Like a maharaja at the Tijara Fort-Palace for a Sufi Music Festival

On the Go

Kul Bhushan relished a royal lifestyle with ambience, panoramic vistas, dancing and singing – and its sumptuous cuisine (with photos by Nyay Bhushan).

Neemrana Tijara Fort Palace
Dance divine by Shinjini Kulkarni
Sufi singing
Banquet all lit up
Bedroom with Waheeda Rahman painting
Bird's eye view of unending countryside
CEO Neemrana Hotels, Sonavi Kacker
Vintage car

The stage is ready. Lights and sound system checked. As soft music wafts across to the seated audience under the clear early night sky, a dancer glides gracefully to centre stage. ‘Huma, the Celestial Bird’ flies as dancer Shinjini Kulkarni, grand-daughter of famed Kathak dance maestro Birju Maharaj, presents graceful gestures. Shafts of different-coloured lights beam on the dancers, theatrical smoke and fog enhanced the special effects. The ballet climaxes when the dancers play Holi with flowers. It is ethereal.

Osho comes to mind when he says, “When you dance and you become a whirlwind and, by and by, you are completely lost in your dancing, it happens. Something breaks down inside you. The barriers are lost. You become one unity. A great orgasm spreads all over your being. You are in tune with existence in those moments.” *

With the backdrop of tall arches and ramparts of the famous 19-century Tijara Fort-Palace Hotel in Rajasthan’s Alwar district, the Jahan-e-Khusrau Sufi Music Festival gets underway. Around 150 connoisseurs of culture and cuisine made the two-hour road trip from New Delhi to this hilltop retreat to relish this event, curated by celebrity film-director-painter Muzzafar Ali of Umrao Jaan fame.

Overwhelmed by the song and dance, the gourmet meals, the ambience of a regal fort, I approach the elegant CEO of Neemrana Hotels, Ms Sonavi Kaicker, with a request to express my appreciation for this event if she accords me five minutes. She readily agrees to meet at breakfast the next morning.

Taking out my sketch pad and calligraphy pen, I write a Rumi quotation for her. She is entranced. Now she has a request for me: to please write another quote for her brother, a banker from Paris. She brings over a strapping young man, and after giving him a look-over, something tells me that he needs a challenge. So, Osho’s famous mantra, ‘Be realistic. Plan for a miracle,’ is what he gets. Intrigued, he wonders what it means until I tell him to meditate over it for a few months to comprehend it.

As Ms Kaicker walks around in the hall, carrying her Rumi quote, she draws attention from other guests who soon approach her and ask how to get a quote as well. Soon a group forms for calligraphy quotes at my table until I retire…

The next morning at breakfast, eager guests approach me again for quotes and I am delighted to share Rumi and Osho with them. Among the celebrities is the founder and chairman of Neemrana Hotels who wants not one but two quotes, one for his friend. Soon Muzzafar Ali, the organiser of this event, turns up for his quote and chides me for not informing him about my calligraphy talent so that he could have squeezed a slot for me in the event.

Among the eager recipients is a new friend, Shreekant, an engineer now turned investor. Osho seemed to urge me to write this shocker, ‘Think without mind’ – which devastated him. Such fun!

Ms Sonavi Kaicker gets a Rumi quote from Kul
The engineer who goes by logic gets an Osho quote that shatters him
Celebrating with Calligraphy

Now this palace! This grand 19th-century Tijara Fort-Palace Hotel is sprawled on a hilltop overlooking miles of flat farmland – you feel like a maharaja. The lofty archways, the king-size airy bedrooms, tastefully styled with original paintings, exude a regal charm. Tijara Fort-Palace is an exclusive weekend getaway from Delhi. The fort-palace offers 71 suites and rooms named after India’s leading painters, designers and aesthetes who have helped create them. These upgraded rooms and suites radiate luxury with generous balconies onto stunning countryside panoramas or manicured garden views.

In 1835, Maharaja Balwant Singh of Tijara started constructing a fort-palace on top of a hill. In the absence of roads to the hilltop, the large double pillars were carried to the top by elephants. Famous architects from Kabul and Delhi were engaged to fashion it. Due to the premature death of the maharaja, the construction was left incomplete till it was leased to Neemrana Hotels in 2010. Work to transform it into a fully-equipped modern resort started that year and continued till today.

Once you check in at Tijara, you leave behind the mad rush of today’s rollercoaster lifestyle. Time moves charmingly because you see the graceful arches and huge ramparts of yore, the paintings of a bygone era, the simple, non-mechanical toys of pre-war generations and a red vintage sports car in a specially-built pavilion, all merging with the historic ambience. An outdoor pool sunk below ground level, flanked by an elevated sun deck around it keeps inviting. This secluded area takes a fairy-tale charm at night when the high, adjoining palace wall lights up with a thousand lights.

Music and dancing epitomised the Jahan-e-Khusrau Festival, just like the bygone era of maharajas. After the opening ballet, a mystical musical journey soared through Sufi poetry. The next evening, there was a performance by talented Moti Khan Manganiar, a local budding singer, followed by Sami and Shahid Niazi Qawwal and ending with the famous folk singer, Malini Awasthi.

Related events included Sufi Metaphor in Poetry by well-known author Rakshanda Jalal, Past Life Regression and Tarot reading.

The guests were requested to dress in rose in the morning, white for dinner and black for the gala poolside dinner, making every meal a fashion show. Each meal was a culinary delight which included Turkish-Mediterranean, Lakhanavi from UP, Marwari from Shekhawati in Rajasthan and Haryanavi from Haryana. Banquets fit for a king!

Ms Sonavi Kaicker, the Neemrana Hotels CEO, said that the event was a huge success and announced a similar two-day event, ‘Weekend with India’s Dancing Icons’, from 7 to 9 October when well-known artistes, Leela Samson and Malvika Sarukkai, will perform, in addition to other stimulating activities.

To my great surprise, Ms Kaicker contacted me and requested I give a session of calligraphy in this upcoming October event. Delighted, I agreed and suggested to name it, ‘Celebrating with Calligraphy’. I have already compiled a portfolio of quotes from Osho that I had written in calligraphy, so the guests can select the one they like best.

Ms Kaicker, who successfully launched Tijara Fort-Palace six years ago, mentioned that this property always enjoyed a strong response and that she is very positive about its future. Group bookings for weddings, tourist groups and weekend visitors patronise it round the year.

The terraced gardens, central pavilion, the sunken auditorium or the poolside are all worthy of becoming the host of a special stay. And it is a fantastic venue for photographers and history enthusiasts.

So, the party goes!

*) Osho, The Beloved, Vol 1, Ch 1

Kul Bhushan

Anand Kul Bhushan is a writer, journalist, UN media consultant and workshop/meditation leader.

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