It’s a fascinating world where there is grandeur, history, romance, intrigue and in the midst of all, whatever happens the belief “Atithi devo bhava” which translated means Guest is equivalent to God. Indians believe guests are to be revered.
India has an incredible number of experiences to offer and staying in one of the palace hotels get you transported to, even if just for a while, into a world which has been read about and maybe imagined but not lived.
This blog involves a bit of history, India got its independence from British rule in the year 1947. As the world knows India had many Kings and Queens which means lots of palaces , forts and so much grandeur that it has to be seen to believed.
In the 1950’s royals had to surrender a lot of their ancestral properties but they could keep some as well. In time they discovered that maintaining them was tough, and being located in beautiful locations on hills and middle of lakes also meant access to them would be difficult, with horse drawn carriages no longer a viable option. Not only would money have to be spent to maintain, but also to build infrastructure. This lead to many of them selling their ancestral property or partnering with leading hotel chains to convert the palaces to hotels. What many of them have managed to do is retain the regal aura as well as extend many of the customs which was reserved for royalty now to their guests. Even now in many such hotels the prince and princess stay in a section reserved for them which is not accessible to visitors. For in house guests many of them offer a daily tour of the palace with a guide.
A country which is big enough to be a continent, more royal dynasties than any other, each resplendent with it’s own culture, architecture and lifestyle, add to that ancient inhabited cities, colorful festivities and beautiful landscapes, all of this is now open for the global traveler to devour.
This blog is my belief that theses palace hotels, ( and many more ) are the destination and not the city they happen to be in.
Falaknuma in Hyderabad :
Perched 2,000 feet above the city of Hyderabad . Built in 1894, it is the former palace of the Nizam, rumoured to be the richest man in the world at one time. Made completely with Italian marble and stain glass windows, in the shape of a scorpion. Overlooking the twinkling City of Pearls, this enchanting palace hotel in Hyderabad exudes romance and grandeur that take one back to when the Nizam ruled Hyderabad. On arrival a horse-drawn carriage replaces the car you have arrived in. Rose petals are showered while you enter (made me feel like a queen ) I was caught unaware and did not take pictures, they overheard me saying that and on departure did it all over again so that I could capture the moment. That’s the kind of service you can expect. Suites are beautifully refurbished and lovingly restored by Her Highness Princess Esra, the Nizam’s Turkish wife. Each provides marvellous views of the palace courtyard and the 400-year-old city of Hyderabad. The dining table here is the longest in the world at 80 feet. Made of 7 pieces it is 5.7 foot wide and 2.7 foot high, can seat 101 people at a time.
Things to do.
Live Qqwwali performance every evening
Heritage walk in the palace
Enjoy peacocks strutting around the courtyard outside your room.
Luxuriate in the specially drawn bath of your choice ( milk, bubble or scented )in the privacy of your room. You can do this every day, they make the ambiance so romantic with candles and rose petals.
Breakfast at leisure, it’s not buffet, it’s like royalty would have been served, with butlers hovering around almost trying to read your mind. ( it’s not spooky 😛 ) Weather permitting you can have it at Gol Bunglow which overlooks the city. Apart from India royalty this venue has been the royal reception place for King George V and Queen Mary.
Relish the authentic Hyderabadi cuisine at Adaa
Explore the city.
It’s known as the city of pearls, buying pearls becomes kind of becomes necessary .
See the Charminar ( I did not find it great, shopping around for colorful bangles around it was more fun )
Golconda fort and Hussain Sagar lake can be clubbed together at one go as they are close to one another. Golconda fort has a sound and light show which is averagely good, not great. Beware of mosquitoes.
Chowmahalla Palace, interesting if you want to know more about the Nizam rule.
Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur :
Built between 1928 and 1943, Umaid Bhawan Palace is a magnificent piece of Rajasthan’s heritage and sandstone architecture by British Architect Henry Vaughan Lanchester, the interiors took 3 years under the supervision of Polish artist Stefan Norblin. Currently the world’s sixth-largest private residence as it’s the Royal residence of the Rathore dynasty. The palace has one thing in common with the iconic Taj Mahal at Agra—the palm court marble used in its construction. Perched on Chittar Hill, the highest point in Jodhpur, Umaid Bhawan Palace awes with exotic views of the historical Blue City, vast sand dunes, and intimidating Mehrangarh Fort. It’s set amidst 26 acres of lush gardens, with dancing peacocks and a subterranean Zodiac Pool. The fort adjoining the hotel has been converted into a museum. Welcome is with trumpets, a ceremonial tikka and wine.
Things to do
Live Rajasthani folk dance in the central dome every evening.
Heritage walk in the palace with a glass of wine.
Visit the in house museum and the vintage car museum, it also has the 1927 Silver Ghost Rolls Royce.
Private dining in fairy tale setting.
Go swimming in the zodiac indoor pool, its lit by candles and has murals of sea green fish. Steps leading to the indoor pool are resplendent with fresh flowers and walking down the steps makes you feel like royalty. They have an outdoor pool as well.
Explore the city …… a vibrant colourful one, known as the blue city because of the blue painted houses.
Mehrangarh fort, it’s beautiful with intricate carving, sprawling courtyards, the adventurous souls can do zip lining here. Visit the Chamunda Mata temple at the southern end of the fort, it has a spiritual vibe and you can also get some nice pictures if you are patient as it’s normally quite crowded. Jaswant Thada a beautiful memorial made of white marble for King Jaswant Singh can be combined in the same trip. Both are must visit.
A few have to dine out places for the view ( not necessarily for the food ) Indique, Darikhana @ RAAS, Indigo, while dining the majestic Mehrangarh Fort is your view, try to go during sunset.
Must try local food specialities, Gatta, daal baati, churma. For street food, mirchi wada and pyaaz ka kachori. Since I am a staunch vegetarian you won’t find any non vegetarian recommendations here. 🙂
Shop for local clothes, trinkets, shoes, pottery, tea, spices just about anything that you can think of on the road side markets surrounding the Clock Tower. Another place to shop would be Tripolia Bazar.
Udaivilas in Udaipur :
The city was founded in the 16th century and Udaivilas though not a heritage structure has been made keeping in mind Mewari architecture by Nimish Patel and Parul Zaveri. Build on the banks of Lake Pichola with a backdrop of the Aravalli hills it stands on the 200 year old hunting grounds of the Maharana of Mewar. Its build on 50 acres which include a 20 acre wildlife sanctuary inhabited by deer and wild boar. Upon entry the first thing you see is a majestic pool with 4 domes and giant marble lily flowers which you can hop on to for taking lovely pictures . Peacocks roam freely around enhancing the beauty of the place. Recommend : book a room with an infinity edge swimming pool.
Things to do
Heritage walk, a boat ride across the lake and after that a tour through Udaipur’s lanes with interesting facts and stories narrated by a guide.
Candle lit dinners light with live music
Explore the city of lakes.
City Palace, Built in 1559 under the rule of Maharana Udai Singh, subsequently it was enhanced over the next 400 years by his successors. It consists of 11 small palaces built of marble and granite and in harmony with each other. This is a must visit for it’s beauty, architecture and history.
Crystal gallery inside Taj Fateh Prakash hotel, it’s the single largest private collection of crystal in the world. Visit only if crystals fascinate you.
Sajjangarh on the top of a hill for breath taking view.
Nathdwara, Eklingji, Jagdish Temple for spiritual peace.
Saas Bahu temple for photo opportunities, it’s a deserted temple with intricate carving and no deities.
Shop for local colorful clothes and trinkets at Ghanta Ghar bazar, Lake palace road, Bapu Bazar, Hatipole market, Jagdish market ( that’s in my order of preference ) If you don’t want to bargain then Rajasthali. Though I love browsing the colorful wares on display and while bargaining talk to the locals, you will be surprised to discover many of them know English.
Must dine at Jagat Niwas, Upre, Ambrai. All these places are very small, reserve a few days in advance. They have stunning lake views and lovely roof top ambience