The Lost and Found Story of a Fort

The Lost and Found Story of a Fort
Alila Fort Bishangarh. Photo courtesy of the fort

Alila Fort Bishangarh blends Mughal and Jaipur architectural elements, creating a mood rich with the scent of history

The spirit in the fort sighed. What a ruinous fate, it thought, surveying the mould that was quietly seeping into its walls. Where once the clang of metal and the sound of voices, the rush and clamour of living in peace and the mounting thrill of preparing for battle had reigned, now there was silence. If you can call it silence! What with the sound of a thousand wing beats pushing through the cobwebs the spiders had woven through the day, at night, and the squeaking of rats, and the other denizens who now were the only occupants behind the high walls. Where had the colour and the glory gone?

Rahul Kapur was thinking much the same thing as he looked at the ruins up on a hill in the midst of the Aravalli mountains, when he viewed it as he drove past, on the Jaipur-Delhi highway. When the “For Sale” sign caught his eye, it set off a train of outrageous thought. Piqued by the possibility of buying a fort, he followed up the idea.
It took four years before the thought could be turned into action. When, combining with the owner, royal descendant and current MLA, Rao Rajendra Singh, and another partner, Suneet Bagai, Kapur’s family joined in to make a plan to renovate the fort and convert it into a hotel.

Abandoned generations ago, the impressive fort was built atop the granite hill, as much to serve as a lookout as to provide an early line of defence against attacks on Jaipur, approximately 70 kilometres away. Turrets and watchtowers ensured an eagle’s eye view of the surrounding plains on all sides, blocking all possibility of a stealthy approach by the enemy. Two metre thick walls dotted with openings for muskets added to the fort’s impregnable position.

But time is an enemy few can stop, and over the years of disuse, the fort had succumbed to the inroads made by time. Creeping decay, rubble from crumbled inner portions, and overgrown vegetation bearing thorns and brambles marked the fort, now inhabited by denizens who crawled, and an army of monkeys which found shelter from the leopards within the high walls.

The property has 59 rooms plus restaurants, bar, kitchens, and meeting areas, a library and two Presidential suites, which are still under construction. 

When the prospective renovating team decided to take a closer look at the property, the challenges were formidable. The fort, slanted to dealing with enemies, gave them short shift. “There was no approach up the hill,” Rahul Kapur says. “We had to clamber up, frequently using hands and knees up the steep, thorny slope.”
Surprises waited at every point, the worst one a long scary moment, when frightened by the intruders into a haven they had thought their own, “a zillion bats flew out of a hollowed portion, forcing us to crouch low to let them pass.” The battle for possession would be a long-drawn one, with the bats holding out till the very end.
The structure itself posed its first problem, by proving its invincibility. “The thick walls, almost three metres in some places, were formidable. We could not drive nails into them. And anyway, they were so strong, that we wished to preserve them as they were.”

Not wishing to disturb the ethos of the structure, as they built their hotel, and keen to keep as much of the original fort intact as possible, the three adventurers decided to draw up the plans themselves. Rahul Kapur’s brother, Atul, drew up a design. And a young couple, Sandeep and Ritu Khandelwal, were engaged to convert the plan to reality. Sandeep was an architect, and his wife, an interior decorator. The plans included 30 suites, besides the common areas.

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