Grand designs – and so much more. Umaid Bhawan Palace isn’t just a majestic sight; it’s a five-star hotel, a museum, and a home for local royalty: the Maharaja of Jodhpur. Set on Chittar Hill, the palace gazes down on the painted houses that help give Jodhpur its nickname of ‘the Blue City’.
The current owner, Maharaja Gaj Singh, turned it into a hotel in 1971, and guests can enjoy its luxurious grounds and gardens, as well as the dramatic, sandstone building, with it’s golden-yellow colour. It wasn’t always this way, however; the palace – which was started in 1929 – was built to help the local community by giving it employment during a time of famine and drought. Between 2,000 and 3,000 people worked on it and it was completed in 1943. You can admire the craftsmanship on a guided heritage walk around the property – though maybe not all 26 acres in one go.
It’s as captivating inside as it is out, and for those who like their terminology, was designed in the Beaux Arts style, also known as Indo-Deco. There are 64 elegant guest suites with gorgeous high ceilings, but the real scene-stealer is the palm court, where the marble is the same as that used for the Taj Mahal at Agra.
If you’re not staying to savour the rooms or the sumptuous food and drink (breakfast on the terrace or a romantic dining spot in a private garden, anyone?) then a museum visit is a must.
There’s a real mixture on show, including royal artefacts and exhibits from the personal collections of the maharajas, such as a symbolic flag given to Maharaja Jaswant Singh by Queen Victoria in 1877. Enjoy the tick-tocking of the vintage clock collection, the beautiful porcelain creations, and a selection of photographs that reveal the construction of the palace. It feels like an eccentric friend showing off all their trinkets – but that’s all the more reason to love it. The Darbar Hall is full of graceful murals and miniature paintings, plus armour and household items from the 1930s. Why? Well, sometimes there doesn’t have to be a plan!
For all that beauty, petrolheads will probably make straight for the classic car collection, lined up in the garden, in front of the museum, and featuring a 1947 Cadillac, a 1927 Rolls-Royce Phantom I and an Overland Automobile from 1906. Oh, and if you do decide to stay, then sample the signature cocktail, a Jodhpur Chilli Martini. It’s a moment of pure indulgence, especially if you take your sips in the hotel’s Trophy Room.
[Visiting the Umaid Bhawan Palace is an experience that can be booked as part of an itinerary. A stay at the hotel, recently voted the world's best at the Traveller's Choice Awards (with TripAdvisor), is available when you upgrade your accommodation level to ‘luxury’.]
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The palace is 7km (4.3 miles) from Jodhpur, in Rajasthan, and you can get there by taxi, local buses and autorickshaw. It is also close to the city’s other highlights, including the Mehrangarh Fort and Jaswant Thada cenotaph. A museum, palace and gardens visit usually takes around two hours, so factor that into your sightseeing day.
The museum is open daily from 9am to 5pm.
To avoid most of the crowds, visit around noon. The palace and gardens are kept looking their sharpest year-round, but summer can be extremely hot, so a visit between October and March will be cooler.
There is no dress code for the museum, but conservative remains the way to go. As it’s a luxury, five-star hotel, a smarter dress code may apply in communal areas, restaurants and bars.
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