When I started on a one month long tour to India, I had no idea what was in store for me.
I was not even sure why I planned on a tour to India. May be I was just too fascinated by the lifestyles of the Indian Maharajas and wanted to see and experience for myself their lives and their palaces. My interest in Indian palaces and forts grew by reading books like India Style by Monisha Bharadwaj, The Indian Princes and their States by Barbara N. Ramusack, The Indian Subcontinent by Alison Arnold and Indian temples and palaces by Michael Edwardes.
The palaces of the Indian Maharajas
India is a mystic land and has so many things that a traveler can discover. The best part about India is its rich history; the stories of Indian Kings and queens who lived and died for their kingdom is rather amusing. Even more amusing is to read about the secret lives of these kings and queens, their palaces, their summer retreats, their leisure activities, their traditions and their interest in art and architecture.
But time passed and none of them can be spotted today; their palaces, forts and other remaining works of art have become major tourist attractions even for the people of India. Most palaces and forts are opened today for tourism where as a few exotic ones have been converted into palace hotels.
Exotic Indian palaces that are converted to hotels
One of my major objectives of visiting India was to stay in one of the many palace hotels and experience the life of the maharajas (kings). I have discussed below some hotels in which I stayed and those that I cherish the most.
The Lalitha Mahal Palace in Mysore
My trip to Mysore was to reflect on my travel itinerary that needed that I visit those places that had a rich heritage and culture. Mysore was just one of them. When In Mysore I decided to stay in the Lalitha Mahal Palace which is by far one of the most exotic palaces that I have come across in my life. This palace was built way back in 1921 by a king named Wodeyar Krishna and was designed by E W Fritchley who was a famous English architect.
Today this palace is maintained by the India Tourism Development Corporation and they have done a good job with it. The exterior of the palace looks show white where as the interiors are almost as good as new. All rooms of this palace over-look the beautiful Chamundi hills and give the visitor a breathtaking view of Mysore city.
The palace offers all facilities that one can expect from a five star hotel that include swimming pools, golf grounds, health club, lounges and a shopping arcade to get all your souvenirs. This palace gave me a glimpse of the lavish life that that kings would have lived back then.
Fern Hill Palace in Ooty
Ooty located in southern India is Indias well known tourist destination. When in Ooty I decided to stay in the Fern Hill palace hotel that has a history dating back to 1840. Back then it was used by the British as their summer resort. This palace hotel has more than 50 rooms that also include hotel rooms and cottages. Although the palace is quite old, it is well maintained and has everything that can make anyone feel like a maharaja.
This exotic palace coupled with the pleasant atmosphere of the hill-station gave me something that I could cherish for life.
Bolghatty Palace in Cochin
Cochin in southern India is considered the pearl of the Indian Ocean and lives very much to its reputation. When in Cochin I decided to stay in Bolghatty Palace which was used as a British governors residence when India was colonized by the British. The Kerala tourism development corporation has renovated this magnificent piece of architecture bringing it back to all its glory.
The palace has five spacious rooms and six cottages. The rooms have been renovated beautifully, not to destroy their essence. The art work is as good as new and the portraits seem to talk back to you. It almost looks as if time stood still in the palace since it was built way back in 1744.
Lake Palace in Udaipur
My next destination was Udaipur in Rajasthan situated in the western part of India. The Lake Palace in Udaipur is one of the most exotic hotels that I ever stayed. The hotel is located in the middle of the blue waters of lake Pichola and practically looks floating in water from a near by fort.
Built way back in 1754 by Maharana Jagat singh, the palace is today maintained by the Taj group of hotels and offers the prefect ambiance for a romantic stay. The palace has 85 beautiful rooms along with special suites and fascinates everyone with its lustrous marble pillars, ancient paintings and unbelievable works of arts including glasswork. I almost felt like staying in a fantasy island with my room overlooking a refreshing lily pond.
Udaipur also has many other palace hotels but none can be compared to the Lake Palace. I was also fascinated by the Laxmi Vilas Palace which was once a guest house to serve British guests.
Bikaner house (Bharatpur House) In Mount Abu
Mount Abu in Rajasthan is another hill station that fascinated me. Mount Abu has a host of palace hotels as this was a favorite hill station for the Maharajas. I decided to stay in the Bikaner House palace which is located in one of the most scenic locations in Mount Abu. This palace built in 1893 was used as a summer residence for the ancient kings.
The palace is well maintained and has spacious rooms that have ancient paintings and art work. The rooms overlook mystic hills that look so much in peace with them-selves. It almost gave me a heaven on earth kind of an experience.
One more palace hotel which fascinated me in Mount Abu was the Sunrise palace which is situated in one its highest points. This palace hotel was built somewhere in the year 1920, and is quite popular with couples looking for a romantic getaway.
Nilambagh Palace in Bhavnagar
My objective of visiting Bhavnagar, a relatively lesser known tourist destination in western India was to stay in the famous Nilambagh Palace. Built by Maharaja Bhavsinghji in the year 1723 this palace looks like a piece of architecture in itself. The palace is surrounded by lush gardens and has 18 AC rooms and 5 cottages. The rooms are spacious and offer an extremely luxurious stay. The room in which I was put up overlooked beautiful lawns down below; and I could hear the birds chirping and the wind blowing mildly over me. The whole atmosphere was so tranquil; it really took me to a different world.
The best part about the palace was the way it has been designed and maintained. All rooms had antique furniture, beautiful chandeliers and belgian mirrors. Then there was this striking swimming pool that has been designed like a roman bath with marble steps and white walkways. Taking a dip in that exotic pool which was specifically meant for the maharajas was I thought a true privilege.
The palace on Wheels
The palace on Wheels is not a hotel or a palace, but a maharaja style train that is run by the government of India for tourism purposes. I was recommended to make this train journey by a fellow traveler and believe me; I was glad I took his advice.
This train is designed for the purpose of giving its voyagers a taste of ancient India and covers all major destinations and heritage spots in Rajasthan. Starting from Delhi (the Indian capital), the train takes you to all major destinations in Rajasthan that include Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Agra and back to Delhi in a seven day journey. I really got a good insight about the tales of Indian kings and queens and their lifestyles at the end of these seven unforgettable days.
The interiors of the train look no less than a five star palace hotel and that goes for the rooms too. The rooms are comfy, contain artistic furniture and include a private bath; now what more could you ask for?
When boarding my plane back home, there was a strange nostalgic feeling that had crept over me. But I was glad of one thing; I had lived out my dream of living like an Indian Maharaja.
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