Way off the beaten track, in the little-visited central state of Madhya Pradesh, Ahilya Fort sits high on a cliff high above the sacred Narmada River, surrounded by the enchanting 4000-year-old citadel town of Maheshwar.
Within the 250-year old bastions of the fort, opulence awaits - there’s a tree-lined azure swimming pool, pretty terraces shaded by great umbrellas and charming guestrooms that have superb views, balconies or gardens. The low-slung buildings and verandahs are linked by stone walkways and the large courtyards offer a refreshing monistic simplicity – with splashes of colour from local handicrafts. The 12 guestrooms (and two air-cooled tents) are festooned in natural and neutral coloured fabrics and capture the old-world charm of the palace with colonial furniture, lanterns and billowing drapes.
Dining here is a delight. The prince is a reputed chef and a cookbook author who not only oversees the kitchen, but also accompanies his guests for dinner when he’s in residence. The organic kitchen garden helps to showcase the impressive breadth of Central Indian cooking on offer here.
While it is all too tempting to lounge about soaking up the atmosphere– a stay here offers guests a rare chance to really get off the tourist trail. The fabulous, deserted city of Mandu, just half-an-hour away and the famed island temple of Omkareshwar are both worthy of a trip, and a sundown boat trip is both dreamlike and unforgettable.
But it’s not all adventure – shop at the fort’s own boutique ‘The Dukkan’ which sells dreamy textiles and India-friendly clothes, or pay a visit to Wahid Khan the on-site tailor, who can create you a bespoke outfit in a flash.
- Royal feasts in the garden, or even better a moonlit picnic on a secret island
- A drink with the prince up on the ramparts
- A visit to the crumbling structures at Mandu, an abandoned 6th-century city, said to have provided inspiration for the Taj Mahal
- Getting there on your own steam is a challenge, albeit an exciting one
Need to know: Ahilya Fort
Number of rooms: 12 suites and guestrooms, 2 luxury tents
Check-in/check-out times: Check in is flexible and check-out is by 2pm
Room service: No
Swimming pool: Yes
Spa: No, but traditional massages are available
Dogs welcome: Yes, and the resident pugs like a pat too
Eating and drinking: A table D’hôte menu is offered but a la carte is also available for anyone with specific requests. The chef produces delicious continental and Indian food utilizing the organic kitchen garden. There is no formal dining room so instead diners head to the poolside, patio or even a secret moonlit island for candlelit dinners.
Near to? Incense rich temples on the holy Narmada River which draws sadhus (holy men) and yatris (pilgrims) and the beautiful and unexploited town of Maheshwar with its brightly painted homes and winding streets.
Getting there: Fly to Indore from Delhi (or Mumbai) and from there it’s a 2 -3-hour drive. Transfers can be arranged to and from the hotel.