Ask anyone who has stayed at beautiful Bhainsrogarh Fort, in southeast Rajasthan, to name the most memorable moments of their trip, and ‘the boat ride on the Chambal River’ will invariably feature. The fort sits atop a dramatic escarpment of sandstone, which glows red at sunrise – a spectacle you really have to take to the water to fully appreciate – which is why the boat ride is central to the whole Bhainsrogarh experience.
It begins with a knock on your door and tray of tea half an hour before sunrise, followed by an atmospheric walk down the forest below the palace, past a cluster of crumbling Hindu shrines, to the water’s edge where your boatmen will be waiting.
The Chambal is dammed downriver from Bhainsrogarh, which explains why its surface is here so motionless and mirror-like. Once the light works its magic on the cliffs and ochre walls of the fort, the scene becomes almost transcendental, with the reflections of the domed cupolas and cusp-arched windows shimmering in the water. Meanwhile, kingfishers flit through the bushes on the banks, crocodiles drift like lumps of wood midstream, and flocks of green parakeets screech through the nearby guava orchards. Once the sun is up, tea is served from a wicker hamper before the boat is rowed up a tributary of the Chambal, from where you can follow the old ramparts back up to the fort.