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Self checkin at a heritage fort hotel in Rajasthan

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Pachewar Fort Heritage Hotel, Rajasthan

Pachewar Fort Heritage Hotel, Rajasthan

Pachewar Fort, Rajasthan. I doubt if many people have heard of Pachewar Fort. I am not even sure it exists in reality.  At least that’s how it seemed when we landed there in the dead of night, expecting to be welcomed warmly, and finding nothing … not even the hotel.

I and my business partner, our two women film brigade, were on our way to the Pushkar Camel Fair in Rajasthan, one of the oldest fairs in India, where farmers and camel breeders congregate annually to buy and sell camels. Colorful, quaint, dusty and crowded, it has been a big tourist attraction for decades now.  We were going to shoot a film about the relationship between camel and their breeders. Or maybe something rooted in today’s India, say, about how there are more cell phones in this back-of-the-beyond place than camels.

We were driving from Delhi and the travel agent had made arrangements for us to stay overnight in the Pachewar Fort Heritage Hotel. The hotel had looked splendid on its website. “Remembrance of Bygone Splendour” the site claimed, “a 300 year old picturesque and luxurious” heritage hotel it went on to say. It looked pretty all lit up at night in brilliant golds and yellows.

With our tiny city car negotiating the bumpy village road slowly and reluctantly, it was evening by the time we found ourselves on the road that led to Pachewar village. We drove past fields, a thinning population, tiny villages and the Sun setting beautifully on the sepia landscape. By the time we reached what looked like Pachewar village, it was midnight. For the last hour, we had kept straining our eyes into pitch darkness. No glittering fort had loomed in view. We checked our maps again, and yes, we were on the right track. We were glad to note that the cell phone worked. But the hotel phone number mentioned on their website did not.

These lovely corridors had seemed endless at night ....

We went up and down the village a few times and with sinking hearts truly began to doubt the existence of this ‘heritage hotel’ when suddenly we noticed a tourist bus parked right in the middle of the village. The hotel must be close by, but where? There were people sleeping on makeshift beds outside their houses and crickets were chirping. We had no option but to wake up someone to ask for directions. A knock on the bus door and a gentle cry of ‘bhaisaab’ (“brother”) to wake up the driver got no reaction from him, and neither did a furious banging on the door and yelling. Conclusion – local liquor must be damn good. Our next victim was going to be a figure swathed in a white sheet sleeping outside a mud house. But we noticed it to be an old woman and didn’t have the heart to wake her up. Finally, we saw someone peeing by the side of the road and out of sheer frustration we parked right behind him. The man did not let that interrupt his ‘business’.

Pushkar Camel Fair

Pushkar Camel Fair (click for more photos)

“Left-right-left-left-upppp….” we got our directions and finally landed at a massive dark, unlit entrance. Nothing to indicate that this was the Pachewar Fort. We pushed the gate open and were greeted by a mangy dog. He didn’t bark, but he did give us a look that said ‘what are you doing here?’ which is exactly what we were already wondering.

We picked our steps through the pitch-dark courtyard bumping into things and making a god-awful racket until we reached a small alcove featuring a row of keys and a sign-in register at the table. For about half an hour we walked up and down that large property, with staircases going in every direction and doors wherever you look. We screamed at the top of our lungs which merely interrupted some bats doing whatever they do inside abandoned forts at night.

There was nobody, not a soul, except the dog that kept watching us from a safe distance.

Finally at around 2:00am we decided to check ourselves into two rooms,  the keys were hanging right there. For the next two hours, I dreamt of a sinking ship, which turned into an abandoned hotel and then a film set. At around 4am my partner shot out of her bed screaming ‘help help’ and promptly went back to sleep. And I lay the next hour staring at the roof with my heart hanging by a thin thread.

Pushkar Camel Fair

Pushkar Camel Fair (click for more photos)

At the end of the hour, there seemed to be some activity outside and I could hear people discussing why our room was locked from inside. Anyway, outside, it was a cheerful morning, breakfast was being prepared, tourists were swarming all over, as normally happens in heritage hotels. The events of the night had never happened. The gentleman at the reception explained that the staff goes back home at night and by 10:30pm the fort is shut; that they expected us in by 6pm and it’s great that we managed to take the rooms by ourselves. Casual, stoic and hospitable, isn’t that the quintessential India experience?

Putting all that behind us we headed to the Pushkar fair, walked and shot and walked and shot some more in the Sun. After wrapping the shoot, while heading out we were in a camel cart and we passed a group of American tourists. An elderly gentleman raised a slow arm, zombie like, pointed at me and said ‘She woke me up last night’.

I hope that flying apology from the moving camel cart was accepted.

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Written by Ankur

July 3, 2010 at 8:37 pm

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