Social distancing comes naturally to me. As an introvert, I’ve practiced it all my life. That’s why, on my birthday this year—this was just before the lockdown—I found myself enjoying the blissful seclusion that only a 230-year-old war fort in Rajasthan can provide. Writing about it in a world that has changed, perhaps forever, I can tell the property will thrive.
Before Alila Fort Bishangarh, all the forts I’d stayed in had belonged decidedly to the ‘heritage’ category. You know what I mean; old and impressive, but a little squidgy around the edges. While Bishangarh is as authentic as they come, it’s also a notch above: very plush, with no mod cons missing. It’s an impressive fort, rising like a tall confection above its surroundings, and lurches into view well before you reach it.
On arrival, there’s a canopied reception pavilion below the fort, surrounded by soothing water features. From here you have the option of walking up (I’d suggest you leave it for later, when you’re rested) or being driven to the fort and your rooms.
The rooms are ‘heritage chic’, extremely stylish. Luxuriating in their sprawling embrace, who would think this was once a war fort, meant as a lookout for armies approaching Jaipur from the north. When battles were fought at nearby Amarsar, the fort served as a watch, providing advance warning of invaders. Many parts of it remain rugged and unfinished, reminders of its military past. The lovingly reconstructed residential parts are truly royal, a faithful recreation of the flavours of Shahpura royalty.
If the fort is a sight to behold, the views from it are equally stunning. Especially from Nazaara, the open-air restaurant on top, which is all about the view and dining under the stars. The cuisine at this restaurant is local and seasonal, featuring Shekhawat and Bishangarh specialities. The restaurant also serves hunter cuisine, which Rajasthan is famed for, featuring live sandpit and fire-pit cooking in mud pots. I visited in winter, so quilts were provided to counter the chilly, gale-force winds.
The meals at Fort Bishangarh, without exception, are superlative, much of the produce coming from their own extensive kitchen gardens. Unsurprisingly, my most memorable meal was lunch at the farm under a tree, preceded by a tour of the organic garden. The meal, which began with a simple bhuna aloo chaat, moved on to interesting rotlas and curries, all to be washed down with buttermilk in brass tumblers. A repast rustic and sophisticated in equal measure.
The luxurious pleasures of Bishangarh are guilt free, as the property has a deep commitment to sustainability. The restoration, which took several years, made use of traditional Rajasthani construction techniques and local stone, combined with the newest architectural trends to create a comfortable environment, but with a sense of place.
Operationally too, the environmental impact has been contained. According to the property: “Our commitments include minimising greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption and pollution; an in-house waste recycling programme; the use of indigenous low-water-use plants; as well as a wastewater management system that recycles wastewater for irrigation making us trailblazers among eco-friendly hotels in India.” The passive solar design of the buildings and the active solar systems for water heating further the resort’s goal of a minimal carbon footprint. Inside the fort, rocks are integrated into the walls and roof to improve insulation. Beyond environmental responsibilities, Fort Bishangarh also supports the local community.
Experiences offered here include interactions with local artisans, walks in the Aravali hills, camel cart rides and riverbed horse riding. And they make the perfect cup of Americano. That pretty much seals it for me.