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Travel: A weekend at a 14th century fort and palace

Mundota Fort and Palace Hotel, just outside Jaipur, offers a unique staycation experience—though the team needs to work on some basics

The Mundota Fort and Palace Hotel.

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After an arduous drive battling seemingly endless traffic, we breathe a sigh of relief when our car pulls up at a rickety metal gate that guards an unpaved, steep and narrow path. Google Maps has brought us to the road leading to the 14th century Mundota Fort, which glitters magnificently atop the highest peak in this region.

But first we must make our way to the smaller, more elaborately decorated building some distance away—the Mundota Palace. The plan is to loop back to the fort after checking in. Formalities concluded, the hotel’s off-roader drives us through a picturesque village and up the many curves and ridges to the arresting structure that is our destination.

When we step into our massive War Fort Suite with Private Pool, overlooking the stunning Rajasthan countryside, the discomfort of the journey melts away. A royal experience beckons.

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The Mundota Fort and Palace Hotel consists of three distinctive parts, including a hilltop fort with five spacious suites, a palace hotel with multi-category rooms and a dining area, and a luxurious polo ground housing over 80 thoroughbred ponies.

Located north-west of Jaipur, Mundota Fort was constructed by the Naruka Rajputs. Ownership changed hands, to the Nathawat Rajputs, after battle. Members of this family still own the property and run the hotel. After decades of neglect, restoration of the palace began in 2008. It became operational, with 38 rooms, in 2017; the fort opened in 2020.

The property comprises a total of 52 rooms and suites, each overlooking the sparse Aravalli mountains; the number will increase to 115 rooms and suites at the palace and 10 Plunge Pool Suites at the fort later this year. Handpainted ceiling frescos, stately courtyards, spiralling staircases, jali screens and a liberal swathe of bougainvillea lend an authentic historic feel to the palace. The fort, on the other hand, lives up to its austere antecedents, its formidable visage and earthy tones creating a dramatic backdrop.

The dining room with frescoed walls and ‘jali’.
The dining room with frescoed walls and ‘jali’.

The most unique attraction, though, is the impressive polo grounds, claimed to be India’s only active polo ground attached to a heritage property.

The Mundota Fort and Palace Hotel falls somewhere between the grandiose properties run by five-star hospitality chains and the smaller home-stays under the care of industrious families marketing their charming family havelis. It lacks a certain finesse but maintains a rustic charm heritage chains lose to the standardisation of luxury.

As ours was a last-minute booking, the fort suites were available to us for only one night. Our party of seven took over the ample outdoor space that was part of the suite, making it a mini haven with music, food and drinks. We merrily dipped into the rooftop plunge pool while the humbling solemn façade of the battle-worn edifice looked back at us.

Around teatime, we ventured out with our animal-loving son to the Polo Grounds, a short drive away. Here, he attempted his first horse ride on a sprightly Argentinian equid (not part of the package) as we delighted in a leisurely walk through the grounds. On our way back, we stopped for a quick visit to the Hanuman Mandir, a short climb up a hill opposite the fort.

The hotel’s website claims to offer interesting excursions, including private polo matches, riding lessons, champagne sun-downers at the Polo Grounds, step-well and turret dining, rural excursions and hiking in the Aravallis, but we did not participate in any of these.

The next morning, after a varied breakfast spread in our suite, we moved to the palace. Unfortunately, the palace suites did not match up to the fort’s grandeur. A large indoor sitting area became our chosen venue for congregation, and, in the evening, we stepped out into the beautifully decorated alcove attached to our palace suite, situated on one end of a balcony common to all the rooms on that floor. At our request, the staff had done up the alcove with lamps and mood lighting.

The biggest strength of the Mundota Fort and Palace Hotel lies in these dramatic flourishes. They have retained an aesthetic old-world charm. Yet the core needs work. The fort is not equipped with its own kitchen, and everything must be transferred from the palace to the fort in real time. A state of disrepair is evident in the ceilings of the fort suites, as well as in the lack of running hot water and unclean bedsheets in some rooms.

Our biggest gripe, however, was the lacklustre meals. At the palace, we were surprised to see a dirty swimming pool and the absence of basics like refrigerators in each suite. This did not sit well considering the steep price point (basic rooms in the palace start at 17,110 per night and the Hilltop War Fort Suites go up to 30,090 per night).

One hopes these are merely teething problems. For, overall, the Mundota Fort and Palace Hotel is an attractive proposition for a quick and easy staycation.

At present, the staff seems geared for group celebrations where everyone eats meals, decided by the hosts, together rather than ordering separately at odd hours. Booking all five rooms of the fort for a special celebration will allow you to feel like royalty without breaking the bank. I, for one, do plan to return some day.

Noor Anand Chawla writes on lifestyle.

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