Strikingly elegant rooms in the 18th-century warm and hospitable Ahilya Fort, right on the serene banks of the lovely Narmada, populated with old and beautiful trees, in the slow- paced temple town of Maheshwar
Ahilya Fort Facts
Location On a cliff on the bank of River Narmada within the walls of a fort in the temple town of Maheshwar
When to go October to March. You could visit around (mainly religious) events; call the hotel to ask for dates
Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh
Delhi Reservations Tel: 011-41551575
Accommodation 2 royal rooms, 8 superior rooms, 2 standard (air-cooled rooms), 1 luxury air-conditioned tent
Tariff Royal room Rs 9,000; superior room Rs 8,000; standard (air-cooled) room Rs 7,000, luxury air-conditioned tent Rs 9,000 per person per night with all meals, Indian beverages, soft drinks, tea and coffee through the day, laundry, boat ride (on prior request) and local sightseeing. Off-season discount is 50 per cent
How to book Online. Advance deposit of Rs 5,500 per person mandatory. Only a minimum stay of 2 days is entertained. Payments by 00/ cheque/ bank transfer
Credit cards, Internet, laundry, dining areas, alcohol served, massage, library, souvenir shop, parking, transfers, sight- seeing, guides, babysitting
Room service, TV (only in common room), forex, spa, games
Mandu (66 km), Omkareshwar (61 km)
Maheshwar is said to have been built on the site of the ancient city of Mahesvari in the 5th century CE. Emperor Akbar built a fort here in the 16th century; the fort was taken over by Malhar Rao Holkar in the 18th century. When Ahilya Bai Holkar came to power in 1760, she shifted the capital of the territory from Indore to Maheshwar. Contemporary Maheshwar, the fort with its lovely ramparts, the striking Shiva temples, ghats along the river, all carry Ahilya Bai's stamp -- a purposeful elegance of style.
Air Nearest airport: Indore (88 km/2 ½ hrs). Resort transfers Rs 2,500-3,500, one way
Rail Nearest railhead: Indore
Road An easy 2-3 hrs drive from Indore on NH3 via Mhow, Manpur, Gujri and Dhamnod; district road to Maheshwar.
From Bhopal, it's a longer drive via Dewas and Indore (274 km/5-6 hrs)
It takes about 2 hrs from Indore now since there's a bypass by which you avoid Mhow, Manpur and Gujri and drive on straight to Dhamnod and Maheshwar
The present Maratha prince, and your host at Ahilya Fort, is Shivaji Rao Holkar, better known as Richard. Chatting with Richard at Ahilya Fort -- which he started to restore in 1996, inviting the first guest to stay in 2001 -- one realizes that his concern, passion even, lies in the preservation of not just Maheshwar's weaving community, but the very physical and human geography of the town.
A day in Maheshwar generally turns out to be fuller -- despite the languid charm of Ahilya Fort, and of the town in general -- than you expect it to be. Comfortable as your bed and lovely Chanderi quilt may be, it pays to walk down to the ghat as early as you can manage and watch it come alive. A good way to wake up is by dipping in the river; if you sit a while and chat with other bathers, chances are that they will convince you themselves, by their argument of habit. Travel by boat as much as possible: it's hugely calming, gives you more than enough temples, the gorgeous Sahastradhara, plenty of ghat atmosphere -- and all without making you feel like you're doing much at all. The afternoon can be spent at the hotel snoozing off the rapids, swimming in the pool, or reading in the library.
But if your stars shine bright, as they are likely to at Ahilya Fort, oil lamps will lead you down the steps to the ghat, and you will be helped into boats (rides are free) for the most spectacular night-time picnic you have ever experienced. Hymns to the Narmada are sung in the twilight-- diyas below, stars above -- and just as you're beginning to be hypnotized with the sway of the boat in the black waters, you're served drinks and hot pakoras from an adjacent boat. Mirage-like, there appears a grassy embankment lit with lamps, candles and mashaals and a low table set with dinner. The subtly flavoured biryani and raita, and the chocolate cake and fried banana that follows, almost slips down unnoticed (but not unappreciated), as you take in your surroundings. It makes sense to stop thinking it can't be, and relish the fact that it is, and you're fortunate enough to be in one of the loveliest places you'll ever see.
There are 2 royal rooms, 8 superior rooms, 2 standard (air-cooled) rooms and 2 standard tents. All superior rooms have either a stunning view of the river, a private balcony or a private garden. The suite is large and has a separate sitting room and a spacious balcony. The tents are large, comfortable and private, being tucked away in a private garden with spectacular views of the river and temples. All rooms are prettily furnished in neutral, natural fabrics. A warm and efficient staff ensures that the palace is immaculately maintained and almost intuitively run.
Meals are served at different locations in the palace -- breakfast and evening drinks along the ramparts; lunch at Lingachan, where Ahilya Bai would conduct prayer services and have hundreds of lingams made to immerse in the river; or in the middle of a huge organic garden, in which grows most of what is served at mealtimes; dinner in the lush Poshakwada, a courtyard used by the women in Ahilya Bai's time; or by the pool, with the fort wall alight with scores of lamps as stunning backdrop. Breakfast can be a languorous affair, as the Maheshwari-style coconut cream, freshly baked bread, hot pancakes dipped in home- made honey, keep coming, and the pace of the morning seems just right to linger over your coffee. Lunch is a variety of fresh salads, cold soup, fruit and cheese, and maybe a light bake washed down with pink wine.