Rocking Rajasthan palaces: Live with, not like, an Indian prince
1. Maharajah's Pavilion, Raj Palace, Jaipur
Asia's best suite and world's first in-suite museum
How spectacular are these hotels? We find out.
For starters the palace is 300 years old -- even older than the city of Jaipur itself. Built in 1727 the royal family of Jaipur still owns the heritage property of 40 rooms and Princess Jayendra Kumari helped with its revamp in 1995.
The Maharajah's Pavilion suite, in which 16 generations of royal family have stayed, is its own majestic block measuring nearly 5,000 square meters, and with an elevator connecting all four floors.
In this Rajasthan palace guests are greeted by two ranks of butlers holding Champagne, garlands, cold towels and snacks.
On the first floor is a lounge, extra luggage storage area, and another private sitting area with a bar.
The second floor has a double-height reception room with garden views, and two bedrooms -- all furniture is in gold and silver.
Probably one of the most exciting parts about this suite's floor is its private passageways connecting different pavilions -- it also has the world's first in-suite museum.
“Having a museum helps people get a feeling of how the royal family used to live -- for example we’ve displayed the original Chanel No.5 from the 1930s and an old throne of the Thakur sahib," says 31-year old Ankur Rara, general manager, Raj Palace.
The third floor has a library, dining room with a butler entrance, kitchen, and another bedroom. The fourth floor has a master bedroom, rooftop pool, whirlpool spa and terrace with panoramic views of Jaipur city.
The palace is designed in line with architectural guides described in ancient Indian texts known as the Vastushastras. For example, the multiple tiers of the suite are supposed to represent the ascending realms of heaven.
“Being a large suite doesn’t necessarily matter, the suite stands out because of the guests' satisfaction who voted for this suite," says Rara.
The Maharajah Pavilion costs Rs 700,200 or just over US$14,000 plus 15.5 percent in taxes, and accommodates up to 10 guests.
"We obviously don't want to spoil the surprise, however we can mention that we're looking into having a helipad, fountains and private gardens," says Rara.
It can be even booked one day prior to arrival -- however, there is a 100 per cent charge for cancellations within 20 days.
It may be safer to stick to an average nightly rate of Rs 22,000, plus taxes.
The hotel is now building a brand new suite that will be entered into the “World’s Leading Presidential Suite" category of the World Travel Awards next year.
"It will be the world’s most expensive suite," says Rara.
The Raj Palace is an experience of living like Indian royalty and there's no doubt it deserves the award, but we've also chosen four other Rajasthan palaces and recommended their grandest hotel suites, in the slightly less princely price range.
Raj Palace, Jorawar Singh Gate, Amber Fort Road, near Jal Mahal, Jaipur, Rajasthan; +91 (0)141 263 4077; www.rajpalace.com
2. The Kohinoor suite, Oberoi Udaivillas, Udaipur
Princely, private infinity pool and private yoga
Set against the backdrop of the Aravalli hills, The Oberoi Udaivillas in Udaipur's Mewar region is known to recreate India's romantic charm, with views beyond the famous City Palace.
The Kohinoor Suite has been nominated for "Asia's leading suite" award since 2006 up to this year, and won once in 2007.
The 800-square-meter suite consists of two bedrooms: one king-sized master bedroom and another twin-bedded room -- all designed with heavy patri brass work, mirror mosaics, and antique Indian artworks.
It also has a pantry, living room with two working fireplaces, garden terrace, dining patio and a 22-meter private infinity swimming pool. Prices start from Rs 151,000 a night, plus taxes (approximately US$3,000).
The hotel provides rejuvenating spa therapies, private yoga, meditation and paranyam (breathing exercises) with an in-house yoga expert.
The Rajasthan palace grounds also have a eight-hectare wildlife park with boar, Indian spotted deer and peacocks.
Oberoi Udaivillas, Haridasji Ki Magri, Udaipur, Rajasthan; +91 (0) 294 243 3300; www.oberoihotels.com
3. The Maharaja suite, The Leela Palace Kempinski, Udaipur
The Leela Palace in Udaipur sits right on the Lake Pichola, often described as the "Venice of the East" on the Rajasthan palace circuit.
The hotel ferries guests to a private jetty, with a traditional Indian welcome of showered rose petals.
The Maharajah suite has a living room, study, dining area, and master bedroom with walk-in-wardrobe. There's also a spectacular plunge pool and interconnecting room for guests.
What really sets this suite apart is its own massage parlor and in-room check-in with a complimentary foot massage -- a one-night stay costs Rs 250,000, plus taxes.
“With stunning artifacts, custom furnishings, top-of-the-line amenities and private balconies with breathtaking views, this suite sets new benchmarks for gracious, Indian hospitality -- it’s simply one of a kind," said Graham Grant, general manager, The Leela Palace, Udaipur.
The Leela Palace Kempinski, Lake Pichola, P.O. Box 125; Udaipur; +91 (0)294 670 1234; www.theleela.com
4. Sukh Niwas suite, The Rambagh Palace, Jaipur
Royal hunting grounds and vintage cars
The Rambagh Palace, situated a short way outside the city walls of Jaipur, was first transformed into its regal style in 1935 from what used to be a modest hunting lodge.
Seeing it now, it's hard to believe.
With 33 luxury suites, this hotel is known to be one of the best in the world -- especially with its legendary Polo Bar. Many celebrities and heads of state have stayed here.
There's also the Rambagh Polo Grounds right next door, and the palace offers vintage cars for hire.
Don't worry about the concierge ever putting you on hold when you stay at this Rajasthan palace suite-- a personal butler is available to plan shopping itineraries and excursions.
This one-room compact suite of 167 square meters has arched stone work, large French windows and a large sun deck with a whirlpool spa.
Prices are available on request.
We also recommend the Prince suite, the former chamber of Prince Jagat Singh, which is a contemporary styled apartment with two twin beds -- the outside balcony overlooks a Mughal -style terrace.
The Rambagh Palace, Bhawani Singh Road, Jaipur; +91 (0)141 221 1919; www.tajhotels.com
5. The Maharaja suite, Umaid Bhavan Palace, Jodhpur
Wedding palace with fort views
The Umaid Bhawan Palace is one of the largest private residences in the world with 347 rooms and wings.
It still hosts some members of the Jodhpur royal family -- it also sits on the highest point in Jodhpur, Chittar hill.
The palace walls are made from carved stones that are interlocked, with no mortar or cement. It took 5,000 workers and 15 years to build.
Once the Maharajah Umaid Singh’s personal chambers, this suite includes art deco furnishings, a dining area, private bar, spa therapy room with an adjoining steam room and a large veranda.
The whole palace is designed in such a way that its temperature always remains around 23 C, so natural cool air floats around.
It's also the spot where celebrity Liz Hurley wed Arun Nayyar.
The Maharani suite with views of the 500-year old Meherangarh fort, and a museum of the Jodhpur royal family is another option here.
Prices are available on request.
If you're wondering where the real Maharaja stays, you can often see him talking his dogs for a walk around the Rajasthan palace grounds -- how's that for a celebrity sighting?
Umaid Bhavan Palace, Jodhpur; +91 (0)291 251 0101; www.tajhotels.com