Driving past vast soyabean fields, we reach the fringes of the dusty village of Amla, 45 km from the city of Ujjain. We arrive at the large arched gateway of Amla Fort, its massive spiked doors opening to a white edifice fronted by grassy lawns and flowerbeds. Our fears of being in the wrong place are dismissed as our host Raghavendra Singh, grandson of Maharaja Rajendra Singhji, the last ruler of Amla thikana, steps out to greet us. Originally set up as a garrison outpost to protect Ujjain from Mughal armies returning from their Deccan conquest, Fort Amla is now a heritage homestay. It’s a great midway point between Ujjain and Dhar, or the perfect spot for a secret escape in the middle of nowhere.
We are led into the charming double-storey fort with its arched windows and doorways. Nearly 315 years old, it wears the battle-scars of age and weather, with unpolished antiques at the entrance, crumbling walls, rusty awnings, and some missing coloured window-glass panes. Yet, its rustic charm is undeniable.
Only 11 of its 60 rooms are let out to guests. Others patiently await renovation. Guestrooms overlook a central, windswept courtyard prettied by a lone temple tree. Decor includes vintage beds, framed prints of royalty, lovely Bagh print bedcovers, and curtains on wrought-iron curtain rods. The large colonial-style bathrooms are clean, with monogrammed towels slung over antique wooden towel racks.
Over tea, Raghavendra explains the family’s lineage, tracing it to Bhim Singhji, direct descendent of Bappa Rawal of Udaipur, and Maharana Pratap, the famous warrior king of Mewar, Rajasthan. He tells us he has returned to his ancestral home here after a long stint in the plantations of Munnar. In 2002 he opened Fort Amla’s doors to travellers, in order to protect its crumbling legacy.
There is no manager here. The convivial Raghavendra personally takes care of the property. “We figure out our guests’ interests over tea, and customize their itinerary accordingly. Culture and history don’t come alive until you make it interactive or experiential. Being an agrarian society, our focus is on agri-tourism,” he says.
The guided village walk allows guests the opportunity to interact with the village’s friendly locals who often invite visitors into their homes for tea. In the nearby fields one can see how maize, green peas, and soyabean are grown. Guests can also opt to milk cows at the in-house dairy farm, and later watch khoya being made at small-scale units. There is no fixed format; one British guest decided to drive a Massey Ferguson tractor to plough an adjoining field. The farmer was only too happy to oblige!
We sit in the courtyard, sampling home-brewed elaichi and kesar mahua liquor and enjoy long conversations with Raghvendra on heritage tourism, naga sadhus, Ujjain, Indore, and the cultural and spiritual wealth of the Malwa region. Like the conversation, the food is delectable—a comforting home-cooked spread of chapati, rice, dal, vegetables, and chicken, most of the ingredients sourced locally.
We wake up to the plaintive call of peacocks and parakeets screeching from the fort’s terrace, where they often perch on mist-covered turrets. Walking up the old stairway, we head to the terrace to enjoy the sunrise (also great for sunsets) and a view of the fields to the west. If you’re not too intent on staying in crowded Ujjain, Fort Amla, just over an hour’s drive away, is a soothing alternative. It draws you in with its rural and heritage charm; indeed, many European guests have been known to extend their planned stay here.
Getting there: Fort Amla is 45 km/1 hr from Ujjain and 80 km/2hrs from Indore. It is 4 km off the Barnagar-Badnawar Road. Six kilometres after you cross Barnagar, turn left at the blue board that says “Heritage Village Amla.”
Address: Heritage Village Amla, Tehsil Barnagar, Dist Ujjain
Tel: +91 07367-260133, 99778 33323.
Tariff: Double rooms ₹6,000-8,000 inclusive of breakfast, taxes extra.
Buffet Meals: Breakfast ₹175; lunch ₹400; dinner ₹450, taxes extra.
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