From royal fort abode to luxury resort

As I drove from Jaipur airport to Alila Fort Bishangarh covering about 55 km, including about 6 km off the Delhi-Jaipur national highway, the beautiful villages of Rajasthan came alive last month. The grazing cattle, and sheep, green crops standing in the ever expanding fields and farmers tending to them with women folks was a sight to behold. As I entered the nondescript Bishangarh village in Jaipur, I saw a young woman, draped in colourful red sari, with lots of bangles, drawing water from the well and quenching the thirst of her cattle. Behind her the magnificent Alila Fort rose gradually in the distance.

Perched atop a granite hillock in the Aravalli range, surrounded by hills dotted with havelis, villages and temples, Alila Fort Bishangarh is the result of the adaptive reuse of a 230-year-old warrior fort into one of India’s most unique heritage properties. Built during Rajasthan’s royal era as an outpost guarding the kingdom of Jaipur (Amber) against invaders from the North, the fort at Bishangarh had long outlived its original purpose. Almost a decade ago, as the fort stood abandoned in a dilapidated condition, inhabited by thousands of bats and monkeys, the inheritor of the property Rao Rajendra Singh and two investors Suneet Bagai and Atul Kapur roped in Alila, a brand of American Two Roads Hospitality to breathe new life into it as a five-star boutique resort, while maintaining its sanctity.

Vishal Kumar, the well-groomed personal host, who takes guests around the property, briefed me that immense challenges had to be overcome, including stabilising and strengthening the ruins, constructing a road up to the fort, finding circulation through 3 metre thick walls, and deciphering the unconventional puzzle of the organic structure, which featured not a single 90-degree wall. Upper and outer wings were adapted to the original fortification to carve out 59 suites following the curved and sloping walls of the existing turrets. Rooms and restaurants have been made to fit around the original two to three meter walls in many places. With no typical floor plan, there were 23 different room configurations in all. In all, 23 unique venues have been created for meetings and celebratory events.

Michael Gonsalves