There’s no better way to see and experience Rajasthan’s grand forts than by spending the night within the walls of one. Ahhichatragarh Fort, also known as Nagaur Fort, is about a three-hour drive from Jodhpur in the Thar Dessert. The fort and havelis have been beautifully restored over about two decades and guests can take private tours of the fort and its palaces, while staying at the unique heritage property Ranvas. The conservation of this site has seen it receive a Unesco award.
Dating back to 4AD, the fort is a fine example of the Rajput-Mughal architecture of the Marwar region. Ahhichatragarh Fort, meaning `Fort of the Hooded Cobra’, is a sprawling complex in the desert that boasts five palaces within its walls, mosques and temples, Mughal gardens and an intricate water system. There are many rooms inside the palaces featuring the splendid wall paintings that decorate palaces and forts throughout Rajasthan, while an ingenious system of water channels runs through the palaces and grounds to collect and store water, as well as provide internal bathing pools and an ancient form of air-conditioning. Its many external water pools and fountains have been restored and once a year when the fort hosts the renowned World Sufi Spirit Music Festival, the fountains flow and are illuminated at night. The fort also has a more recent military history – having housed the Indian army during two wars with Pakistan, according to a local guide.
Within the fort, what was once the residence for the many wives of the ruling Maharaja in the 18th century, has now be turned into Ranvas, a heritage hotel with 27 rooms. The rooms are large, cool and well decorated with antiques and muted tones. The hotel serves meals inside or outside beneath the arches (with some great Rajasthan fare on the menu) and there’s a lovely swimming pool – that makes the desert seem miles away – to cool off in alongside the open central courtyard. Every year when the Sufi festival is on, the hotel accommodates extra guests within the fort walls in luxury, tented accommodation. The city also hosts the Nagaur Cattle Fair – offering an alternative for travellers seeking a less touristy experience than Pushkar Camel Fair.
During our stay, the hotel provided a guided tour of the palaces in the late afternoon, away from the day’s heat, that ended with a walk along the fort walls and a very Raj-era afternoon tea at sunset of tea, sandwiches, pakoras and biscuits. Having explored one of the fort’s palaces, we sat in cane chairs on the fort walls and watched the locals – women decked out in the rich coloured saris Rajasthan is known for – heading for one of the working temples, located inside the fort, to end the day with offerings and prayers. The experience is much different than say a trip to Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort – there’s no crowds or flocks of tourists – just the late afternoon sunlight washing the fort in desert pinks and yellows as you soak up its history.