To Alwar and Back in a Heartbeat

The yellow of her odhni, of the mustard in the breeze, of the unabashed sun.

It is the color that follows you through the dusty roads that lead out of Delhi and towards Alwar, the ‘Gateway to Rajasthan’. Sitting to the north of the capital city Jaipur, this erstwhile princely state now beckons weekend free-wheelers to Havelis-turned-hotels, the Siliserh lake, and the nearby Sariska Tiger reserve.

We drifted out of foggy Delhi for a taste of the Haveli life, if only for a night. With the Aravali hills flanking the road in the distance, we were headed to Burja Haveli, an over 200 years old abode reminiscent of traditional Rajasthani architecture, now renovated as a heritage property.

The Haveli in its heyday probably celebrated in solitude. Today the burgeoning town and its accouterments surround it. And yet when you step inside, not without being greeted cheerily by Hari Singhji in all his mustachioed splendor, it’s like entering a forgotten world. The walls have been painstakingly decorated in paintings borrowed from local folk tales, done by artists from the area (we even caught one in action!). The large, airy rooms are certainly meant for dreaming up a royal fantasy of your own.

The restaurant however departs from the local flavor, if only in decor. Hand-painted in bright white and blue, it is as reminiscent of dinner-in-Istanbul as of the closer home blue pottery patterns of Jaipur.

DVD ContraptionEven technology is at rest here, for good reason, with the only reminders of our age being bulbous TV sets (no flat screens please) and a very fascinating contraption for the musically inclined. This ‘machine’ is an erstwhile DVD player whose top has been removed to reveal the innards and a USB port. It’s system did not agree with the iPhone we tried to plug in. And so we let things be, continuing to listen to instrumental hindi film music that no one could recognise.

Outside of the haveli, the Siliserh Lake, located at about 13km from the city centre, is perfect for a lazy outing. Built in 1845 by Maharaja Vinay Singh, the lake and reservoir serve Alwar city for it’s water supply. For tourists it offers beautiful views of the Aravalis skirting the seven sq. kms. lake, which can be enjoyed in slow moving peddle boats or the faster jet ski cousins.

The lake is also a neat stopover before heading off to the Sariska Tiger reserve. Special jeeps can take you inside between 6am to 3:30pm daily, while, as we interestingly learned, if you visit on Tuesdays and Saturdays, you can even drive through in your own vehicle. These special day allowances are actually reserved for visitors to the Hanuman temple within the national park boundary, but agnostic or atheist Tiger lovers are unlikely to be stopped.

And for the historically or architecturally inclined, a visit to the Bhangarh Fort just about completes an Alwar itinerary. An Archaeological Survey of India sign at the entrance warns against trespassing after sunset, which is what brings so many netherworld adventure seekers to it. More famous for it’s purportedly haunted ruins, this 16th century ancient township is a treat for a midday excursion too. With Nagara style temple architecture on display, these remnants of fort walls, gateways, markets and a royal palace deserve more than ghost-hunter attention. Even so, standing beneath the trailing roots of the banyan tree at the entrance or the many hollow passageways of the fort ruins, it isn’t difficult to imagine why post sundown, these very walls turn ‘ghostly’ for those who’re waiting. On a clear day in peak season prepare to be accompanied by hordes of tourists and countless wild calls (that scare no one) as you climb up to the top of the fort ruin. The Royal Palace that once had seven storeys now only has four. The whole township was protected by three successive fortifications, with the outermost provided by five gateways from north to south.

As you step away from its precincts, the fort boundaries come into view, and bidding goodbye is best done atop a bus, with enough support to save you from rickety jolts.

It is a short but memorable stint outside the capital city.

On your ride back, the mustard fields glow along your path, in defiance to the desert state they belong to. Village life halts only for a second, to look at the intruding party, and strangers step aside to smile (and wave) if you make time to do it too.

– Text and Images by Manika Dhama