Ahilya Fort – Maheshwar(Mandu)
Staying at the homely and beautifully restored Ahilya Fort in Maheshwar gives you wonderful access to an untouched corner of India as the guest of the erstwhile royal family of Indore. Though there are plenty of fascinating places to visit within a day’s drive, with its ramparts reaching into the Narmada River, you may simply be content to stay put to watch all of Indian life unfold next to the holy waters below you; women bathe and beat laundry on the stone ghats, Hindu devotees chant and pray, children play and swim.
The fort dates from the 18th century and it abounds with charm and character. There are just 13 rooms and a gorgeous tent with its own heated plunge pool and little garden, a swimming pool and well-stocked library dotted about between courtyards where trees and flowers force their way through the stone. There are no phones or televisions in the rooms, no money changing facilities, and not even a restaurant; it’s more like staying with a friend in an old country mansion than a hotel. The al fresco meals are fabulous; many of the vegetables are freshly picked from the fort’s garden, and the owner, Prince Richard Holker, who lives in a private wing, is a real foodie. He oversees everything culinary from the preparation of home-made jams to a scrummy biriyani while Kuntabai (who’s been with the family for over 30 years) organises picnics fit for a king and cocktails or dinner on a river boat surrounded by flickering lamps.
On a hot day you can choose to loll under the shade of frangipani trees in the company of the family’s pug dogs or ramble about the fort – it’s huge, but the 4000 year old town of Maheshwar is alo well worth exploring. The fort also arranges gentle boat trips on the river – for a view of Baneshwar temple, or after dark to gaze at the stars, and visits to a local handloom weaving centre where stunning saris are produced.
Trips to the ancient sites of Mandu and Omkareshwar are also possible, all accompanied by delicious picnics. However many days you spend here it will be a memorable time and you’re sure to want to return (not least of all to try and discover the secrets of your hosts delicious recipes).