In the Shadow of Royalty

It was 1 in the morning and I was suffering. I was in the throes of an allergic reaction, probably from the dust of the train, sneezing and coughing all over the place. I took an anti-allergic and as the medicines took hold, I slowly drifted into that state between waking and sleep, where the world is an indeterminate black, but your mind’s awake. This is a properly luxurious way to feel, I thought to myself, swathed in the comfort of my four-poster bed. A sliver of moonlight came in through the window at the far end of the room. The night was dark, and I lay in that enveloping silence, and gently floated into sleep.

From the suite in Rambagh Palace. Picture by Bibek Bhattacharya

Rambagh Palace, the erstwhile residence of the Polo-loving Maharajas of Jaipur, sits calmly in the oasis of lush gardens and tall trees in a busy part of the city. The elegant double-storied complex of the palace wings is topped by arch domes and cupolas of understated beauty, sprawling over 47 acres of land. It is now a Taj Heritage hotel replete with the sheer classiness the group’s properties are known for. The discreet, tree-shaded corners form little pockets of enchanting light and shade, while the air around you is full of birds, flying, rustling, crying out, fidgeting.

My first walk through the grounds with P. Sairam, my butler who hailed from Vishakhapatnam, pretty much convinced me that this time, I was not going to go out into the city. The great forts and palaces of the Pink City I knew very well, and this was fresh ground to explore. A charming young man, Sairam took me on a tour of the Palace. There is a “Historical Tour” for residents at the hotel every evening at 5:30, but Sairam was only too happy to show me around.

Rambagh Palace had been among the first royal houses to convert into a Palace Hotel way back in 1957. Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II sided with modernity, opening up an elegant palace which is a wonderful amalgam of Rajasthani art-deco splendour to the public, albeit a very exclusive one. Such are the high standards of restoration the Taj undertakes to keep the rooms in their original condition that the Maharani Suite has never seen a redecoration, only updates. Once the room of the late Rajmata Gayatri Devi, who fell in love with the way it looked as a young woman, the original decor has been preserved in all its opulent Hammond’s-of-London magnificence. The four-fixture mirrored bathroom, a fulsome fantasy of endless shringar overlooks the Mughal Gardens, a delightful pavilion with water channels rushing through, cascading over into flowing channels dotted with gushing fountains.

The Mughal gardens at Rambagh Palace. Picture at Bibek Bhattacharya

My wood-panelled suite shared the view with the three grand suites, including the Maharani Suite. On an early winter day, that meant a welcome access to the warming sun. While nursing the cold with two glasses of fresh orange juice—all that Vitamin C—and two hard-boiled eggs, I could feel the sun on my back while I sat and read, and wrote. Too ill to stir out, I decided to enjoy this forced respite. Not a difficult thing to do at Rambagh.

The previous night, Executive Chef Ashish Kumar Roy had conjured up for me the best Rajasthani Thali I’d ever had. All my past unfortunate experiences with concocted “Rajasthani cuisine” were driven away by an explosion of the richest spices and the softest meats. The red lal maas cleared my sinuses immediately, while the mutton melted on my tongue in a flourish of chillies and spices, wonderfully balanced. It was a rich banquet in the stunning Suvarna Mahal, the old grand dining hall of the royal family, fringed by original Florentine frescoes, under massive hanging chandeliers. So when I followed that up with the healthy breakfastin-bed with Amitav Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome, I was essentially using luxury to combat my illness, and guess what, luxury was winning!

Recuperating with Calcutta Chromosome. Picture by Bibek Bhattacharya

When Conde Nast’s readers voted Rambagh Palace to be the Best Overseas Leisure Hotel for Asia & the Indian subcontinent, they clearly got their basics right. A magnificent palace hotel, which re-enforces your sense of privacy and luxury, thanks to an unobtrusive service that takes care of you like an invisible hand. Those readers have chosen well.

From BT MORE January 2010

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