Monday, February 01, 2010

Staying at the Neemrana Fort Palace

Being a fan of modern plumbing, I am usually not too keen to spend time in 15th-century forts. But heritage hotels are different and an off-site office meet at the Neemrana Fort Palace was just what the doctor ordered.
Harry Potter fans would enjoy visiting this imposing hillside resort in Rajasthan's Alwar district -- it's a maze of tunnels and stairways that would put Hogwarts to shame.

Yes, there are attendants but come nightfall they all seem to melt into the walls, leaving me to navigate the indistinguishable passages to my ninth-floor Chandan Mahal.

Thankfully, there are no ghosts around -- no raja was beheaded, no princess jumped into any well (as far as I know) -- and I never came across any wandering spirit in the fort's turrets and courtyards.

I was a bit disappointed to learn that my apartment, albeit furnished with mahogany almirah and Rajputana fittings, was a 20th-century creation built above the refurbished medieval rooms. But it had its charms. The windows gave me a bird's-eye view of the sunset and the village beyond the ramparts.

There are no television sets or landline phones but the BlackBerry does work and once through with the office meet, it's good to unwind with an hour of traditional folk music -- complete with dancers in sequinned costumes and fire-spitters. The food, especially the desserts, is not too bad either.

But what really got me hooked was an attack on the fort. Not by looters or armies, but by a bunch of wildly screaming tourists zipping down cables from the hilltop.

Visitors to Neemrana can get the complete flying experience -- strapped into a harness and propelled hundreds of feet below from hillside platforms -- on a wire.

People wary of 'Made in India' tags can take comfort that the Flying Fox zip tour is "Swiss-made and British-operated" and there has not been a single fatality since it opened at Neemrana.

What would probably kill you though is the gruelling climb to the first zip platform. I was panting by the time I reached the top, my legs buckling under me as I resolved to do something about my out-of-shape body.

The zip tour, in comparison, was a breeze. There was no way I was going to climb all the way down so performing a death-defying flying stunt seemed the better option. There were a few anxious moments as I swung off the platform, but I relaxed soon enough, even finding time to enjoy the aerial view of the fort and the fields in the distance.



Two hours and five zip runs later, I no longer thought this modern sport was an anomaly at Neemrana.

I wonder what the 15th-century inhabitants would have made of the heritage zip tour -- it does make a whooshing sound each time someone is using it. Probably would have scared them out of their wits. Maybe that's why even their ghosts didn't stop too long.

But there's no stopping the tourists. Apparently Kate Winslet keeps coming to Neemrana. And with good reason.

(Photos and video by Rituparna Bhowmik)

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