The Maharaja’s Palace

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Our Air India flight landed in Jodhpur on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and we were subsequently hustled off the plane by a few pushy Indian passengers. We were greeted at the gate by our new guide, Teetu, a 50-something gentleman with a jet black moustache and a pair of emerald stud earrings. He welcomed us with the traditional Indian greeting, adorned us with fresh flower garlands, and escorted us to the car: a vintage 1940’s Buick belonging to the current maharaja himself (Gaj Singh II). Needless to say, we arrived in style to our hotel, the Umaid Bhawan Palace.

The palace was built as a kind of public works project after the monsoon failed 3 years in a row in the early 20th century. Construction of the palace kept virtually the whole city employed for 14 years, from the late 1920’s until its completion in 1943. The result is an incredible sandstone/art deco monument to the opulence of the maharajas. The palace is divided into 3 functional parts: a luxury Taj Palace Hotel (in existence since 1972), the residence of the erstwhile royal family, and a museum dedicated to the 20th century history of the Jodhpur Royal Family. Pulling up to the palace gates, we were instantly overwhelmed by the magnificence and scale of Umaid Bhawan. In its day, it was the second largest private residence in the world, second only to Buckingham Palace. The doors to the palace opened as if by magic and there stood an army of unfailingly attentive, turbaned butlers. Rose petals fell from the sky as we walked along the red carpet to the domed center of the palace. Our jaws hit the floor as we raised our eyes to the apex of the dome, 105 ft above our heads. The elaborate gardens with a resident peacock/peahen population of at least 50, the seemingly endless corridors… My dad and I had to pinch ourselves to make sure we weren’t dreaming.

That night we explored the palace, had cocktails at the Trophy Bar (decorated with the maharajas’ many hunting prizes), then dined al fresco on a pillared terrace overlooking the royal gardens, enjoying the setting sun over the center of the Jodhpur fortress 3 miles away. Breathtaking view. We especially enjoyed the Indian cuisine with its incredible blend of spices — some of the best food we’ve ever had (particularly the sweet and sour tomatoes, one of the current maharaja’s favorite dishes). Without another hotel guest in sight all evening, we truly felt like royalty!

Fun Fact: We learned that the riding breeches you wear while playing polo (wide through the hips, fitted from knee to ankle) are known as “jodhpurs.” Polo is a very popular sport in India, and its modern version was invented here! They even play elephant polo, designed for women (it’s apparently easier to side saddle an elephant than a horse). My dad and I vowed to try this variant of the game next time we’re in India, which I hope will be sooner rather than later!

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About madhall14

Recent UVa grad. born & raised Texan. love traveling, anything Spanish, & Chipotle.
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