Taj Umaid Bhawan Palace
Known as the “Land of Kings,” northern Rajasthan state in India has no shortage of history.
And it’s still on display today. From museums and temples to fortresses, markets and palaces, the region’s treasures have been well preserved — there’s a good chance your hotel room could even have a royal pedigree.
The lavish Umaid Bhawan Palace, which towers above the “Blue City” of Jodhpur, is a prime example.
Established in 1943 by Maharaja Umaid Singh as a private residence, the hotel immerses guests in a grand and glamorous atmosphere.
“It’s one of the last big palaces [of India] to be built,” Gaj Singh II, a grandson of Singh tells CNN Travel.
“I want travelers to experience the Indian way of living, so we have Indian food, Indian music and staff whose families have been with us for generations. The warmth and the local touch is what people appreciate.”
Umaid Bhawan Palace has long been a symbol of prosperity in Jodhpur. But it was financial hardship that inspired the project. In the 1920s, a severe drought and famine swept through the region.
Then-ruler Maharaja Umaid Singh saw an opportunity to buoy the economy and laid plans for an ambitious construction project that would span 15 years.
Drawing from his private funds, Singh hired roughly 3,000 people to build what was then the world’s largest private residence on Chittar Hill — the highest point in the Blue City.
Singh then enlisted a respected British architect named HV Lancaster to design the building, which is made from pink Chittar sandstone and palm court marble (the same used at the Taj Mahal).
The art deco facade incorporates traditional Indian accents, while the interiors showcase incredible Polish frescoes, marble and an immense central dome.
The royal family lived in the palace for just a few years before India declared its independence from Britain. Then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi stripped Rajasthani rulers of their power, annual allowances and titles.
Over time, many of the old palaces have fallen into disrepair; but Umaid Bhawan has been beautifully preserved. That’s thanks in part to Singh II’s far-sighted decision to convert part of the palace into a hotel in the early 1970s, which helps offset lofty maintenance costs.
As for the guest experience, the hotel rooms and suites feel plucked from a bygone era, featuring Old World furnishings, plush upholstery and dramatic taxidermied animals.
There’s also an intimate library, elegant dining rooms and a sprawling terrace for afternoon tea — where you’ll most likely be joined by colorful peacocks.
“Standard hotels are a bit like room factories, right? It’s a very fast-paced business,” Mehrnavaz Avari, general manager of Umaid Bhawan Palace, tells CNN Travel.
“The level of personalization is much higher at palaces. [Here], you’re actually treated like a Maharaja, or a Maharani.”
In the basement, you’ll find a Grecian spa and indoor pool, while tennis courts and gardens pepper the vast Baradari Lawns.
Several celebrity weddings have taken place on the property, including festivities for Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas.
Though guests can’t access the royals’ private abode, where Singh II still resides, they can visit the onsite museum to admire 15,000 items from the family’s personal collection including rare ceramics, antiques, armor, murals, and even several classic cars.
“In India, and particularly in Rajasthan, people are very proud of their culture and heritage, and they like to preserve it,” says Avari.
“Within India, these beautiful palaces take you back decades [if not centuries] to see how the Maharajas were actually living at that time — it gives you a glimpse of history that you can’t get otherwise.”