PLAYING PRINCESS WITH JODHPUR‘S ROYAL FAMILY AT FAIRYTALE UMAID BHAWAN PALACE
Standing proud like an exclamation mark, Umaid Bhawan Palace rises majestically above the hazy desert capital of Jodhpur; a gargantuan castle borne of whimsical fantasy, splendid in its isolation. At its footsteps, fantasy and reality merge.
Cue the world’s most distinctly noble greeting. Sprawled across 26 acres of lustrous landscaped gardens, the icon doubles up as one of the world’s largest private Royal residences. But when it comes to Indian palaces, not only does size matter, it’s what theTaj has done with it.
India’s über-luxury is simply unparalleled. I’m eager to sample the old-school glamour of a Princess.
Ushering me in is a team of staff. Before me, a luxurious velour cover’s raised; above me, a showering of fresh rose petals; by my feet, a red carpet lining marble steps. Inside, a ravishing Indian beauty blesses me in the traditional Aarti ritual and I’m ensconced in a fresh flower garland. It’s a lavish greeting befitting any ‘Princess.’
But my gaze is fixed in awe. Inside the tall circular vestibule, gleaming gold & sparkling marble bedazzles.Wherever I lay my eyes; lavish crystal chandeliers, glistening mirrored furniture & marble accenting mahogany. Draped in lavish silks & crushed velvets, no expense is spared.
We, British, have no shortage of castles & Royal palaces. But Umaid Bhawan Palace bears closest resemblance to, perhaps, our most infamous, Buckingham Palace. The prospect of residing there is incredulous. So, ironically, coming afar I feel closer to home.
GRAND ROYAL FANTASY SUITE
The true grandeur awaits in the finest Grand Royal Suite. Upon entry, it fast levies a hardball of an impression– ultra-decadence. Ornate furnishings & opulent materials are accented by elaborate murals and paintings. With a marble bathroom larger than separate living room, and a walk-in wardrobe, it’s a royal feast for all senses; the pinnacle of luxury.
Offering escape and privacy with a team of discrete dedicated butlers, at the push of a button, many a celebrity has been known to remain within its plush confines. Prospective ‘Princesses’ can role-play royalty to their heart’s delight (as do I)!
It’s not until I cast open my balcony doors that I claim the jackpot. This is the million dollar view. I step out onto an expansive overhanging balcony that’s elegantly dressed & takes centre-stage above vast glamorous gardens; Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh fort completes the picture-postcard backdrop.
This languid afternoon calls for High Tea, to the suite, savouring the best view in town. Within minutes, I’m sipping extravagant Mango Lassi loaded with saffron and cardamom whilst being serenaded from yonder. Local musicians play age-old classical Indian instruments that resound through the grounds from the striking centre-piece marble Baradari on the lawn; the eponymous star in Liz Hurley’s fairytale wedding.
Amidst grounds of chilli & turmeric-coloured rose bushes, striking indigo peacocks roam liberally, often approaching breakfasting guests upon the pristinely manicured lawns. It’s a majestic way to ease into the day, surrounded by myriad exotic colours in perfumed floral parade.
BREAKFAST FOR A KING or QUEEN
And with breakfast for a King, I struggle to pick. Sensing my dilemma, the chefs whip up a bespoke storm in an elaborate platter encompassing all. More crucially, each is an impressive gourmet flavour, worthy of Michelin star. Food is worship for the temple of my body so abdominal nirvana is blissful. The high-calibre chefs work tirelessly to let you buy deep into the Royal lifestyle. The menu is bespoke to the hilt. Rules don’t exist for Royalty so your any wish truly is their command.
The best way to spend mid-morning after an indulgent and lavish breakfast, is to go for a walk. One needn’t leave the Palace, as the manicured grounds span tens of acres.
MAGICAL GROUNDS, TURRETS & BALLROOMS
Within the palace, secret rooms lie in wait. Roaming the statuesque site is as carefree as it comes. I putter through paradise under my own steam, straying into ballrooms, discovering a whispering gallery, wandering turrets and terraces and ending up at the cosy ‘Trophy Bar’ seemingly lost in a Olde English Polo club.
