Travel

Forts and 'havelis' are the go-to vacation spots for backpackers

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asd   | Photo Credit: sad

Forts, havelis and agraharams turn vacation spots for the modern backpacker who is choosing interesting ruins and historical buildings over conventional resorts

A night under the stars, listening to the strains of Rajasthani folk music. Paintings, portraits and frescoes of princes from a pre-colonial age adorning the walls of your bedroom. Eating a home-made thali at an agraharam house in a village in Tamil Nadu. Sounds like the perfect photo op for the next Instagram post? Then, head to these heritage sites-turned-resorts, which transport you to the age of nawabs, maharanas and thamburans. Heritage tourism has seen a surge, with the hotel industry giving old forts and havelis a makeover. The Indian Heritage Hotels Association consists of around 140 hotels across India with many located in Rajasthan, home to old forts.

 

In Hotel Castle Mandawa, a fortress converted into a luxurious heritage hotel, every room is painted with vivid murals. Situated in Jhunjhunu district, the castle built in 1755 is filled with faded frescoes and airy windows opening out to dancing peacocks. The hospitality staff is dressed in royal costumes. In the nights, fire torches light up the arena. “Most of our visitors are from Europe; they love dining and sleeping under the stars. We also offer camel and horse rides,” says Thakur Randhir Vikram Singhji, the owner of the property.

Interiors of Hotel Castle Mandawa

Interiors of Hotel Castle Mandawa  

Some of these resorts like Mangala Heritage, owned by Prakriti Foundation that curates performing arts festivals, offer a quiet rural setting. When Ranvir Shah of Prakriti Foundation stumbled upon an old agraharam in Thiruppugalur, on the outskirts of Nagapattinam, he fell in love with it. Converting the low-roofed house with mahogany pillars and copper and bronze cutlery into a resort, is the idea of internationally recognised architects, Shanta Guhan and Benny Kuriakose. The beauty of these heritage structures is also about finding perfection in the little flaws instead of achieving plastic perfection. “When we pointed out some cracks on the wall, Kuriakose told me that it is a village home. And, being one, their walls will crack, and to let it be to make it look authentic,” recalls Shah.

Neemrana Fort

Neemrana Fort   | Photo Credit: ew

Writers love to hobnob in these spaces. Mandawa is a regular haunt for Dominique Lapierre, who co-authored the famous Freedom At Midnight, while Mangala Heritage has hosted researchers David Shulman and Saskia C Kersenboom. Kersenboom waxes eloquent of the warm, golden colours of the walls, the brick floors, dark brown wooden pillars and ceilings.

“Every detail in this serene, traditional South Indian house speaks of beauty and care. The lamps that are lit every evening — outside on the terrace, decorative lamps inside, lamps in the star-lit garden and small ones flickering in the guestrooms.”

Keeping it local

Most heritage hotels try to improve local livelihoods. From chefs and tour guides to local masons, carpenters and folk art performers, an entire community in the region and its culture sees a revival through this kind of tourism. Singhji says Mandawa used to be a sleepy town. “It was filled with bullock carts and horse chariots. Now, many of the chefs in the restaurants are local people. The resort also hosts cultural and folk programmes, performed by artistes from around the place. Dying art forms like the Phad paintings, practised by the Bhopas, are revived too. So also the ancient folk instrument — Ravanahatha — typical to regional folk music. We try to keep them alive and relevant through the musical programmes.

History to heritage
  • Here are some restored properties from across India where you can holiday:
  • Chidambara Vilas: Recreates the Chettiar way of life of the pre-19th-Century era, with vintage hand-operated panka fans and switchboards from olden times.
  • Taj Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad: Reopened in 2010 after 10 years of mammoth restoration. The fabrics in the palace are over 70 years old and were imported from Europe.
  • Taj Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur: A vintage car picks you up from the airport, followed by a short ride up to the palace porch in a horse-driven carriage and a performance by ghoomar dancers in the lobby.

The forts are also a favourite for destination weddings among millennials. Neemrana Fort-Palace, a 15th-Century heritage site situated on the Delhi-Jaipur Highway with spacious gardens, is a perfect setting for one. It now has hanging gardens, two pools, an Ayurvedic spa and a zip line. The property sprawls across six acres and features seven palace wings.

Mangala Heritage

Mangala Heritage   | Photo Credit: sad

The Neemrana properties include”20 heritage properties-turned-resorts across India. They call it the “non-hotel hotels”. According to architect Aman Nath, the chairman and founder, restoring ruins is a splendid endeavour. These ruins have a past that will fade without intervention. “With these kinds of restoration efforts, come a host of connective positive outcomes — stopping rural migration to slums, a better livelihood for the locals, a pride in one’s heritage and the awareness that the next generation can make a living of it.”

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 2:11:48 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/the-aura-of-past-spirits/article22963826.ece

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