Well it may be difficult to answer for many but a couple of years back I was very lucky indeed to experience a real gem in Central India. Just an hour and half away from the deserted city of Mandu is the gorgeous Ahilya Fort, right in the centre of the action in Maheshwar, a 4,000-year-old town in Madhya Pradesh. Its ramparts reach into the Narmada, one of India’s holiest rivers, said to have been formed from a drop of sweat from Shiva’s forehead.
Ahilya is an 18th-century fort, built by Queen Ahilya Holkar, known as Ahilya Bai. The fort remained in the family until Prince Richard Holkar, Ahilya Bai’s descendant, took it over in 1971. It was derelict, but he restored it and opened it as a hotel in 2000 with four rooms.
It now has 13, all different, including the Maharaja Tent with a little garden overlooking Ahilyeshwar Temple and the river. Don’t miss out on staying at this magnificent fort – it’s one of the best luxury holidays in India.
It has great character and elegance, and like all the best hotels, is not without eccentricity. No televisions, no phones and no room service. There is a swimming-pool next to a vegetable garden, a well-stocked library and lots of places to read, shady courtyards and flowers everywhere.
One of the best features of Ahilya Fort is its location. On the ghats, directly beneath the hotel, there is the constant presence of life. The relentless beating of the laundry begins at 4am, and the chanting and singing sometimes goes on late into the night, but it’s strangely soothing.
Don’t miss the morning ritual at the small temple within the fort performed by 11 Brahmin Pandits to bless the town. After returning from the ritual enjoy a convivial breakfast cooked in front of you. Tuck into the jams – fig, lemon mango, apricot, guava jelly; and fresh papaya and tiny bananas from a tree that Mr. Holkar brought from Goa. It’s a royal experience when Mr. Holkar summons the cook to discuss the day’s menus.
There is lot’s to do. Ahilya Fort is a fantastic base from where we can arrange a private tour to the deserted Islamic city of Mandu which gained prominence in the 10th century. Mandu is entrancing, peaceful and lushly green. Set against the rugged Vindhya hills, the medieval ghost-town is one of central India’s most atmospheric monuments.
Visit at the height of the monsoons, when the rocky plateau and its steeply shelving sides are carpeted with green vegetation, and you’ll understand why the Malwa sultans christened their capital the “City of Joy”.
Even during the relentless heat of the dry season, the ruins are an exotic spectacle. There are elegant Islamic palaces, mosques and mausoleums to be explored.
End your day witnessing the memorable sunsets over the Narmada with a G&T on the terrace on the battlements overlooking the river. A perfect holiday!
For more information about our unique, tailor-made luxury tours of India, please contact us.