&ldquoThere is a belief that Chauth Mata had appeared in a dream to Maharaja Bhim Singh, the Chauhan ruler of the time, asking to be worshipped in Barwara, which now lies in the town of Sawai Madhopur. The temple was then constructed in 1451,&rdquo we are told by a devout pilgrim who makes his way up the daunting steps to the hilltop where the shrine of the goddess is situated. I pant and heave, and after a gruelling hour&rsquos worth of sweat, make it to the top, and look at the magnificent piece of history that is perched across the temple on the other side. And it is my residence for the weekend - Fort Barwara.
Six Senses&rsquo first outpost in India, Fort Barwara is a former citadel restored to its modern-day glory as a sprawling spa resort, put on the wellness destination map thanks to an opulent Bollywood wedding. Even long after the charm of the wedding wore off, this 700-year-old fort&rsquos stunning facade continues to enthral and enchant. The multilevel grandeur of the fort is overwhelming, and a quick trot up the stairs takes me and my partner to the grand lobby, where a traditional swagat (welcome) awaits us. We put up in the Fort Suite, from the balcony of which the village life unfolds in all its splendour. With elaborate archways and intricate latticework, our suite takes us back to the magnificence of a bygone era that Six Senses aims to meld organically with a love for modern pleasures.
Our feet ache from the temple&rsquos climb and after a brief siesta, we head to The Cortile, the fort&rsquos all-day diner. Here, we find ourselves indulging in a deep conversation with the property&rsquos effervescent GM Sangjay Choegyal. The first Six Senses in India has been a long time coming a decade of efforts by designers and architects have transformed a tottering Rajasthani mahal into an elegant wellness retreat. The food too, Sangjay tells me, is an ode to Rajasthani cuisine, with modern twists for the adventurous. His words ring true under the domes of the fort, we feast on a local spread with a sprinkling of international influences and embrace the Eat With Six Senses philosophy of local, fresh and seasonal produce.
Located next to the lobby is the Rajawat room, part of the former Mardana Mahal (the male palace), reimagined as a casual lobby lounge that serves cocktails and opportunities for a quick tete-a-tete with guests. For us, the room is a doorway into history as our guide Surya Pratap Singh heralds us to a heritage walk. Of royal lineage himself, Singh guides us to different parts of the fort, regaling us with innumerable tales that I find hard to retain, and even harder to recount.
At a rather spacious terrace, Singh recounts stories of bravery of former kings, before breaking into a detailed narration on Shekhawati architecture. At the entrance of the spa and wellness centre, which was once the Zenana Mahal (female palace), he tells us of the various design elements that were taken into consideration while constructing the ladies&rsquo section of the palace. The entrance to the palace is marked by an archway leading to the Ganesha temple, from which a small turn leads to the main area, ensuring privacy to women in the palace. I explore more of this mahal on my visit to the spa, a regal immersive experience that is one of the highlights of the property. Its varied wellness offerings - ayurveda, meditation, massages and personalised wellness programs - make Fort Barwara the perfect place to escape the cacophony of towns and lie low.
Of Past and Present
Fort Barwara is everything that it claims to be - a luxury heritage wellness retreat. And its heritage is as much a part of its architectural and functional ethos as is its focus on wellness. The original Barwara Fort was constructed in the 14th century by the rulers of the Chauhan dynasty. During World War II, Raja Man Singh of Barwara fought alongside the British and was bestowed with the title of Rao Bahadur it is his grandson Prithviraj Singh, who oversaw the restoration of the fort that began a decade ago, helmed by design firm Panika. When he is here, his residence at the fort is Kharbuja Mahal, called so for its elongated dome&rsquos resemblance to melons that grow nearby.
&ldquoPrithviraj&rsquos father Bhagwati Singh studied at Ajmer&rsquos famed Mayo College, but returned to serve the community here at Barwara,&rdquo Surya tells us as we return from our heritage walk, adding that it is in this fort that elements old and new find perfect balance. The walls of the structure were also assessed and restored using local materials and keeping local artisans in loop, while incorporating contemporary knowhow.
Back in the Rajawat room, Sangjay hands out local whiskies and bar nibbles at the Library Bar. In Rajasthan, it is believed that these spicy local concoctions can cure certain maladies quicker than western medicine. Part of the state&rsquos liquor heritage, these ancient liqueur recipes were once well-kept secrets of royal households. Spiced rum, whisky and cocktails are served in small shot glasses as we move into the 14th-century courtyard outside The Cortile for an evening of Rajasthani folk and dance. There is no dearth of dining experiences at Fort Barwara you can pick Shikar Burj, the highest terrace of the property, and dine under the stars or head to Rani Bagh, as we did, for a quiet dinner by the poolside and snappy cocktails to boot.
Sense and Sustainability
The Six Senses Fort Barwara is not just a beacon of modern luxury it is an example of how hospitality giants can invest in sustainability and conservation efforts. One of the reasons why the restoration took a copious amount of time was the sensitive incorporation of efficient design elements such as rainwater collection tanks and solar panels to the architecture. At Six Senses Earth Lab, we indulge in a session of organic lip-balm making with Jocelyn, who later takes us around on a sustainability walk to showcase Six Senses&rsquo efforts to protect the Barwara community, lake and landscape.
The resort has also done away with the need of importing drinking water by installing its own reverse osmosis plant to produce water, provided to guests in reusable glass bottles. During our time here, we also attend pottery and block printing sessions conducted by locals who have been dabbling in the craftforms for generations evenings are spent sipping on tea made by a genial local woman who comes in every day. Use of plastic is non-existent at Barwara toothpaste tablets in glass bottles to composting waste, the writing is clear on the wall conservation of both culture and environment is at the heart of luxury
&ldquoOur rewilding project aims to conserve the natural habit by removing invasive species such Prosopis Juliflora and by planting native and endemic trees and plants,&rdquo Jocelyn tells us. Much of the produce is grown outside the fort walls, in the lawns near the kacheri (courthouse) which is now the GM&rsquos residence. A thriving vegetable and fruit garden also abounds in local shrubbery under the watchful eyes of the resident horticulturist and a poultry farm may soon be added to the resort&rsquos prized portfolio.
The resort has also done away with the need of importing drinking water by installing its own reverse osmosis plant to produce water, provided to guests in reusable glass bottles. During our time here, we also attend pottery and block printing sessions conducted by locals who have been dabbling in the craftforms for generations evenings are spent sipping on tea made by a genial local woman who comes in every day. Use of plastic is non-existent at Barwara toothpaste tablets in glass bottles to composting waste, the writing is clear on the wall conservation of both culture and environment is at the heart of luxury.
From refreshing cocktails to history lessons, a game of chess or an evening of musical delights - there is much for an ordinary traveller seeking respite from the humdrum of city life. The best part The tigers of Ranthambore are just an hour&rsquos drive away.