Rehabilitating Our Roots in Ruins

We recently planned a short family vacation to Tijara, Rajasthan - unaware of what the trip really held for us. I come from a family with roots in Rajasthan as well. I have been told that we migrated to the current day Noida area in Uttar Pradesh from Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. Maybe it's the knowledge of my roots or just blinding appreciation for period architecture; I have always been captivated by old havelis, palaces, and forts. Since my childhood, it has been a constant dream to revisit history by visiting such places, some in ruins and others still flourishing.

As a young child, my family lived in the Lodi Colony area in Delhi. My father, a government servant in Indian Railways, had been provisioned with government accommodation. This is the part of Delhi where old ruins are abundant. I can still clearly recall that the first time I saw an abandoned fort, Pandav Qila, on a school trip to the Delhi Zoo. The magnificent structure captivated the thoughts of a young me. Thoughts such - What happened to these places? Where did the people who once lived here go? Why are these places in such bad shape? Why can't these places be alive again? Why can't these places be full of life again? These thoughts often occupied my mind growing up whenever I saw any historical ruins, which were plentiful on our family trips (train or road trips).

A Morning at Tijara from Rani Mahal


A Morning at Tijara from Rani Mahal

An Evening at Tijara from Hawa Mahal


An Evening at Tijara from Hawa Mahal

Growing up in a middle-class family, the most essential necessity was to be the breadwinner for the family. I could not afford the luxury of following my heart's desire. Consequently, after completing my education in engineering, I started a job, as expected of me. My first job was with the Taj Group of Hotels in the projects division. I had several opportunities to visit many Taj properties throughout India. I visited many vintage properties in Jodhpur, Sasangir, Sawai Madhapur, and Jaipur, and my childhood thoughts flashed back. The only difference was that these properties were in a very good state and were already inhabited and in proper shape when Taj took them over.

As I traversed through life, I used to think that someday I could earn and save enough to do something to rehabilitate such abandoned places in ruins. Then one day, my son told me about Neemrana Fort, near Delhi. I promptly visited Neemrana Fort Palace with my family. For the first time, I saw the gentleman's photo, the founder and chairman of Neemrana Hotels. He has devoted his life to rebuilding ruins, which, although forgotten, are a significant part of our rich heritage. Thousands of thoughts, such as those from my childhood, came back rushing to mind - How did the gentleman conceive such an idea? How much research and hard work must have gone in to bring this fort to life again? Financing the undertaking must also have a big task since that is the reason, I could not dare to take up such a project. But in real life, apart from following your passion, there are many other responsibilities, which sometimes push us to put aside our passion. I think if one has a suitable atmosphere with a supportive friend circle, motivation, financial resilience, and courage to achieve one's passion, only then such a huge effort is possible. But the fear of failure can stop you in the tracks, sadly something that has been a constant force with me as well.

While visiting another Neemrana Hotel property, Tijara Fort Palace, I recently had the pleasure of meeting the gentleman, whose photo I had earlier seen at Neemrana Fort Palace, Mr Aman Nath. As it happened, I was enjoying dinner with my family, and Mr Aman Nath was having dinner at the table across from us. When he finished his dinner, I promptly wished him a good evening. I expressed to him my likeness towards such places but could not do anything about it due to many life's constants. However, I made sure that I impressed upon him that what he has done is simply amazing. I told him about my work experience with Taj and how I was involved with many such properties.

Mr Aman Nath is elegant and humble, so much so that I could not believe that he is the man himself, one who has dedicated his life to these Khandars. I felt as though my heart's deepest desires have been given life by a man whose simple nature, politeness, and modesty touched my heart. It is much easier to construct a new building that looks vintage but more difficult to restore an old heritage structure without losing the essence. I shared with him how I have preserved my family's heirloom and artefacts and kept them safely along with some other vintage articles I have collected over time. How I have protected my forefathers' heritage, some of them centuries old as well. I wish to share photos of the same with him someday.

A Photo with Mr Aman Nath

What came as a complete surprise was that the next day at breakfast, Mr Nath approached me from behind with a chirpy, "Good morning, this is your favourite place to sit?" He recalled meeting me the night before and handed a book to me on “Pushkar”. Slight confused, I asked him, "Is this book for me?", "Yes, this is for you," he said. I couldn't believe it. Can a first meeting be so impactful that it warrants such a token - the book? It was that surreal moment I realized, yet again, that I am talking to the man who was giving shape and life to what I could only dream about but could not dare to do.

It was an absolute honour to receive the book. We exchanged few thoughts for a while and hoped to meet again. He moved on with his daily work, maybe giving life to some other khandar, bringing life to history, bringing life to many more dreams, just like the ones I used to have. I kept thinking that two people may have similar thoughts, but it takes a lot of courage to live that dream.

Friends, I am excited, happy, and cheerful to share this with a small story of my encounter with Mr Nath. I genuinely don't have words to express my feelings. I indeed am thankful to Mr Aman Nath for his time.

Who am I?

L R Sharma, an Electrical engineer, currently serving as Director- Asia – Building Services (MEP) with A Spanish MNC Engineering Design Company. He has a deep interest in old artefacts, Historical places and loves to visit such places. He has an interest in travelling and has visited many of the Indian historical places as well in 15 + countries.