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Neemrana: Reliving History

By: Sandeep Silas Email By: Sandeep Silas
September 2010
Neemrana: Reliving History The Fort-Palace of Neemrana is about 125 km from Delhi, on the road to Jaipur. As you keep traveling on the highway, you would never get to know that such a fabulous experience lies not far away. Past a sign, a dusty branch road, a sleepy village down a small incline, and you come to an impressive brass studded gateway. The unexpected grandiose structure of this 15th century Fort-Palace comes as a surprise.

The ruins, restored to their original resplendent glory and shape by design simulation and careful restructuring, become a most gratifying experience for surprised visitors to Neemrana. Though the place appears small, it is a destination in itself.

The place was built as a fort and since it was the abode of the descendants of Prithviraj Chauhan III, who fled Delhi in 1192 A.D. after being defeated at the hands of Muhammad Ghori, it is palatial. In fact, the legend of Prithviraj Chauhan and Sanyogita’s famous and heroic “swayamvara” from history lessons is still fresh in our memories. But, I had often been left wondering about the fate of the vanquished Hindu kings of Delhi after the establishment of the Sultanate of Delhi, under Qutub-ud-din Aibak in 1192 A.D. It is unfortunate that historic tales follow only the victors, leaving out the vanquished!

Looking at Neemrana you get a feeling that even in defeat there is a sense of pride, that one did not compromise on traditions and ethical values. Each stone of Neemrana speaks of a lineage of kings who remained unconquered. They lost their kingdom, but not their honor. Their riches and palaces were snatched away from them but not their fate. Their crown was taken away, but they did not bow their head. They kept on holding to a tale in ruins, till it became difficult to literally plaster the façade. This place of glorious history would have gone unnoticed had not imagination and determination stepped in. In 1986 the ruins were acquired for restoration, and by 1991 the fort-palace was resplendent and majestic once again.

The fort-palace retains its charm and the names given to its rooms, open spaces and gates by the first royal occupants. I could not restrain myself and immediately set out to rediscover the palace. The check-in formalities and welcome drink over, I moved to the dining area past an open courtyard. This has open arches all around and a breathtaking view of the fields, the village, and the forest hill. One is treated like royalty in this place, with an assortment of teas spread before one—just for a sip. The Nazara Bagh is a small, terraced garden but with a view across the fort, and behind it is the Holikund. I could imagine the thrill, the gaiety, and the splash of color at this place during festival times. The Kachcha Chowk, as suggested by its name, is an open earthen courtyard in front of Chandan Mahal. The arched step door soon became a favored photo opportunity, as it comes close to giving one the feeling of being a famous model at a grandiose location.

My lodging was at Moonga Mahal, which surrounds another square Chowk. Fortunately, the restoration has not tampered or altered any original design feature, not even windows and doors. Some windows are really tiny, allowing one to only peep out, to observe what is happening outside. Just outside my Mahal, i.e., palace (I can be presumptuous here to say that) was a Shivalingam reverently placed in an arch and another close by under a canopy. The choice of the room was not mine, but I remembered that wherever I went, a Shivalingam somehow managed to surface near me. This has happened so many times—in the mountains, on forest roads, and amidst ruins—that it appears to me a mystic sign of the Creator! Incidentally, the Shivalingam represents the Hindu Lord Shiva who is regarded as both the god of creation and destruction!

Glancing out of my window I found an amazingly beautiful swimming pool surrounded by some more luxurious Mahals. This high in the midst of a labyrinth of alleys leading to Mahals, with stairs opening in courtyards, hidden passageways, and then suddenly this pool, is like the truth dawning upon the mind that the body needs rejuvenation and relaxation in water.

Above is the Mukut Bagh, another garden affording privacy and exclusivity. Some more renovation work is going on at the area called Unchha Bagh (High Garden). Surely, this would become the highest placed garden, by virtue of its placement in the fort-palace. The title Hawa Chhat (Airy Rooftop) attracts me and I move to sit there for a while under a canopy. A lovely breeze brushes me and I almost feel I could be a kite in the sky with just a little more wind. The vista below overlooks a garden called the Hanging Gardens. Rows of palms at the edges and luxurious green plants in this garden present a striking contrast to the color of the stones used to build the palace.

An amphitheater catches my attention. I find that at the far end, the amphitheater is almost like the one I saw in the city of Bath, built by the Romans. This one is albeit bigger and more elaborate having been built much later.

Caravans passing by into the desert terrain of Rajasthan once used a nine-storey stepwell situated in the vicinity. The Flying Fox, a zipline experience, sadly was not operational during my visit. It is a thrilling experience, from the heights soaring above trees and the crags of Neemrana and its environment. Today Neemrana has also become a hot spot for hosting cultural performances by maestros and weddings like the erstwhile royalty!

The day had become warm. Watching the sunset from the palace was most unusually romantic. With my camera lens I balanced the sun on the tip of a stone spear-like projection on the fort ramparts in my frame. Perhaps I held its march for a fraction of a second!

With dusk I moved to the Shatranj Terrace and Shatranj Bagh (shatranj is Hindi for chess). An old cart rests here, having played its role in this fort once upon a time. I took some pictures of the brightly lit up palace in the twilight. The approach of dusk has always appealed to me in such surroundings. Somehow, the beauty of monuments is greatly enhanced and the scene becomes very powerful. It is a moment when time gets suspended in between the realm of the real and the ethereal. Nightfall was not far away and the sky grew darker. In contrast the lights of the palace appeared to become brighter, till the whole palace glowed like a spotlight in the night.

It was a night of wakeful splendor and joy. There was so much beauty spread around, yet the eyes longed for more. Listening to peacock calls, looking at pigeons, doves, red-breasted bulbuls, squirrels, I was transported to the world and voices of the past and I composed a song dedicated to Neemrana in the early hours of the morning. There is purity of life felt in such moments, and this is a cherished memory that I shall treasure till long after.

[The author is a senior bureaucrat and travel writer. Reprinted with permission from India Perspectives.]

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