I’m often asked, on my return from India, what the highlight of my trip was. More often than not the answer is far from easy. But picture this if you will and you’ll realise how effortless the answer was this time around. 19 people spanning 3 generations from 7 cities in 5 countries congregating for 3 fantastic days in 1 amazing location in India – priceless!
The venue: Kesroli. A relatively unknown hamlet in Rajasthan set amongst lush mustard fields and surrounded by the lower reaches of the Aravali range. Its only claim to fame – a charming little fort perched on a hill with commanding views of the tiny village below and fields stretching out for miles on end.
The Neemrana Group runs this heritage hotel and with a 14th century build date to its credit, Kesroli is the oldest of their 12 (on last count!) heritage properties across India. Our first family reunion was held 2 winters ago in their flagship property, the Neemrana Palace Hotel. Our experience at both venues has been more than pleasing and as a result I am determined to visit each and every one of their properties some day.
While Neemrana is still within ear shot of Delhi, Kesroli is a good 3 and a half hours away by road. Needless to say, its remoteness only adds to its charm and being a smaller property (only 21 rooms – each unique!), it is a lot cosier.
The drive from Delhi took a little longer than expected thanks in no small measure to an uncle’s obsession with sourcing some choice South African wine en route. Unfortunately for him, other than country liquor vends, there was nothing else on offer!
The staff had very kindly extended their lunch service when we arrived and we returned the favour by gorging ourselves silly. The next 48 hours would be spent in similar fashion as the chefs churned out one brilliant meal after another and we consumed them all with much aplomb. It was complete value for money, outright delicious and with unparalleled service to back it all up, this was gastronomic paradise like no other. Reminder to me for next time: must take food pics!!
By the time we finished our lunch, it was tea time and that meant enduring yet another feast full of pakoras, cookies and of course a fine selection of teas. But the setting sun beckoned us down from our hilly abode to the magic of mustard fields below.
A long stroll through all that lushness helped lessen some of the guilt from over eating and ensured that we would burn of at least a few calories in preparation for our next meal – which was only about an hour away! The friendly village children provided us company and entertainment and without even trying to hard, one was never more than a click shy of the stuff Nat Geo is made up of!
While some walked, the more adventurous amongst us took to bicycles – thoughtfully provided by the hotel. And with the kids easily matching our pace through the tricky tractor trails, it was a scene straight out of Pied Piper!
Evenings in the fort began in the beautifully lit main courtyard where guests take their seats around a bon fire and are entertained by the sights and sounds of a live performance by some exceptionally talented Rajasthani folk musicians. A strategically placed open bar helps warm things up, of course, and only adds to all the merriment!
Its never easy getting out of bed during North India’s famed winter months. But the very thought of early morning light streaming through a village alley was enough for me to totter out of bed and make my way down from the fort. I was greeted by the warming sight of a village slowly coming to life. And for the love of money, that scene couldn’t be repeated anywhere else in the world – only in North India, only in the winter!
After a clicking frenzy, I was back at the hotel where tea was being served to the few guests who had braved the cold to awake that early. I walked away with a delightful cup of Nilgiri Clonal to watch the grand finale of sunrise from the roof of the fort – morning Chai like no other!
Looking eastwards, the fog had still not lifted and with the sun frantically working its way through, the scene was, simply put, stunning!
There’s more than enough to do in and around Kesroli – forts, temples, palaces, lakes and a game sanctuary. So with the good intent of maximising our time there, we decided to make the best of day 2. If the itinerary were a little more laid back, one could quite easily lounge in the cosy confines of the fort itself – soaking in the views, basking in the sun, strolling in the fields and so on – all of this between meals of course!
Alwar, the closest town to Kesroli was once a princely state and although its king is long gone, it still boasts an impressive palace. Unfortunately we only heard about it – never ended up seeing it! What we did see though were a couple of lakes in the area.
The first one, Jaisamand Lake (not to be confused with its more popular namesake near Udaipur) has been transformed over the years into agricultural land and we chanced on it only by accident (read bad navigation!). In the middle of what was once the lake sits a very handsome and resolute fort surrounded by the mighty Aravalis on one side and acres upon acres of seemingly fertile land. It is rumoured to have been built by Maharaja Jai Singh – the 2nd last ruler of Alwar.
The 2nd and more popular one is Siliserh Lake which was built in the 19th century by Maharaja Vinay Singh. A hunting lodge – also built by him – on the banks of the lake has since been taken over by Rajasthan Tourism and in true Government style, they have failed to do it any justice. I shall therefore desist from sharing any photos of the property and leave you instead with a very pedestrian view of the lake.
The boating on offer wasn’t very attractive to us so we scurried back to Kesroli just in time to catch in another late lunch. Minutes after we were done, they began serving tea! We sat out on the timeless deck, where the views are always refreshing, sipped on tea and watched the sun go down on Kesroli one last time..
A sky so clear, air so pure and views to yearn for once we returned to dreaded city life the next day..
But all that good food desperately needed some digestion, so we pushed ourselves yet again for another relaxing stroll through the fields..
..stopping on our way back to snap up a scene that is quintessential to life in rural India. A Bollywood film couldn’t have choreographed this any better.
With dinner out of the way, our group of 19 reconvened in one of the rooms which had a sprawling terrace attached to it. Between family banter, gossip, impersonations, performances and hysterical laughs, which kept us yapping away into the night (much to the annoyance of other guests am sure!), we made plans for our next reunion in ’08-’09.