Over the centuries India has been known for its architectural splendor, tremendous wealth, grandeur and majesty. And nowhere is it more evident than in the many royal forts, palaces homes and retreats that dot the country’s landscape. It in these royal homes that one gets to see the ultimate in craftsmanship of Indian artists be it in stone, clay, leather, wood or ivory. In fact prior to Independence 40% of the subcontinent was ruled by royalty. In all there were 562 princely states ruled by maharajas and raos, walis and nizams who were known for their outrageous wealth and whimsical fancies.
The aristocrats lost their kingdoms with Partition, and their perks when the government abolished their privy purses prompting them to find ways to maintain their lifestyles. Today, three decades later, much of India’s royalty is determined to restore their lost glory and lifestyle and they are doing so by opening up their homes and palaces much to the delight of the new age traveler. Many royal palaces, forts, hunting lodges, retreats and havelis (mansions) are now being turned into heritage hotels and offer travellers an experience of royal living and the grandeur that comes with it.
While Rajasthan has some of the most splendid palaces others across the country are no less grand. Since most are heritage hotels, one can actually stay in many of them and enjoy the regal experience. Some of the best-known palace hotels in Rajasthan include Jaipur’s Rambagh, Laxminiwas and Samode palaces. Jodhpur has the spectacular Umaid Bhavan – a fantastic monument that incorporates the art deco architecture that was in vogue when the palace was built in the last century. A relatively new palace it was built as a part of a famine relief project. Udaipur has several beautiful palaces built by generations of royalty and the jewel among them is the Lake Palace built as a royal summer residence on an island. Even smaller, relatively unknown places in Rajasthan boast of pretty royal homes and you can be sure to find one where ever you go.
An excellent example of a royal home and township is Fatehpur Sikri built by the Mughal emperor Akbar. Though it lies abandoned today, it is a fascinating piece of architecture and town planning complete with royal homes. In the western state of Gujarat, one of the most beautiful palaces is in Wankaner. Now a heritage hotel one can enjoy staying in the royal suites while checking out the Maharaja’s fantastic collection of vintage cars, many of them made to order. In central India, Madhya Pradesh’s many towns and cities have many beautiful places, hunting lodges, and jungle retreats such as Mandu, Orcha, and Shivpuri.
The many forts across the country also doubled up as royal homes. In fact many had several palaces like the medieval fortress of Narwar in Madhya Pradesh. Many of its palaces are decorated with gold lacquer and glass beads.
In the South, Mysore and Bangalore in Karnataka both have palaces that are a must visit on any itinerary. Tamil Nadu’s temple towns also house lovely royal homes with their own unique architecture that was largely let untouched by Mughal influences. Madurai’s highly ornamented Nayak palace built in 1636 by King Thirumalai Nayak is a remarkable synthesis of varied decorative elements. The Padmanabhapuram Palace, now in Tamil Nadu showcases some of the finest craftsmanship in the country The palace was once the capital of the Travancore and it also has beautiful murals of the 17th & 18th century.
Truly, India’s royal splendour must not be missed.