The Tribune - Spectrum



Sunday, February 11, 2001

A palace of splendour

Ranked as one of the largest and grandest private residences in the world, Umaid Bhawan Palace in the city of Jodhpur provides every visitor with a truly memorable and luxurious stay, says Suparna Saraswati.

ON the edge of the Thar desert lies Jodhpur, a traditional city which retains its old-world charm. An island of craggy red sand stone, in a shimmering sea of sand situated on a jagged outcrop of rock, Jodhpur was the stronghold of the Maharajas of the Rathore dynasty, whose legacy of chivalry and valour goes back to the 5th century and beyond to times when myth and history merged. This is the land where a thousand swords once flashed, reflecting the fire of the scorching desert sun, the land of the Thar, home of great heroes (read yodhaas) — a race of fierce and indomitable soldiers. Undoubtedly, it was these timeless dunes of sand that forged the character of the people of this region.

The Rajput clans symbolised pride, nobility and courage. They lived, loved and fought to carve out a special glory for themselves which survives even today, in the people and in the magic of those magnificent cities, forts and palaces that adorn Rajputana. And nowhere is their heritage so majestically exhibited than at Jodhpur’s Umaid Bhawan Palace, residence of the present Maharaja, Gaj Singh, the second.

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Perched on a hilltop, the palace towers over JodhpurPerched on a hilltop, facing the fort of Mehrangarh — an icon of historic architectural brilliance — the palace-cum-hotel towers above the city of Jodhpur. It may come as a complete surprise to many, that Umaid Bhawan ranks as one of the largest and grandest private residences in the world! It is not without reason that it occupies the position of a popular tourist destination, especially for foreigners.

Built between 1929 and 1943, the structure is an important example of the colonial building technique. It has been designed by the Polish artist S. Nobblin. Primarily commissioned as a drought-relief measure, the Palace was conceptualised and built by a British firm of architects, Lodge and Lancaster. Its splendour and ostentatious air is a result of the sweat and toil of 3,000 artisans over a span of 14 long years. It is the country’s largest palace and was the last to be built in the 20th century.

When one drives past the immaculate lawns, one is greeted by a doorman in Rajput livery. The main entrance to the palace is surmounted by an ornate Rathore coat of Arms. Then one passes through into the reception lobby, which is adorned by black Italian marble and flanked by two fabulous banquet rooms — the Marwar Hall and the Rathore Durbar — where on occasions an absolutely divine spread of traditional Rajathani cuisine is laid out.

Once the formalities for the check-in procedure are over, one can surrender oneself entirely to the fantasies of royal existence as one follows the bellboy through the Palm Court. Here a pair of sweeping marble staircases lead to the Maharaja and Maharani suites. Impressive as it is, with its crystal adornments and mounted hunting trophies, the court is only a prelude to the spectacular Centre Dome Hall, a 56-metre high piece de resistance of the palace. This provides an ideal arena for a sort of hide-and-seek game between natural sunlight and sounds created by those who are visiting the palace or the staff of the hotel.

A beautiful marble baradari at Umaid Bhawan PalaceIn order to have a relaxed and carefree time, the Umaid Palace provides excellent leisure facilities. One can play a vigorous game or two of squash, tennis or badminton at the manicured courts of the Bhawan For those of us who prefer to exercise indoors, there is a well-equipped health club and a zodiac sign swimming pool at the basement. The immense 15-acre landscaped gardens with a beautiful marble baradari centering in the rear lawns of the palace is truly a walker’s delight. There is also a private museum within the Umaid Bhawan premises which showcases its unique collection of antiques, ranging from washroom porcelainware to clocks gifted to the Maharaja and his predecessors from all over the world, also crystal lamps and trophies won by his excellency.

To sum up such an episode of absolute bliss and total holiday, it would perhaps suffice to state that the Umaid Bhawan Palace provides every visitor with a truly memorable and luxurious stay.


This feature was published on January 28, 2001