Why travel to India? Because it’s the only country in the world you can live like a Maharajah or Maharani in one of these opulent palace hotels. You’ve got to do it at least once in your lifetime!
Lavish silk drapes, chandeliers from Europe, plush Persian carpets and rooms filled with antiques. India’s palace hotels are a reminder of an extravagant era when Maharajah’s reigned supreme. Many were residences of India’s royal families while others were designed with a level of opulence that would please any royal visitor, with top-notch service, and a well-trained army of staff at one’s beck and call.
Rambagh Palace, Jaipur
Rambagh Palace oozes opulence, with rooms decked out in silk drapes, rich fabrics, lavish furnishings and objects d’art. Guests can play polo, feast under elaborate chandeliers and gaze indolently at lovely royal gardens.
Built in 1835, the palace was the home of the queen’s favourite handmaiden before becoming a royal guesthouse and hunting lodge.
1925 was the start of more glamorous times, when handsome polo-playing Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II made it his home. The Maharajah and his Maharani, Gayatri Devi, were feted by English high society. The Maharani was named the most beautiful woman in the world by Vogue magazine in 1940.
The most distinctive of its 79 rooms and suites are the Peacock Suite and the Maharani Suite, which was redecorated by the Maharajah’s favourite designer, Hammond’s of London, as a gift to Maharani. It has wood panels, intricate mirror-and-stone work and hand-painted Rajasthani art. There is a sitting area, dining space, an oval mirrored bathroom and palatial French windows opening to views of the Oriental Garden.
Taj Rambagh Palace, Bhawani Singh Road, Jaipur, Rajasthan, tel: +91 14 12211919, tajhotels.com.
Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad
In the 1940’s, Hyderabad’s Nizam, Osman Ali Khan, was the richest man in the world. He was rated fifth highest on the Forbes All-Time Wealthiest List (Bill Gates ranked 20th) in 2008. He owned an airline, postal service and flippantly used the 187-carat Jacob diamond as a paperweight. His private treasury had stockpiles of gold, silver, precious gems and enough pearls to fill an Olympic size swimming pool.
Falaknuma Palace was the Nizam’s most lavish home, and where royal visitors such as George V, Edward VIII and Tsar Nicholas II came to stay.
When India gained independence, the palace was shut up for about 30 years. It re-opened in 2010 after a 10-year-long restoration, by the Taj Hotel group. Its former opulence has been recaptured with chandeliers, grand marble staircases, statues, objets d’art and a Palace Library that is a replica of the one at Windsor Castle.
The Grand Presidential Suite is an ornate two-storey abode with a private swimming pool and Jacuzzi, custom-designed furnishings from Turkey and Cararra marble floors.
Taj Falaknuma Palace, Engine Bowl, Falaknuma, Hyderabad, tel: +91 40 6629 8585, tajhotels.com.
Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai
Built as a hotel in 1903, by industrialist Jemsetji Tata, Taj Mahal Palace has been a favoured haunt for Maharajas and dignitaries from around the world. The hotel was Mumbai’s first harbour landmark and had the first licensed bar in the city.
The hotel’s design combines Moorish, Indian and European styles. It is decorated with a collection of treasures such as Bastar tribal art, Anglo-Indian inlaid furniture, Mughal-inspired Jali designs and Belgian chandeliers.
The Presidential Suite (President Obama stayed there in 2010) is a lavish 15-room residence with a dramatic domed living room that has a gold stencilled ceiling and enormous crystal chandelier. It comes with a gym, a business centre, a 10-seat dining room and a staff of 13 including a personal chef and butler. Works from Indian artists M.F. Husain, Ram Kumar and Laxman Shreshtha adorn the walls. It has a private spa with a steam room, sauna and two masseurs to administer treatments from the hotel’s Jiva spa menu.
Taj Mahal Palace, Apollo Bunder, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India, tel: +91 22 66653366, tajhotels.com.
Devi Garh, Udaipur
The 18th-century Devi Garh fort palace – which sits above the village of Delwara – has been stunningly remodelled into a 39-suite boutique hotel. The re-design is an intriguing combination of historic structure and sleek contemporary living revolving around five courtyards.
A warren of passage ways and staircases lead to rooms and halls where classical Indian and 21st-century design elements accomplish an eye-catching fusion look.
Part of its charm lies in the palace’s countryside location, with peaceful views of the Aravalli hills and valley. Also unique is the cultural immersion excursions to the village of Delwara, where time has stood still, at the foot of the fort.
Suites are visions of white, decorated with marble and semi-precious stones.
The Devi Garh Suite, which comes with its own swimming pool and Jacuzzi, and the Palace Suite combine to form the Devi Garh complex of two bedrooms.
It explores the concept of ‘Shiv’ and ‘Shakti’, male and female energies embodied in Shiva, the Hindu God of destruction and his consort Shakti.
Devi Garh, near Eklingji Udaipur, District Rajsamand, Rajasthan, tel: + 91 29 53289211.
The Leela Palace, Udaipur
A stately glide in a royal barge across Lake Udaipur allows guests to arrive with much fanfare at Leela Palace.
The lake was the Mewar royal family’s playground and you could be forgiven for thinking that the sprawling Leela Palace, with its majestic gold curving domes was where Udaipur’s rulers once lived.
Built to resemble a traditional Indian palace, Leela Palace opened in 2009 and has an enviable lakeside location with fairy tale views of the historic City Palace (Udaipur’s main attraction and museum), the hilltop Monsoon Palace (or Sajjan Garh) and Jag Niwas, which now operates as Taj Lake Palace, on an island on the lake.
With stately gardens, plush décor and slick service, this is a palace a modern-day Maharajah might choose to build from scratch.
The Maharaja Suite has a living room, study, dining area, master bedroom with a huge walk-in wardrobe, a king-size bath tub with a Jacuzzi and comes with its own massage room, plunge pool and courtyards.
Leela Palace, Lake Pichola, Udaipur, tel: +91 29 46701234.
The Imperial, New Delhi
The Imperial opened its doors in the 1930s, at a time when India was in the throes of independence. Pandit Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Lord Mountbatten discussed politics in the dining rooms, tea lounges and Royal Ballroom. The Nehru family had a permanent suite in the hotel.
More recently, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Prince Albert of Monaco and Kate Winslet stayed at the hotel.
Silver tea service, tableware from London, Italian marble floors, Burmese teak furniture and green lawns create an aura of an early 19th-century English Manor in the heart of Delhi.
The Royal Imperial Suite has a 500-year-old clock that still keeps time, a dining area with a mahogany table for eight guests, pantry, study and a collection of 80 books, antique furniture and artworks by Prince Alexis Soltykoff.
The Imperial, 1 Janpath, New Delhi, tel: +91 11 2334 1234.