In Northern India, where war and conquests have taken place for hundreds of years, the landscape is dotted with grand houses and forts. These forts have often played a significant role in India’s history, being constructed in strategic locations and resisting invasion from a variety of armies, from the Mughals to the British. The capital city of each princely state would normally fortify his residence, and usually encourage the development of a town around it, bringing trade and pacifying the area. During this process, it often lost its original defensive purpose and evolved to become a high status residence with elegant decoration provided by craftsmen.
Maharajahs and Mughals
Northern India saw the rise and fall of several dynasties, many of whom retained their princely titles well into the modern era, and many of their forts are still standing. For a truly authentic experience, what could be better than staying in one of these extraordinary structures? From simple accommodation to luxury worthy of a Maharajah, there are lots of different options. Ahilya Fort in Maheshwar is the one fort that fits everyone’s idea of a traditional Indian princely residence. Perched above the river Narmada, with elegantly-carved Mughal-style balconies jutting out from the façade, and onion domes, the fort offers a small number of wooden-beamed rooms and unforgettable views of the landscape.
In Rajasthan, where local princes retained their power until well into the 20th century, Bhainsrorgarh Fort is a typical defensive structure dating from the 18th century, and had the reputation of being impregnable due to its position on the loop of a river, not to mention the crocodiles who live at the foot of the cliff on which it is built. Luckily the fort has a magnificent view of the river, and guests can sample superb cuisine without having to worry about appearing on the crocodiles’ menu.
The fortress of Devigarh in Udaipur is the largest and most imposing of the forts, and was restored over 20 years as an all-suite luxury hotel. Built in the Rajasthani style, with elaborate stonework and carving, the building is notable for its extensive use of marble. While Devigarh is undoubtedly magnificent, Fort Rawla, between Jodhpur and Udaipur, is a more modest building, although no less impressive. Rawla retains traces of its military origins, and resembles a Foreign Legion fortress, with its battlements and tower.
The evocative Pokaran Fort stands in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan, its pink stone echoing the sand. The area is famous for its fine pink terracotta pottery, which matches the stone of the palace, and makes a great souvenir. The frontier state of Rajasthan has long been home to semi-independent rulers who traditionally lived in great splendour; their fortresses are little oases of greenery and splashing water in an arid zone. A long tradition of offering hospitality to visitors means that this is a rare opportunity to be treated like the former rulers of the forts, and glimpse a part of Indian history that remains alluring, despite the hustle and bustle of modern Indian life.
Audley Travel specialise in luxury vacations including exotic tours and holidays in India.