Age-old royal recipes are getting a new lease of life at Ahilya Fort Heritage Hotel in Maheshwar. Travel + Leisure India’s Editor-in-Chief samples a few on her visit to the spiritual town. By Aindrila Mitra
Madhya Pradesh is not the first destination that comes to mind when one thinks of leisure travel. But having explored parts of the state as a university student (thanks to my BFF from Bhopal), I have always been surprised by its nuances. Heritage, wildlife, natural bounty, spirituality—there’s very little that you cannot find in central India.
The Regal Cookbook
So, when the invite to the Ahilya Fort Heritage Hotel in Maheshwar landed in my inbox, it did not take a lot to convince me. It was a special occasion—the royal family of Holkars, led by Maharaj Kumar Richard Holkar and his son Yeshwant Rao Holkar, was going to introduce dishes from Cooking of the Maharajas: The Royal Recipes of India, a cookbook that was first published in 1975 and arguably the first-of-its-kind on royal recipes of India.
Almost 50 years later, the book has now been relaunched as a limited series, and Ahilya Fort Heritage Hotel has introduced a series of ‘Cooking of the Maharajas’ culinary experiences.
It’s less than a two-hour flight into Indore from Delhi, and another two-hour drive to reach Maheshwar, home of the Holkar family. The town rests on the bank of River Narmada, with the Ahilya Fort standing sentinel. The Ahilya Fort Heritage Hotel is an 18th-century fort-turned-heritage hotel named after the Holkar dynasty ruler Devi Ahilyabai who was known for her progressive views on women’s rights and inclusive development. It has 18 rooms spread across six buildings that are set on four acres of courtyards, fountains, and gardens.
A Royal Culinary Journey
I am welcomed by Yeshwant and Kunta bai (the oldest staff member at Ahilya Fort Heritage Hotel) just in time for the culinary experience. As luck would have it, I am placed at the same table as the Maharaj who happily regales us with stories of his childhood and his love for cooking. The food transports me to another time, a time when princely states thrived in India. The evening is laced with a sense of spirituality that is typical of Maheshwar. And like icing on the cake, Narmada sends a light breeze our way. The shikaari maans (a mutton preparation) melts in my mouth.
The vegetable dishes—be it eggplant, mustard sprout raita, lentil soup, or potatoes and peas—are all sourced from the property’s organic farm. It turns out to be a feast for the senses. The next morning, I explore the organic bageecha for a farm-to-table lunch prepared by T+L India’s A-List member and chef extraordinaire Vicky Ratnani.
On a four-acre site within the fort rests Ahilya Fort Heritage Hotel’s organic garden where kitchen produce is organically grown; it ranges from salad greens, herbs, and edible flowers to veggies like aubergine and zucchini, and fruits like mango and custard apple. Sustainable practices such as apiculture, vermicomposting, drip irrigation, rainwater harvesting, and use of biodynamic fertiliser are an integral part of this boutique property.
The day ends with a boat ride on the Narmada, a part of the ‘Sunset Boatride with a Twilight Twist’ experience. It isn’t my first boat ride, but this one is different. As we edge towards the middle of the river, I notice the temple of Baneshwar, dedicated to Lord Shiva, bathed in the glow of the setting sun. It is believed that if a line was to be drawn from the North Star to the centre of the Earth, that line would pass through this temple. I look around to see flickering diyas converge towards the boat. The ambience is nothing short of magical—the temple in the twilight, the slight bob of the boat, and the glow of what feels like a million lamps. As I chant Har Har Narmade to myself, there’s a deep hankering to come back to this divine city.
Getting to Ahilya Fort Heritage Hotel
Fly to Devi Ahilya Bai Holkar Airport in Indore from any of the metro cities in India. From Delhi, it is a 1.5-hour flight. Maheshwar is a two-hour drive from the Indore airport.
Stay at Ahilya Fort Heritage Hotel
Ahilya Fort Heritage Hotel is the only luxury accommodation available in Maheshwar. Doubles from INR 11,200 for the Princely Rooms and INR 23,000 for the Regal Rooms. All tariffs include meals on double occupancy.