There are present day royalties living in India. And they live in palaces.
From Girdikot, I hired an auto rickshaw near my guest house and after profuse haggling; we arrived at an acceptable deal that would take me to Umaid Bhawan Palace – and back! The palace is located a mere 5 kilometer from the center of town. I was able to pull it down from 500 rupees down to 200 rupees, and if others don’t think it’s sufficient, I was pleased with that.
This took me out of the narrow seemingly aimless alleys of the old city to a wide highway called Circuit House Road. I saw camels pulling carts by the road side. Getting there felt farther than 5 kilometers. After all, the desert terrain of the place is further accentuated by the upward sloping that leads to Chittar Hills where the palace stands.
We finally reached the gated compound. The large bars outside didn’t provide access. Every vehicle that came took the road to the right wing of the compound where another gate welcomed visitors. But access is limited to the palace’s museum which isn’t really much. But you can’t complain when the entrance fee is a mere 3 rupees, can you? It is a private residence – one of the world’s largest
Umaid Bhawan Palace is an architectural wonder made of golden yellow – with a dash of light pink – sandstones. It’s named after Maharaja Umaid Singh, grandfather of the present owner, Gaj Singh. The maharaja (supposedly, the “a” suffix at the end of the word is rightfully silent, thus “maharadz”) employed sandstones from Chittar thus its other pen name, Chittar Palace! Chittar Hill is the highest point in Jodhpur, thus it provides amazing views of the town down below!
Gaj Singh, Maharaja of Jodhpur. He's Eton and Oxford educated - he obtained a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Oxford's Christ Church. He became maharaja at age 4 when his father died from a plane crash!
DROUGHT AND SUICIDE
Umaid Bhawan Palace started construction in November 18, 1929 at a time when India and the region was bristling from severe drought! They employed 3,000 workers and took 15 years to finish (1943). What’s even more notable is the architect who designed it – Edwardian architect Henry Lanchester, the president of the British Royal Institute of Architects no less! East meets West in architectural style; its 105-foot cupola is a throwback from the Renaissance, while the towers are Rajput influenced. The interiors had contributions from self-exiled and controversial Polish artist Stefan Norblin (he escaped Poland during the war; won huge commissions for works on maharaja’s projects; migrated to the US and committed suicide when he started to go blind)!
The palace boasts of 347 rooms. And most of this behemoth has been turned into a luxury hotel – the Taj Palace Hotel, where their cheapest room would cost you close to $400 a night! The palace is divided into 3 parts: a residence of the royal family, a hotel, and a museum (the only accessible place to visit for tourists).
The rooms to visit are rather limited, as mentioned. But I'm able to walk a few deserted hallways between rooms. The rest has been cordoned off. There were old weapons, decorative items and gadgets that reflected the opulence of the era. Beautiful painted murals are also on display in some hallways. The compound covers 26 acres (10.5 hectares) of land, 15 of them are gardens. Construction cost 94,051,561 rupees ($1.88 million) at that time which included loads of Makrana marbles.
Though the whole structure was impressive, it felt less than fulfilling because of all the limitations. I know I’m not supposed to complain. It's more of an impression of a planned travel undertaking. It is a private institution, that much is clear. Still, as a destination, it was a bit of a disappointment. It was like finding oneself inside Buckingham Palace (I’ve been fortunate to visit the interiors) only to view the green drawing room.
This is the Eye in the Sky!
Impressive murals (above and below)
Umaid Bhawan Palace's luxurious Taj Palace Hotel (started 1972). This photo only courtesy of flickr's twiga_swala.
Resplendent halls at the Taj Palace Hotel. This photo only courtesy of www.worldwideholidays.co.in.