A move into the countryside
Our drive to Ramathra took 5 hours and in all honesty, I was starting to doubt my decision at a few points as our landscape became more and more rural and the roads increasingly harder to identify. As we made our final approach I became more concerned, we were in a very run down area with limited infrastructure. I had wanted something a bit unusual, a taste of rural life but this was pushing me a little too far. I was already a little concerned that I’d booked somewhere that was full board which isn’t our normal choice so this was certainly my ‘gamble’ location.
Never have I been so relieved to arrive at a destination, in the final few moments of the journey a large structure came into view and we drove up the steep slope towards a monumental 17th century fort. It was rural and quiet but it was also beautiful and incredibly well preserved considering its age.
We arrived in the early evening and settled into our room before sitting down to what turned out to be one of the best meals we had on the trip (the food here was incredible), Ramathra Fort is stunning. It will long remain in my memory as one of the most fascinating places I have ever been to. It feels unspoilt and was a chance for us to properly relax which is rare. The views are excellent, it’s quiet and has been lovingly restored using local materials and by local people. All the staff are local and the hotel recycles its water, only uses organic ingredients and has a well defined ecology policy. It has to be said that one of the most important things about this place was the staff, service in India is excellent anyway but there was something different, it was far beyond anything we had experienced so far on our journey and people were beyond welcoming.
On our first evening we relaxed and reviewed the included activities available as part of our stay, we sat around the fire and spent some time in the jacuzzi that is situated at the top of one of the turrets. Part way through the night the staff called us to a roof area so that we could see a group of civet cats that like to come and scavenge for any leftover chapati’s.
On our second day we explored.
Starting with a breakfast in the sun we then moved on to a walking tour of the local village. The Fort only holds a handful of guests but they help contribute to the maintenance of the site and equally some of the money made gets passed onto the community. Everything cooked onsite comes from the local farmland that is within sight which helps to explain why we enjoyed the food so much. The staff were keen to encourage us to partake in the free activities and the tour was included in the price of our stay and lasted for just under 3 hours. I assumed we would take a slow wander down the road but we headed off towards to woodland instead and immediately spotted a Blue Bull, a type of antelope that are local to the area. Ramathra has been involved in a rewilding project which has seen the return of many species that were once native.
Our guide took us to some temples along the journey and we made our way down to the village. It hadn’t really occurred to me until this point that we were in a very impoverished area, the villagers live without electricity and their water is drawn from a pump with only a handful of them living in concrete structures. We encountered a family and learnt that the young girl holding a baby had married at 15 and that the child was her own, I think she was 16 but I wasn’t sure. It quickly became apparent that the villagers were used to visitors but that my super pale skin and bright red hair was attracting some interest! All the young people we encountered would call us, shouting ‘photo!photo’ it wasn’t just that they wanted to pose for a photo, they wanted to see themselves on the screen- they were quite demanding at times but also incredibly happy and grateful to spend time with us. I got to have my photo taken with a baby goat and it was awesome.
Our guide did an excellent job of teaching us about the crops grown, the living conditions of the villagers and loads of other useful insight into community life. I felt a bit awkward to begin with, was this poverty tourism? My fears disappeared pretty quickly, our guide was showing us the village because they wanted to highlight what they do to support it but also, they were proud of what they had. Part of our tour included a trip to the school, this made me feel uncomfortable to begin with but again, they took us there to show us all the children in class and they were very pleased to see us. Some of the kids who weren’t in school followed us about a bit and before we left our guide gave some money to a man running a small stall so that the children could get something to eat as a treat. It was a humbling experience, the village was small but the people happy, the crops they grew had been feeding us and the rest sold into large cities for what arguably would be a very low price.
Tour finished and we headed back to the fort for lunch, we had booked another treat for the evening. A camel cart (chargeable) collected us from our room and we took a somewhat bumpy ride down to the nearby Kalisil lake where a local boatman does trips out over the water. We rowed quietly across the water as the sun was going down before stopping in the middle to watch the sunset. Its a very unspoilt area with no artificial light. Our boatman was an old wizened looking guy who didn’t speak throughout the trip. He returned us to the shore and our camel took us back to the Fort, albeit for a while it was determined to go in another direction!
We spent the rest of the evening sat by the fire before dinner before we took a final moonlit dip in the jacuzzi. When I had originally booked this, I was given the option of either a suite or what was described as luxury tented accommodation. I was convinced that my already unusual choice of a fort was enough and that a tent was a bit too much of a stretch for us. What I didn’t realise was just how nice the tents were so on our second night, as it was fairly quiet we asked if we could stay in one and they happily obliged. The tents came with a private brick built bathroom each, teak furniture and reminded me of the colonial style safari tents that you see in old films, I was quite excited to find a gecko hiding in our bathroom too.
Ramathra Fort was possibly the most relaxing stay we have ever had, its not often we consider returning to a place but given its proximity to some of the national wildlife parks it would be possible to come back and do a host of different activities whilst still enjoying what the Fort has to offer.
Definitely worth a visit.