Umaid Bhavan Palace Jodhpur - Rajasthan
Spread across the erstwhile princely state of Rajasthan
are a large number of palaces and estates that were once home to
families that ruled over India. These bastions of history, bristling
with memories, some pleasant others less so, seats of intrigue, of
coronations, royal residences where durbars were once staged, were
abandoned with the passage of time as modern, independent India surged
ahead on the road to progress. After India gained independence,
maintaining these magnificent properties became a mammoth task,
especially after the government of India abolished the privy-purse
given to the royal families.
Many of these buildings were converted into heritage hotels, as much to maintain them as also a new means of livelihood. Despite the conversion however, most of these places have been able to retain the original flavour of medieval homes intact. Even the families, whose ancestors once served within these royal portals, have continued to find employment. And a slice of history that would otherwise have been irretrievably lost, continues to survive. With one major difference: You too can now be a part of it!
Heritage hotels can be clubbed into three main categories forts and palaces, garhs and havelis.. On the top of the pyramid, the kings lived in opulent palaces with their family. The palaces usually sprawled over a huge area and included many manicured gardens, ponds and other facilities to cater to the royalty. The kings ruled over a number of thikanas or thakurs (feudal lords). The thakurs had their own area of control and lived with their families in palacial garhs. The garhs were imposing structures, usually built on a hilltop, and served the purpose of defense as well. Some of the larger kingdoms like Jaipur, had larger thikanas. And some of these thikanas were larger than or as big as some of the smaller maharajas in terms of money, power and wealth. Thikanas in Shekhawati like Mandawa, Mukundgarh, Dundlod and Dundlod were massive.
Besides the aristocracy, the merchant class too was extremely wealthy, some of them even richer than the maharajas themselves and financed wars and battles. They lived in huge havelis with a central courtyard. Usually located in crowded areas, in the heart of the city, havelis in Rajasthan exhibit its stunning architecture. The havelis in Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Shekhawati are fine example of these.
Besides the havelis of the merchants, some of the larger thikanas too had havelis at their capital as well. This acted as their residence when they were visiting the king.
Jai Mahal Palace
Ajmer, a 7th century Rajput principality is also an important pilgrimage center for the Muslims. The Merwara Estate, just over a hundred years old was built to overlook Anna Sagar Lake. In the style of the period, it incorporated European influences into its architecture Belgian etched glass, Italian marble floors, painted ceilings. Recently renovated, it has 50 guest rooms, a restaurant, swimming pool, and a conference hall.
Established in the 15th century, and located between Jaipur and Bundi, in forested hills, Awan (150 km from Jaipur and 110 km from Sawai Madhopur) was a shooting preserve for the maharaja of Bundi, and later used by the complete princely order. Castle Awan is a palatial hunting lodge that's architecture is more reminiscent of the summer retreats of the most royal families. It has a total of 7 guest rooms, and a dining room.
Located in Baggar, a Shekhawati town known for its late-style frescos, the Piramal Haveli was built in the early years of the 20th century. The haveli shows strong European influences in the manner of its verandahs and use of pillars, though the four courtyards are typically representative of the architecture in prevalence in this region. There are some whimsical frescos in the rooms that have been carefully appointed with period and Rajasthani furniture.
Located on the Ajmer-Sawai Madhopur road, about 100 km from Ajmer and 150 km from Jaipur, Baghera has a 17th century fort turned into a heritage hotel. The hotel hasfive double rooms and a charming, medieval ambience.
Balasamand Lake Palace
A lake resort, Balsamand was created in the 12th century by the Parihar Rajputs of Mandore, and was simply taken over by Jodhpurs Rathore rulers who converted it into a pleasure resort. Gardens were laid around the artificial lake along with a summer palace, the Balsamand Palace. The red sandstone palace was used for hunts and for royal excursions and today, it serves as a heritage hotel. It has 9 Suites and 26 deluxe rooms, all equipped with modern luxuries.
The history of Balunda, a Merta village is strewn with remnants of its past cenotaphs, stepwells, temples and other relics. The village which is ideal for exploring the region, is 128 km both from Ajmer and Jodhpur, and 45 km from Merta town. The 16th century Royal Castle fort was begun by the poet-princess Meerabais brother, Rao Chanda, and has large chambers, an impressive entrance with painted walls and carved panels and towers. It has 6 rooms, and serves Indian meals on request.
Set in forested country, Bassi lay on the route of Mughal and Maratha invasions, and wears the scars of its history. Besides a shooting lodge, it has stepwells, cenotaphs, temples, and the Bassi Wildlife Sanctuary to offer as attractions. Bassi is 120 km from Udaipur. Palace Bassi is a part of a 16th century fort with its scarred battlements. The palace is a maze of domes, corridors, courtyards, apartment suites, arches and towering gateways, all at different levels. It has 8 rooms and serves simple meals.
Bhadrajun has its own interesting mythological legend attached to it. When the Pandava prince Arjun eloped with Krishnas sister Subhadra, it was here they came to be married, and so the place was named: Subhadra plus Arjun, its distortion accepted as its present name. While prayers are still said at this holy site, Bhadrajuns past has a history filled with skirmishes and battles, as is evident from the forts and cenotaphs in the vicinity. Bhadrajun is 50 km from Jalore, 54 km from Pali, and 97 km from Jodhpur.The small palace, Royal Rajwada, dates back to the 16th century though most of the additions and changes are much more recent. The cupolas and balconies extruding off the surface are highlighted, so they appear more striking. There are 12 rooms, and a dining hall where a variety of cuisine is served.
The Bhadrawati Palace is located in Bhandarej, a village that has had a crucial role to play in history. The village, 62 km from Jaipur, was a Badgujar settlement till the 11th century when the Kachchwahas won it for themselves, making Dausa their capital, much before they occupied Amber. Bhandarej and its surrounding countryside is ideal for jeep and horse safaris, and camel rides. One can visit Mina villages as well as some medieval stepwells. The Bhadrawati Palace is an elegant palace designed in the Mughal-Rajput style with a charbagh garden fronting it, its arched, pillared halls resound with its historical links. Ideal for visits to Bharatpurs bird sanctuary, it has 25 rooms and a restaurant.