Kesroli Hill Fort Hotel Not For Me, Maybe Not For You
Something was just not right from the moment I passed a small, discreet sign pointing toward Kesroli Hill Fort Hotel, roughly 12 km from Alwar, Rajasthan. The property intrigued me at first introduction; A 14th-century Hill-Fort, Kesroli is the oldest heritage site in India where you can stay. It’s owned by the Neemrana Hotels Group whose heritage properties are spread across India. Included in their impressive list of hotels in India is L’ Orient, located in Pondicherry, a place I enjoyed dessert once. So it was with great curiosity and expectation that I asked my driver to turn around to “just have a peek” at this hilltop fort. To say he was reluctant would be an understatement.
Pulled to the roadside with traffic whizzing past in the usual Indian frantic manner, it took some minor arguing to convince him to turn around. Just 1 day into a tightly packed itinerary I wrote prior to arrival in Delhi, we were already behind schedule. It felt as if there was something more to his hesitation. Minutes later our car bumped along the pothole laden, washed-out road extending 2 km from the highway to the fort hotel. Kesroli Hill Fort can be seen in the distance before passing through the tiny village settled along the road flanked on both sides by fields stretching to the horizon. Inquisitive villagers scan the car for a glimpse of its occupants, a potentially unsettling feeling for tourists on a first-time tour of India.
Our white tourist vehicle, with it’s identifying yellow tourist number plate, pulled into a small parking lot against the outer wall of the hotel. Several private cars with their identifying white number plates were already in residence at 4 PM. My suspicions were elevated. A strikingly good looking, a tall man greeted me wearing a traditional button-down kurta and pajama pants. Pointing me toward the office I made my way up the steep rock steps. There was nothing but silence upon reaching the main courtyard. For that many vehicles, you would expect to see several smiling faces of travelers fresh from a day of sightseeing. Now in the office, I stumbled upon a rather tall Indian woman. She was dressed in skin-tight blue jeans and a fitted t-shirt, a scarf wrapped around her neck, and sunglasses covering her eyes. My arrival had startled her. She was jumpy, looking back at me and the camera around my neck several times. She curtly over-spoke the manager in an effort to end the conversation between themselves. And just like that, she breezed past and out the office door.
“I’m thinking of staying here after my sightseeing in Alwar is complete. Do you have guest rooms that I can see beforehand?”, I asked. This was a regular conversation I’ve had with countless front desks across India. But it was the first time I had been met with such a sense of disinterest. A staff member led me to 3 rooms to preview, all of which were lovely with the necessary amenities for a western traveler. There was still not a soul to be seen other than the matching uniformed staff. The dining room was empty, the courtyard was empty. Where did the lady whom I had just encountered rushed off to? Were all of the cars in front owned by the employees? Surely not.
Back in the office the manager coyly answered my questions about the property albeit completely uncaring in my experience at their sister-property in Pondicherry. “Do you have available rooms for tonight”, I asked, not sure if the rooms viewed was reserved. “Yes”, he replied. But in a twist that had me scratching my head, he stated I would have to contact the central office for a reservation. I excused myself from the office, turned, and made my way back down the front steps toward the parking lot.
Heritage hotel renting rooms by the hour? This is not the part of Incredible India! for tourists.
My driver had the car facing the road, running idle as if he was an accomplice in a bank heist. Barely in the door, he was pulling away while asking about the last 10 minutes inside. As I explained my thoughts and suspicions we turned back onto the highway toward Alwar. And that’s when he spent the next 30 minutes explaining why Fort Kesroli Hotel is well known among the locals. You see, unmarried Indian couples cannot book a hotel room in India. This part was not new to me. Learning that there are some hotels away from the major metro areas such as Delhi, who look the other way when wealthy Indian couples come knocking, was entirely new to me. The suspicions I had regarding the private cars in the parking lot were accurate. Those were men and women who escaped the city to enjoy a night or even a few hours of time alone without hassle from hotel owners or fear of police intervention. City folk is virtual unknowns in these parts of Rajasthan, 150 km from Delhi metro. The jittery woman I met in the office? She wasn’t expecting to see a foreign tourist at that time of day. The lack of faces around the property? All the guests were Delhi locals behind closed doors who came for one reason.
Hill Fort Kesroli Hotel is charming, neat, and clean, and certainly relaxing. Its location in proximity to Alwar, Deeg, and Bharatpur is logistically not the best match for easy sightseeing between the cities unless travelers are actively taking the relaxed route through Rajasthan. But the real reason to avoid this property lies in the uncomfortable atmosphere created as a result of the hotel’s customer base. This isn’t a political statement or critique about the actions of these consensual adults. Part of the fun of traveling is getting to know new people from around the world and India. There isn’t much fun in patronizing a hotel with guests hiding behind closed doors as you unknowingly crash a silent party. This isn’t a place for traveling families or females. And it won’t be a place for me.