It was an airless August morning when we drove to Alwar to see its nameless attractions. By the end of the holiday, we were left wondering how this city retained its allure in spite of being so close to NCR!
Alwar is one of the oldest cities in Rajasthan. It’s surrounded by a moat & wall. It’s dominated by a fort on a conical hill against a backdrop of a range of hills. It’s famous for its milk cake (locally called kalakand).
It took us about four hours to reach Hill Fort – Kesroli, our accommodation. We chose to spend the first evening at the hotel itself, exploring its nooks & crevices. The evening culminated with a poolside cultural performance by Kalbeliya artists.
You ever associate this shade of green with Rajasthan?
Extraordinary Historical Delights in Alwar
We’d one full day in Alwar. It’d been drizzling since morning & we waited before realising that the rain wouldn’t let up & also that we wouldn’t exactly melt if we got drenched a wee bit. So off we went!
Claggy boating at Lake Siliserh
About an hour from Hill Fort, Lake Siliserh & the Lake Siliserh Palace were our first stops. The Lake is man-made but beguiling. It marks a periphery of the Sariska Tiger Reserve. It’s surrounded by forested hills.
There’s hardly any building to blemish the calm of the Lake. Touchwood! It offered a first-class view of the hills enveloped in the monsoon mist. We could imagine watching a fine sunset on a clear day.
One can enjoy boating at the lake but when we were there, we didn’t see any boats plying; it may have to do with the rain.
Lake Siliserh in the foreground & Palace in the backgroun
Lake Siliserh Palace
The Lake Siliserh Palace stands on the banks of Lake Siliserh. It was built by Maharaja Vinay Singh for his Queen Shila. It served both as a palace & a hunting lodge. It’s now a heritage hotel run by the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation.
We climbed to the terrace in front of the cafeteria & ordered some watery coffee for the heck of it. It was a late Sunday morning & dozens of locals had flocked to the Lake/ Palace to enjoy the weather. It goes without saying that our COVID angst hit a high.
Smiling despite the COVID anxiety!
But from the terrace, we beheld a picturesque view that calmed our anxiety a bit. The expanse of Lake Siliserh in front of us, the Aravali range surrounding us, light rain falling upon us, steaming cups of (although watery) coffee in our hands, excited chatter around us – for a moment, it felt everything was alright with the world!
We drove back to the city & stopped for lunch at Hotel Grand Ashoka. Threadbare restaurant but the food – 🍚, Aloo Jeera, Dal Fried, Punjabi Paneer & Tandoori Roti – was simple & succulent.
Moosi Maharani ki Chhatri
Bloomy Designs on the Arches
We next drove to the Moosi Maharani ki Chhatri, also called Bakhtawar ki Chhatri. Chhatris (cenotaphs) were a central element of traditional Indian architecture. They accurately mean umbrella. Consequently, these typify structures with domed roofs.
‘Chhatris’ refer to two structures –
- The merely decorative cupolas that mark the corners of a main roof
- The baroque stone pavilions built at the funerary site of important people
Such pavilions comprise carved pillars supporting the chhatri. Chhatris denote honour; they were built at the cremation site of kings. Moosi Maharani ki Chhatri was built by Maharaja Vinay Singh in memory of his father Maharaja Bakhtawar Singh.
Moosi Maharani ki Chhatri from outside
Bakhtawar ki Chhatri is a double – storied, fantastic piece of architecture. It is a chic structure shaped like a flower. The arches have bloomy designs. Gold leaf paintings depicting mythological characters adorn the ceiling.
The storeys are a mix of sandstone & white marble.
There is an expressiveness about this Chhatri because of the story behind it. Moosi was Maharaja Bakhtawar Singh’s lover. She didn’t get the status of his wife in her lifetime. When Maharaja Singh was deceased, she jumped into the pyre along with him and committed sati.
The White Marbled First Storey
As sati was reserved for wives, Moosi came to be regarded as Bakhtawar’s wife. The Chhatri commemorates Moosi’s love for Bakhtawar & so is also called Moosi Maharani ki Chhatri. Their footsteps are carved inside the pavilion.
If you bask in Rajput architecture and love fables, the Chhatri is a must-visit. & don’t forget to engage a guide to know all the legends.
In front of the Chhatri is a Baoli nestled in the shadow of the Bala Quila.
Alwar City Palace/ Vinay Vilas Mahal
Next to the Chhatri is the Alwar City Palace, also called the Vinay Vilas Mahal. The Jaipur & Udaipur City Palaces are famous & while the Alwar City Palace isn’t as grand as they are, it’s its own appeal. It’s a vibrant chronicle.
The City Palace is a faultless blend of Mughal & Rajput architecture. It’s a treat with its mirrorwork. We hung around the courtyard for a bit, listening to our guide narrate the history of the Palace & taking pictures.
Clicking our way through the Alwar City Palace Courtyard
The Museum is located inside the Alwar City Palace. We traversed a sloping passage to the top floor. Its run – down feel made us sceptical about the Museum but it turned out to be a hidden gem. It’s well – maintained & home to fabulous exhibits.
The Museum presents a glimpse into Maharajas’ lifestyles & the rich Indian culture. The miniature paintings with complex brushwork and bejewelled colours declare the artist’s mastery. The armoury section is fab with its pistols, shields, swords etc.
A Gold & Velvet Throne
Alwar is an explorer’s enjoyment. Writing about this holiday has us elated, knowing that we’d witnessed something exceptional.
Hill Fort Kesroli was one of the best heritage hotels we stayed in. It was well-maintained & had all the modern facilities we needed. Yet, when we scaled its ramparts, we felt we’d time – travelled to the 14th century.
Time Travel to the 14th Century
But please note that entering the hotel needed climbing up a steep incline/ flight of stairs which may be troublesome for the elderly.
Food (particularly Mutton Curry & Rogan Josh) & service were excellent. We saw the Rajasthani hospitality in action.
Our rooms were Bhawani Mahal & Hariyal Mahal. Bhawani Mahal was located on the first floor & shared a veranda with Shankar Mahal. It had a bedroom, an ensuite bathroom, a living room, a private balcony & a private terrace.
Portraits in Bhawani Mahal
Please note, there were quite a few steep steps to reach the room; it may be unsuitable for the elderly.
Hariyal Mahal, in accordance with its name, was coloured in shades of green. It was a smaller room compared to the Bhawani Mahal but quite adequate for a couple. The ambience of this room, however, was extremely soothing.
And it overlooked the lush green fields. So, win!
Lounging in the Soothing Green Hariyal Mahal