Rajasthan: Indian palaces converted into luxury hotels
Providence created the maharajas to offer mankind a spectacle,” wrote Rudyard Kipling, author of ‘The Book of the Virgin Lands’. Until 1947, the year of independence from the British Empire, rulers of the states of India did their shikar (hunting) in Rolls-Royces, ordered furniture, art and jewellery from the most exclusive European firms, and demonstrated their hospitality through banquets for hundreds of guests. For centuries, they lived in walled fortresses or palaces, with terraces and gardens, and separate wings for women and servants.
The Jackie Kennedy suite is decorated, like the rest of the hotel, with paintings and furniture belonging to the family, and flamboyant wallpaper with traditional motifs. Photo: SUJÁN Rajmahal Palace, Relais & Chateaux
THE ROYAL COURT
Noble landowners and ministers also built palaces and holiday homes, near the residences of maharajas, trying to emulate the opulent lifestyles of their leaders. Some of these residences are now hotels, including Samode Palace and Samode Bagh, Narain Niwas Palace, and Castle Kanota.
Now, you can become part of this refined lifestyle. The maharajas have opened their palaces, hunting grounds and summer residences, whose maintenance and restoration were too expensive for them, and now live alongside their guests, with whom they share the history of their families. They have exchanged hedonism for sustainable tourism, and eccentricities for restoring artistic heritage and supporting development in the local community. In Rajasthan, north-east India, you will find Umaid Bhawan Palace, the sixth largest private residence in the world. Part of this sandstone fort, Jodhpur, is a hotel, a member of the prestigious Taj Hotels chain. Decorated in an Art Deco style, it includes 10ha of gardens, with peacocks, an underground swimming pool and a museum of the royal family. Located on a hill, you can enjoy views of the entire city and Mehrangarh Fort.
In 1940, at the entrance to Samode Haveli hotel, they built a ramp for elephants in order to celebrate a wedding in the royal family. Photo: Samode Hotels
TOURISM WITH A CONSCIENCE
A characteristic feature of luxury accommodation in Rajasthan, as in the case of Ravla Bhenswara and Shahpura Bagh, is that the owner’s family receives and honours the customer as if they had been invited as a guest. The money raised through accommodation is used to maintain the building, and infrastructures in the local community, in addition to financing education and local craftspeople.
Another property belonging to the maharajah of Jodhpur is Ahhichatragarh, otherwise known as Nagaur Fort. Following 20 years of restoration work, Ranvas Nagaur hotel has recovered the sophisticated atmosphere that served as a refuge for female members of the royal family. It is divided into 27 rooms, which are distributed across ten havalis (traditional Rajasthan buildings with their own covered courtyards). You can also stay at Royal Tents Nagaur, luxury tents, inside a fifth century fort. It is the perfect place to enjoy the sunset after a day chasing gazelles and antelopes through the surrounding countryside in a jeep. No less impressive is Ramathra Fort, a 350-year-old citadel in the Karauli district. Just like the family in The Marigold Hotel, descendants of the first owner, son of the maharaja of Karauli, restored it over a period of 15 years, to make it into a hotel with 110 rooms.
The staircase in the vestibule at Umaid Bhawan Palace was built using the same marble as in the Taj Mahal. Photo: Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces
The pink city of Jaipur has some of the finest hotels in the region. Rambagh Palace and Suján Rajmahal Palace have both played host to world-renowned dignitaries, like Jackie Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth II, and the Shah of Iran. The marble staircases, chandeliered rooms and the suites they occupied now accommodate less illustrious guests, who nevertheless enjoy the same hospitality from the maharaja. A stay in the palaces is completed with experiences like polo games, al fresco dinners, concerts, and safaris, which give you the chance to become part of an extinct lifestyle and feel like the guest of a king.