Our turbans trailed from the 1946 open-air Buick 8 Roadmaster as we made our way up Jodhpur’s Chittar Hill and to the palace gates. There she was, Umaid Bhawan Palace, the world’s largest private residence, and today, her 28 acres of majestic Indo-deco splendor was mine. By Scott Goetz
Cue: fanfare of pounding drums. Sound the trumpeting narsingha horns.
It’s my royal entrance. As we make our way around the drive, an army of Rajasthani guards raises the silk canopy. Before I can “Bravo!” the guards for taking their handlebar mustaches to a literal level, I am ushered up the stairs, showered in a downpour of rose petals, greeted with a red-thumb stamp to the forehead (a holy aarti welcome), draped in tuberoses, presented with champagne in one hand and a chilled, rose-scented towel in the other, and attended by twenty-strong staff, smiling. I’m left high and floating in my head, and only come to when the general manager, who is shaking my hand, squeezes it harder. Then, he says to me—in that does-he-mean-yes-or-does-he-mean-no, only-in-India way—“We … have no plans set for you. Enjoy the hotel.”
Cue: Bollywood whoopee cushion and loser horn.
“But I thought I was going to be Maharaja for a day?” I ask with the hint of a whimper.
“A Maharaja does anything he wants, sir. You are the king. Behave like the king. Welcome to Umaid Bhawan Palace, Maharaja Scott!” he answers with a twinkle in his eye.
I’ve been longing to return to Umaid Bhawan Palace ever since roses fell from the sky when I entered its hallowed grounds five years ago. They haven’t fallen since, despite my pleas. Yearning to go back to a place is something we all hold onto. Yet, when remembrance crosses into reality, the floodgates of fear open and the rush of pending disappointment crash into the truth of familiarity. The first stay was so incredibly magical. How could I return and not be let down the second time? The answer was to go deeper and capture the essence of Rajasthan. This time I didn’t want to tour to the Maharaja’s palace, I wanted to live in it. I was to become “Maharaja for a Day.”
Cue: Ker & Downey staff frantically working behind the scenes.
Returning to the palace was like returning home, but this time, I was king of the castle and Sikander, the royal butler who made my previous stay so memorable, was at the ready to escort me with white- gloved attention to a private wing with a crystal fountain courtyard and a pair of suites flanked by two tigers—as if to guard the utopian world of highness and lifestyle behind royal walls. To the left, The Maharaja Suite: the den of Maharaja Umaid Singh, who reveled in its robust, masculine deco virtue (and where I chose to draft letters of war over jazz and cocktails). To the right, the Maharani Suite: designed for and graced by Umaid Singhs’ Maharani. Everything inside is pink, black, chrome, gold and mirror. I mean really pink—pink zebra upholstery, pink drapes, pink sinks, pink bath carved out of one piece of pink marble and a pink terraced balcony that offers spellbinding views of the pink Mehrangarh Fort.
What does a Maharaja do when enveloped by such rosy hue? Simple. He sits in his private hair salon and has Sikander teach the fine art of turban tying. (Indeed, the turban was pink.) Nine meters of fabric and endless flowing pink champagne turned this lesson into nine meters of hell. But a Maharaja never shows his weakness. Or at least his butler doesn’t let him. I succumb quickly, enchanted by Sikander’s passion for perfection. In a flash, I’m cloaked in a crisp white kurta as we parade into the halls for a tour of my palace, with the impeccably wound turban trailing ever so effortlessly behind me.
Pure awe reveals itself on a heritage walk through this architectural astonishment designed by Edwardian master builder Henry V. Lanchester and built from 1928 to 1943. There is no pretending you are transcending time within these walls. It takes little imagination
to conjure the 3,000 builders who used no mortar and instead fixed each sandstone block in place by chisel. Every stair tells another story. From the underground, zodiac-tiled pool to the Rajput turrets striding the colossal Renaissance dome, the 28 acres of history whisper royal tales of dramatic scale. None so grandiose, however, as the tale of the interiors and furniture I hear while sitting under the tusks of an elephant in the Trophy Bar. The ship, carrying his palace full of precious cargo en-route from England, was bombed and sunk during World War II. Astounding. Every piece was lost. As if once wasn’t enough, like a true Maharaja, he built it grand, then did it twice. And so did I.
Scott Goetz is a leading luxury and adventure expert. the founder of soon-to-launch fiercetraveler.com, and a contributor to Robb Report and elite traveler, he believes in total immersion to a to connect to a destination and its people. “Go big. Go now.”
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