sounds and sights of a population of 100,000 or so; and within the huge fort, where all is stillness and calm.
We arrived there across the desert from Jodhpur, two hours’ drive away. Entering the fort through the massive triple gateway, we left the city hubbub for the tranquil interior and passed the old elephant stables (now full of camels) to reach the core palaces. Staff welcomed us and led the way through a sequence of outdoor corridors and courtyards whose beautiful sandstone walls prevented us from having no more than tantalising glimpses of what lay ahead. All was revealed in the final courtyard which is Ranvas, the fort’s hotel composed of the historic queens’ havelis. Our own private haveli was a suite with its own ‘garden living room’ adjoining our spacious bedroom and bathroom.
To evoke times past, the Ranvas bedrooms and outdoor spaces are dressed with traditional furniture and textiles - green cushions with gold tassels, earthy-red throws – to give visitors a sense of the opulence of that bygone era. Indeed, we felt the historical significance of the whole fort as soon as we started exploring the other palaces that adjoin Ranvas - the gardens, the fountains, the old pools, the palaces, the rooftop pavilions. We imagined the regal splendour that once was the mainstay of legendary Nagaur.
The stunning ancient backdrop is complimented by an unpretentious, unobtrusive service. This made staying there a absolute pleasure. The food is delicious, the staff polite and dressed in brilliant traditional garb (sadly not on sale at the tiny Ranvas shop). Little touches made big impressions – like ‘bed chai’ (tea) and home-made biscuits brought to our room in the morning. So, too, was the option to request to eat any meal in any particular location across the entire grounds of the fort. On our first night, we had a magnificent thali by the pool; on our last, a spectacular rooftop feast in the heart of one of the painted palaces.
The feeling of blissful escapism when walking the fort walls (a path runs along inside them) contrasts with profound sense being part of something greater that washes over you when you discover the rich history of Nagaur. Escorted through the many painted mosques, still active temples and water gardens by one of the staff, we heard the stories of the people who lived and visited the palace over the ages.
Two decades of clean-up and sensitive restoration is now almost complete. Many rooms have been completely returned to their former finery, the layers of accretions removed to reveal enchanting al fresco paintings depicting the merriment enjoyed by the Maharajah, his ladies, his court and his guests. Some rooms are being painstakingly restored by London’s Courtauld Institute. A few rooms are still covered by the protective plaster applied in the height of India-Pakistani tensions when the Indian army was stationed there – I wonder what the restorers will find under it?