Neemrana’s passion for heritage property restoration and management will now have a new signpost – on the hills of Tijara in Rajasthan. The 18th century fort which was lying in a dilapidated state has been transformed in a vibrant heritage unit after painstaking efforts of over a decade.
Come 21st January and the globally renowned Neemrana Group (known for its excellence in heritage properties) will add another feather to its cap. Tijara Fort Palace, about 40 km from Alwar city in Rajasthan, will be officially unveiled marking a significant addition in the portfolio of Neemrana group. An architectural marvel at the hilltop of Tijara, the fort palace is finally ready to welcome guests – clearly a critical movement in its over 150- year-old history wherein it has probably journeyed from the stage of splendor to ruin before now being re-discovered and restored in a new avatar through a public-private-partnership (PPP) arrangement between Rajasthan government and Neemrana Hotels.
Historical accounts suggest that the fort was built by Maharaja Balwant Singh (construction work had started in 1836) under the supervision of famous architects from Kabul and Delhi. It had taken about 13 years in the complete construction of the fort with its attractions like hanging gardens,
three distinctive palaces (Rani Mahal, Mardana Mahal and Hawa Mahal) and Aam Khas sections. This, however, is the story of its origin. When the process of restoring the fort into a heritage property had kickstarted about 12 years ago, the fort was simply in a dilapidated state. “We had found three palaces, half built and in ruins since they had been vandalized . These were sitting in an undulating, hilly terrain,” recalls Aman Nath, Chairman, Neemrana Hotels Group who admits that Tijara Fort’s transformation has been quite an exercise (read the box piece: Tijara Fort has been a difficult project).
“Tijara Fort Palace is a clear testimony of our passion in creating defining heritage products catering unique experiences. It has been quite an effort for more than a decade now to give this shape to the fort. In its design and architecture, we have spared no effort in ensuring that nothing comes in the way of its appeal. The services so essential to run a property have been concealed underground.
We have levelled the hill in seven terraces and gardens,” says Aman Nath. The rooms have been redone with rare art workmanship and special emphasis has been given to decorating the hanging gardens which occupy quite an expansive stretch in the fort palace. Even before the refurbished property has been shown to the world, rave reviews have poured in.
A noted Dutch travel writer in his blog last year had called it a unique project. “A stupendous effort has been underway to give history a new interpretation…. The basic decision was to use the hilly nature of the terrain to locate all the large-scale functions at such depths that they would not clutter the historic composition of the three historic buildings above the ground. The three historic buildings have been creatively restored and eclectically renewed with an eye for detail. Tijara teaches us how it’s not the relentless conservation of singular, old buildings but the creative use and adaptive reuse of a complex of historic buildings in their larger context that gives the best results,” he wrote.
Tijara Fort Palace is eventually going to be 75 rooms property, though in the first phase it will have 35 rooms. According to Aman Nath, the property has all the ammunition to turn heads, both within the country as well as globally. “Every property we add opens a whole new region. This is among the larger ones and the countryside around Tijara Fort-Palace, is comparable to nothing. Let the world come and discover it. It has been my dream since we met Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, some 20 years ago,” says he. For its promotion, Neemrana Group intends to use the social media to the hilt in the initial stage. “We have 27 properties and every guest promotes us by word of mouth. Besides that we have all the modern weapons of marketing with an impressive list of Friends of Neemrana and a huge Facebook following,” he underlines.
Tijara has been a difficult project, says Aman Nath
Even as Tijara Fort Palace is going to be the first successful PPP project in tourism sector in Rajasthan which will finally see the light of the day, Neemarana Hotels chief Aman Nath minces no words in underlining that it has been a difficult project, more because of administrative apathy than any other reason. “The execution of this project has literally seen four governments at the helm in the state. We had been ready for the past three years but unimportant objections were raised. The idea of the small babus is never to see the broader picture but to embroil everything in some controversy However, we have triumphed over all hurdles and now ready with this unique property,” he says.
According to Aman Nath considering the anticipated bottlenecks in turning around the ruined fort, the private sector had not shown much enthusiasm for the project when the tender was floated for bidding. “It was such a difficult project to do, that no one really bid for it. All the big and medium chains had collected the tender bid papers. So the government went to the cabinet to take an extension of the lease period from 30 to 60 years. Still no one came forward. We were probably the only crazy company which did not run away,” he recalls while adding that getting an NOC from the local panchayat too turned out to be a lengthy process. “This despite repeatedly telling them that the project brings economic development to the region.”