In my childhood, vacations were always about visiting the extended family in Madras and Ernakulam.
It was about boarding sleeper class trains, mastering the art of using perennially filthy loos, dexterously, slurping milky tea early in the morning poured from neon coloured flasks, chit-chats with fellow travellers, and then long, conversation-free vigils by the grilled windows, watching the Indian countryside flying by.
I had never known road trips since we didn’t own a car until when I was much older and since holidays were always about spending time among the known, often in their homes which were too far away to reach by road.
So much has changed since then. Both my grandmothers whose homes we nearly always crashed in are no more. Other close relatives are far too old to comfortably host us for more than a few days and most of all, my father, chief planner and executor of those long, sumptuous holidays, is also no more.
So when I began plotting on a small, three-day getaway (which for various reasons had to be reduced to just one night and two days) for us, somewhere not too far, or cumbersome or uncomfortably new, I had to start on a brand new slate.
And I thought I must find someplace that would not take more than 3 hours to travel to, that was generally familiar to me, and that would be comfortable enough to give all of us a break from the never-ending work and responsibility running a home for three people entails.
I picked on the Neemrana Fort-Palace and I decided we would rent and a keep a comfortable car for the entirety of our little vacation. Fortunately, the man we most wanted to drive us was the one who came, and with his own home being just a bus ride away from the palace, we encouraged him to have a get-away to his village without his boss coming to know!
The first 40 minutes or so of the ride out of Delhi was full of bureaucratic detail — paying toll tax at three gates, getting out the right change each time, making faces at the beeping horns behind us when we took a little more time in finalising our toll tax transactions and so on.
But no sooner had we left that behind that the ride and the landscape improved instantly. Gone were the shiny new buildings of Gurgaon and in place were sheets and sheets of brown and green fields, spotted intermittently by water sprinklers, grazing cows, buffaloes, goats and on the dusty roads right beside us, a few bedecked camels.
I have never before felt so keenly the absolute relief the senses feel in just seeing flat land! And although I’m a very new convert, I have to say there is something to the idea of a journey where the way you travel is part of the experience.
Once the novelty of the sights ceased to invoke a whoop of delight from my little girl, we all were gently taken over by the hum of the road. What a wonderful pleasure — the sound of the wheels traveling at a steady speed over the well maintained Delhi – Jaipur highway, the unexpected and very welcome silence from my otherwise talkative youngling and the satisfaction of being scooped up, so safely, so comfortably by the body of the car (and the deftness of its driver) transporting us so effortlessly, forward and away.
Although I had read and known that the palace we were heading for was a fort, I wasn’t prepared for the setting as it swiveled into my field of vision — amidst (and seemingly atop) rugged hills. We lost speed quickly and began a short but considerably steep climb. (Well, relative to the flat plains of Delhi!) Little did we realise that the rest of the trek was going to be on foot!
So, here’s the thing — although in retrospect I have only good things to say about our stay and the palace itself, I guess it is not the most favourable destination if you are going with a young child and elderly adult (and especially if your child is the kind who enjoys freaking you out by dangling a leg dangerously over high walls and asking, “Mamma, shall I jump?”). Nearly any journey within the palace premises whether for food, entertainment or just a leisurely stroll requires steep climbs up and down old, high, stone steps and although that scores high on atmosphere and authenticity, I guess none of us realised a luxurious albeit short stay at a palace would require robustness (and an ever watchful eye on the youngling what with those steep heights)!
It took us a night and a day to discover the parts of the fort that we loved best — a large, sun lit aangan surrounded by bright blue, wrought-iron chairs and a spectacular view of the hills surrounding the palace and the town laid out below.
And again, it struck me, how important it is for us city folk to drink in the beauty of open skies, large spaces and an unhindered view of the horizon. Although I don’t feel guilt free about staying as a guest at such a place for all the obvious reasons, I have to admit, it’s the kind of treat all of us homebound creatures, deserve every now and then. To have others look after your daily needs, to not wake up worrying about what to make for breakfast and to sleep even for just a night without a care in the world.