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Desert Storm

Converted into a heritage hotel, Raj Mahal in Jaipur retains the charm of kings, queens and cricket. 

BY HARPREET KAUR
Rajmahal palace hotel jaipur

When the wheels of time turned, empires rose and fell. With the end of kings and kingdoms, the new generation of the royal families adapted to change, instead of remaining glued to the solemnity of past gory. They have moved on. Look to Raj Mahal Palace, feel it for yourself.

Many former palaces have been successfully turned into hotels after the government abolished privy purses of the royals. This has proved a successful venture, saving many of the imposing royal structures from sale and destruction. One such palace-turned hotel is the Raj Mahal Palace Heritage hotel, near Jaipur. Smaller than the Rambagh Palace, it holds its own.

It was on a short three-day trip when I got the opportunity to stay at Raj Mahal. Now a Taj property, it has maintained its grandeur after conversion to a hotel and the addition of many modern facilities.

History of Raj Mahal, Jaipur

Raj Mahal was originally known as Ranawatji-ka-Bagh and it was home to HH Sawai Bhawani Singh. Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, builder of the Pink City of Jaipur, also built this Bagh (named Maji-ka-bagh) and a palace here for his favourite queen Maharani Chandra Kumar Ranawatji (daughter of Maharana of Udaipur) in 1729.

The birth of a son -- Madho Singh -- after 20 years of marriage in 1728 fuelled a power struggle within the family, leading to many palace intrigues. Finally, this forced Maharani Chandra to permanently shift here. The throne was denied to Madho Singh again in 1743 and his elder brother Ishwar Singh was installed after the death of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh. Madho Singh finally ascended the throne after Ishwar Singh killed himself in 1750. But his mother continued to live here, which is still known by its second name - Maji-ka-Bagh. 

In 1821, this palace was converted into the official residence of the Resident Political Officer of the Agent General of Rajputana. The year 1821 also saw cricket being played for the first time on its lawns. The British government had started tightening its grip on the state administration. 

After this, a prolonged spell of insignificance followed for Raj Mahal., when it became a mere guest house. Only when the last Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II moved back from Rambagh palace to Raj Mahal did it regain its lost glory. The palace was converted into the royal residence and renamed Raj Mahal. In 1958, Rambagh was converted to a hotel and the Maharaja moved into Raj Mahal making it the official residence of the king. Many additions and alterations later, Raj Mahal was fit to be occupied by the royal family. 

The Raj Mahal Hotel in Jaipur

rajmahal hotel interior architectureIt was in 1980 that Raj Mahal was converted to a deluxe hotel when the royal family moved out to live in other palaces. Today it is classified as a Heritage hotel. 

The original building forms the southern line of the present group and faces the Shahan Chabutra and an imposing gateway of the Amber Palace. Within its high walls, it covers an area approximately 10 acres and has 23 rooms that depict the royal history, and are well-furnished. The imposing gateway sports an old-fashioned fort doorway with a canon looming above..

The path opens up to the huge lawns, which are provided for functions and ceremonies. When I was there, there were weddings and music performances in its lawns. The hotel has been divided into three categories with two royal suites (Maharaja and Maharani suites), three suites, eight superior rooms and ten standard rooms.

My room had a picture of Maharani Gayatri Devi on the back wall. Though I had reached at night, I remember feeling intrigued and switched on every light in the room to get the feel of the place. Beautifully laid out, it had a settee near one of the windows, and a sofa and table close to the fireplace. There was also a TV and tiny fridge to contend with. But what I liked most was the writing room, which had a small table and chair with letter pads, envelopes and pen lying on the table away from a window which overlooked the same lawns that held the first cricket match in Jaipur. A beautiful site, I would open the curtains everyday early in the morning to see the peacock walk in the lawns, hear birds sing and breathe the fresh and cool air that blew across. With its authentic royal furniture and looks, Taj has maintained the feel of the palace in its original state with modern amenities.

A poolside restaurant and a lush green garden sit-out are ideal for those who would like to enjoy their tea, breakfast etc. out in the open under the azure skies. Food can also be had at the inside restaurant which is quaint and quiet, with mirrors on both sides, the Maharaja’s painting on the right above the fireplace and a fantastic 200-year-old chandelier hanging from the ceiling. There is also an in-house library bar with rosewood panelling, which stocks a wide range of beverages, conference and healthcare facilities. Just outside this bar lined across the corridor are polo pictures of the Maharajas of Jaipur. The east wing rooms and the billiard room were added at different times and have a modern feel to it. Climb the stairs to the top-most level and walk onto the terrace, and an eagle's eyeview greets you. You can see the entire complex from end to end. You come away from Raj Mahal with the feeling that it was a truly royal experience. I would love to go back any day.

This palace was also witness to lavish receptions and hectic political meetings with historical figures like Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Phillip, Lady Diana, Prince Charles and Lord Mountbatten attending them.

Jaipur Factfile

The nearest airport is Jaipur, 11 km away. The railway station is 3 km away. It is located on the Sardar Patel Marg. 

Places to visit in Jaipur:
Amber Fort and Palace, City Palace and Hawa Mahal, Raj Mandir, Rambagh Palace, Jal Mahal. Experience the desert on a jeep safari, get a camel ride. You can also book for a private taxi from the reception to take you sightseeing. 

Things to buy in Jaipur
Block printed clothes, camel skin accessories, wooden toys and puppets, kundan jewellery, blue pottery, silver jewellery and cotton fabrics of all types. 

BY HARPREET KAUR



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