By Punam Mohandas
Friends made no bones about letting me know I was out of my mind to consider a visit to Alwar in Rajasthan, in the baking heat of May. Well, sure. But when you don’t live in India and are keen for some “me” time, you don’t have much choice besides, when did an intrepid traveller ever let a small point like seasons get in the way?! Anyway, we are headed to a newly-renovated fort roughly four hours away from Delhi that’s been turned into a hotel, and the excitement tops all else 🙂
It’s evening by the time we finally leave Delhi. Predictably in India, coz how can you just find a straight, well-tarred road that takes you from point A to point B without some gnashing of teeth, we hit this tangle of pot-holed paths and proceed to get lost amid a cacophony of blaring truck horns and pesky scooterists. I would like to scream in frustration, but my attention is also diverted by the roadside halwais 🙂 Eventually, after finding out we got lost about twenty minutes ago, we hit the right track with a sigh of relief.
Three hours later it is dark, pitch dark, and we’re peering out into the gloom for the sign that reads ‘Dadhikar Fort Alwar’; I dunno who is more relieved when we finally pull up at the massive gates, them or us 🙂 Wish they had better signposts along the way, as these are narrow village roads that we are negotiating our way through. They’ve had dinner waiting and it is 10.30 by the time we sit down to eat finally. The food is passable praise God, else there would have been hell to pay with the mood barometer 🙂 (Note: Only vegetarian Rajasthani cuisine is served here.)
Dadhikar Fort Alwar
Dadhikar is a 14-century fort that had fallen in disarray, as most forts in India do. Also going the way of most dilapidated forts 🙂 Dadhikar was bought over. Brij Bihari Kaushik, a businessman from Bhiwadi, saw the immense potential in converting this into an exclusive heritage hotel. The project has been a costly labour of love; workers had to be paid extra to toil up this rough terrain. Even now, the fort runs solely on generators as the village does not have an electricity connection. So obviously, there is no television at Dadhikar and mobile signals come and go at whim, making this the perfect spot for someone like me who believes one should be as far away from techno gizmos during a holiday as possible!
There is a huge open-air terrace leading from our room that looks out over the surrounding hillside. At this time though, there is precious little to see. The night is utterly still, its velvety blackness a perfect foil to the comforting silence that envelops us, which is occasionally punctuated by strains of a folk song that carry over the night from Dadhikar village. We sit companionably, savouring the quietness of nature…the stars are doing their nightly bit by twinkling down, God’s resting in His heaven, and it occurs to me that I should be abed too.
The room is decently appointed, with a corner alcove turned into a sitting area and a four-poster bed in the main room, all simply but pleasingly furnished. The biggest drawback, which we will find as the hours of darkness progress, is that the air conditioners, although plentiful (in number!) in these huge rooms, appear to belong to the 14th century as well 😉
The next morning one is awakened by some discordant noises – peacocks! A couple of birds strut around, magnificent plumage gloriously displayed. Fortified by a hearty breakfast served in the room – as there are no other guests it seems futile to have the poor staff get the dining room ready – we get ready for a show-around.
Yes, we are fortunate to be among the very first guests to stay at Dadhikar. Tushar and Manoj take us on a tour; there are only eleven rooms at the fort. Some come with baithaks and yet others with private terraces while the jewel of the crown has a jacuzzi! All rooms have the lovely jharokas so reminiscent of Rajasthan; tariffs range from Rs3-9,000 depending on the room type. It’s taken four years of toil and trouble to restore the fort and skillfully create modern necessary conveniences that blend in with the old preserved structure. It’s a pleasing ramble around a heritage site although by golly, there are an awful lot of steps to clamber up and the heat ain’t helping; just when the guys think I’m dozing off on them, there is talk of the resident bhooth. Whaaat?! Manoj is the nicer chap and is quite distressed to think I’m upset but I refuse to believe this balderdash….after such a perfect night no one can convince me this place is haunted! Nope – what I’m petrified about are lizards! I warn Manoj under pain of death that the creepies better not be let in while the room is being cleaned or else!! Now he’s the one shaken and stirred 🙂
Right, since Sariska Tiger Reserve isn’t too far away, that’s next on the agenda. It’s already afternoon by the time we finish seeing the fort, and it feels like 46-degrees – in the shade! The AC in the car struggles manfully to keep up with the scorching heat outside. We are in full holiday mode and playing antakshri as we whizz along till we stop suddenly – I haven’t seen a nukkad ki dukaan in ages! Indian metro cities are proceeding at such leaps and bounds that it is delightful to come across these rural hi-points 😉 But of course, one has to alight and pick up bottles of Maaza and crinkly, colourful packets of super-fat, super-fried utter rubbish that are probably past their sell-by date but heck – this is a holiday!
We finally roll into Sariska at 5.32 – and the horrible man at the office refuses to let us in, coz the Reserve closes at 5.30pm. Ehh?? Whatever happened to the notion of Indian Standard Time now? I make my most suitably woebegone face, but the dude won’t budge. I really am despondent now as we trudge back to the car – only to meet a fat lala and his young wife and an entire brood of young uns walking toward the office. As they pass us I hear the hubby feebly saying it’s past tiger visiting hours, and his wife counters that determinedly with a “kaise nahin jaane denge!” Jackpot! If I hitch myself on to this woman’s saree pallu, there’s no way that time-keeping babu will be able to stop us.
We arrive at the office to find the door closed; I helpfully tell the young termagant that the guy is closeted inside, upon which she hammers on the door loud enough to wake the sleeping spook at Dadhikar! The chappie opens up and is faced with a virtual verbal assault; the other lady and I have joined forces and keep up with a combined chorus while the men hang around sheepishly by the door awaiting the outcome of the barrage. Men! Well. I dunno whether it was my “bhai sahab” or her “uncleji” that sealed our fate but the well-fed son of a so-and-so absolutely refused to budge, this time going so far as to produce a rusty padlock for the office door – a studied insult, if ever there was one!
Hmm. What’s to do now? We hear there’s a lake in the vicinity, which same seems a trifle tame (sic!) when you compare it to tigers, but what the hell. As if Sariska’s balding chaperone had not rained enough on my parade, we now proceed, quite simply, to have acquired a flat tyre as well. But this is still village area, remember? And so we come upon another of those fast-fading Indian staples – the tyre repair shop. At least this doesn’t disappoint me … plenty of gawking urchins, men who have nothing better to do with their day than alight from their cycles and discuss the shehri babu and the punctured tyre knowledgeably, and the little ‘chottu’ who works at top speed to repair said tyre. I create a mini gossip session (WHO said men don’t gossip??) when I start clicking pictures of my moustachioed hunk, albeit from within the safety of the car….is the camera still a ‘magic box’ for these simple folk, I wonder 🙂
At last to Siliserh Lake. I’m famished! Paneer pakodas are duly ordered and then I need the loo, for which I need no directions – if I close my eyes and follow my nose westwards, the stench shall guide the faithful! Blech!
At any rate, it’s pleasant enough to sit out here by the lake and watch the sun in its mellow moments 🙂 This is also a wake-up call to start heading back, else we get lost again and so, regretfully, a wonderful day in Alwar comes to an end.