The Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur is part luxury hotel (managed by Taj Hotels), part museum, and is also one of the world’s largest private residences: the principal home of the Jodhpur royal family. It was named after Maharaja Umaid Singh, grandfather of the present owner of the palace, Gaj Singh. Henry Vaughan Lanchester, a contemporary of Sir Edwin Lutyens, was the architect commissioned to design the palace. Built with ‘dun-coloured’ (golden yellow) sandstone and palm court marble (also used for the Taj Mahal) with Burmese teak wood for the interiors.
When completed the palace opened in 1943 with 347 rooms, eight dining halls, two theatres, a ballroom, several lavishly decorated reception halls, and a stunning subterranean swimming pool. The architectural style is considered as representing the then in vogue Beaux Arts style, also known as Indo-Deco style.
The 103ft inner vaulted dome covers the cavernous cathedral-like atrium, which at its inauguration seated 1,000 people for dinner. As you enter the palace, you will see the coat of arms for the Rathore Royal Family but nothing prepares for the actual grand entrance into the circular lounge area which comprises pink sandstone and marble floors; it’s truly nothing short of spectacular.
The hotel wing of the palace is run by the Taj Group of Hotels and includes 64 different types of guest rooms including Palace Rooms, Historical Suites, Royal Suites, Grand Royal Suites and the two Presidential Suites: the Maharaja and Maharani. During our visit we stayed in the stunning Maharini suite; a 451 sq metre art deco heaven of blush and pink coloured tones, black lacquer, chrome and parquet flooring. It was originally designed for Maharani Badan Kanwan. Behind the raised bed is the striking Stefan Norblin mural of the Goddess Kali, etched on black glass. The Maharani suite also offers the services of a private butler.
The glorious black marble and gold bathroom which would look perfectly at home on a 1930s Hollywood film set, comes complete with a bath tub carved from a single block of pink marble, said to be the only one of its kind in India.
There is also a private en-suite massage room where you can enjoy in-room massages from Jiva Grande Spa therapists, and the additional yoga/meditation room which completes the royal experience.
The Umaid Bhawan Palace is built on Jodhpur’s highest point: Chittar Hill, so our private terrace was blessed with spectacular views of the palace gardens, the historical Blue City and the Mehrangarh Fort. The latter, rising sheer out of a 125 metre rock, is probably the most majestic of Rajasthan’s forts, and was once described by an awe-struck Rudyard Kipling as ““one of the grandest sights in India….the work of angels, fairies and giants”.
If you can bear to leave the Maharani suite where you can dine on the balcony or in your own private glamorous dining room that seats ten, ‘Risala’ with its authentic Rajasthani and Indian cuisine is a nice alternative; adorned with royal and martial portraits, where you can enjoy recipes straight from the royal kitchens along with spectacular views of the garden. Or ‘Pillars’ restaurant which is situated in an open-air setting on a lovely colonnaded veranda, and overlooks the city of Jodhpur, offering the best in European and Indian Fusion Cuisine. However, our very favourite spot for dinner was quite literally up on the roof of the palace (only open when weather permits as it can get very windy up so high).
A dip in the subterranean art deco ‘Zodiac’ pool is not to be missed. Lit by candlelight and decorated with murals of sea green fish complete with beautiful glass bowls of floating blue and purple orchids, this is an aqua dreamlike experience unlike any other.
The palace is set amidst 26 acres of lush gardens where you can spend a relaxing morning just strolling around the grounds. But we recommend taking an early morning (whilst it’s still cool) yoga class out on the lawn next to the white marble pillared tableau. It’s a gentle way to start the day; stretching whilst listening to the chattering of the birds and watching the peacocks strut by.
The palace museum is open to guests and has an impressive collection of art, French furniture, watches, vintage cars, and porcelain.
In 2016, the Umaid Bhawan Palace was deservedly voted the best hotel in the world on TripAdvisor, and it is currently lighting up the screen in the film, Viceroy’s House.
For further information please visit: Umaid Bhawan Palace.
Images by CELLOPHANELAND* and Taj Hotels.