Umaid Bhawan attracts an intriguing mix of clientele from film stars & global artists, politicians & Heads of State to global Royalty. The Taj ‘Palace within a Palace’ ethos is well-deserved, when visiting royalty feel right at home. The mix is enhanced by a decidedly international flavour of the who’s who in the upper echelons of society. By sunset, the scenes from the Suite transform drastically into dramatic dusky shades..
DINING: A ROYAL AFFAIR
My intrigue lies within the Palace’s turrets, where I stumble upon a skyline ‘Sunset Pavilion’ rooftop restaurant. But I want Indian haute cuisine from ground floor ‘Risala’ restaurant. ‘No demand too unreasonable’, the Chef freshly prepares my selection in the upstairs kitchen, just for me. Under a blanket of stars, with not a soul in sight, even the moon blesses my night pouring a pearlescent glow upon a candlelight-filled terrace.
Culinary and aesthetic delights flow as freely as the cocktails & champagne.Marvelling across a radiant city and illuminated fort, basking in gentle breeze, I feel as though I’m the only girl in the world.
Staff here understand the essence of hospitality yet instinctively achieve somewhere beyond. Remarkably, I sense a genuine care in my happiness, as the waiters speak straight to my soul, encouraging me, in that beautiful Indian tradition, to ‘have a little more.’
Palace restaurants sail the tightrope between inventive and authentic. Whilst unabashedly Indian in influence, ‘Risala’ deftly embraces global vision whilst retaining the bragging rights for most authentic in the region. The artisanal creations want for nothing, not shying away from costly ingredients such as saffron and vanilla, giving food the Royal cutting edge. Ingredients are scrupulously sourced.
At breakfast I request fresh lemongrass and ginger tea, which sees the Chef personally visit the organic garden, to return with a handful of freshly picked lemongrass. The resulting tea is strong & flavoursome with a spicy sweet aroma, allowing the purity of ingredients to delightfully dance with the taste buds. Umaid Bhawan Palace itself is indulgent & makes no apology for it, requiring no justification other than to celebrate all things fabulous.
Pampering awaits. The signature Jiva Spa’s a winding walk down a ‘blink-and-you’ve-missed-it’ hidden tunnel. The oddity lulls me into a false sense of disappointment. One glimpse soon abolishes that. The stalwart spa encompasses an entire basement. Dimly lit, air infused with heady incense aromas & contemporary yet intimately-styled, stepping into the tropical freeform pool feels an occasion. It’s a fabled oasis in the depths of the Palace.
As a culture-vulture, I’m delighted to have Jodhpur’s most renowned museum on my doorstep, literally. TheRoyal Palace museum is home to the city’s royal train, collection of vintage cars and royal objets d’art. Palace residents can stroll over, after-hours, glass of bubbles in hand, to peruse as antiquities vie for attention.
A RARE & TRUE PRIVILEGE
Very rarely does one feel privileged to stay somewhere, especially when there’s a high price tag attached, but at Taj Umaid Bhawan, every penny spent is worth the while and yet I still feel honoured to gain a sneak preview into the elite lifestyle of Royals.
In the world of hoteliers, the Taj Palaces have endless fans but few peers. Revered with both affection and envy, the Taj ethos replies only with grace & humility, adding to it’s heroic reputation. With such innate elegance, it will long remain legendary host to the world’s elite. The biggest problem is stepping out of this luxurious bubble to re-enter the real world!
- Opium Tea, Jodhpur Blues and Mighty Mehrangarh (ani-shah.com)
- LUXURY vs GUILT? HAVELI HAVEN AMIDST JODHPUR’S LOCAL BAZAAR (ani-shah.com)
- Living at the Royal Palace in Bikaner (ani-shah.com)
- Gold Is Where the Heart Is, Jaisalmer ‘Golden’ Fort (ani-shah.com)
- Historic Royal Palaces To See, Or Rent (gadling.com)
- Next travel destination? You decide… (ani-shah.com)
- The Queen tells the Duchess of Cambridge to curtsy to the ‘blood princesses’ (telegraph.co.uk)