Destination Udaipur (Rajasthan), India
Udaipur was founded in 1559 by Maharana Udai Singh II following the final sacking of Chittorgarh by the Mughal emperor, Akbar. According to legend, Udai Singh II found the site of his new capital some years before the last assault on Chittor, after coming across a holy man meditating on a hill near Lake Pichola. The old sage advised the Maharana to establish his capital on that very site – and that is how Udaipur came into existence. Surrounded by forests, lakes and the protective Aravalli Range, the new capital of Mewar was in a far less vulnerable location than Chittor.
Maharana Udai Singh II died in 1572 and was succeeded by his son, the famous Rana Pratap, who bravely defended Udaipur from subsequent Mughal attacks, and gallantly fought at the battle of Haldighati in 1576. After struggling against the Mughals, Udaipur was later attacked by the Marathas. But, unlike many other rulers in Rajasthan, the rulers of Mewar refused to be controlled by foreign invaders.
An end to bloody battles and instability came with British intervention in the early 19th century, when a treaty was signed by which the British pledged to protect Udaipur from invaders. This umbrella of protection ended when India gained independence from the British. Along with all the other princely states, Udaipur surrendered its sovereignty and became part of a united India.
The 76th Custodian of the House of Mewar, Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar, has brought about incredible changes to the City Palace complex in Udaipur. His far reaching vision has resulted in the conversion of the famous palaces into Grand Heritage palace hotels, Royal Retreats and Resorts.
THE AODHI, KUMBHALGARH
After Chittorgarh, Kumbhalgarh is the most important fort in the Mewar region. It is an isolated and fascinating place 84 km from Udaipur, built in the 15th century by Maharana Kumbha. Because of its inaccessibility – at 1100 metres up atop the Aravalli Range – it was occupied only once in its history.. Even then, it took the combined armies of the Mughal emperor, Akbar, and of Amber and Marwar to breach its defences. It was here that the rulers of Mewar retreated in times of danger. The thick walls of the fort stretch some 36 km and enclose many temples, palaces and gardens. This mighty fort was renovated in the last century by Maharana Fateh Singhji. A leisurely walk around the huge compound, with its imposing ruins, is intriguing. The fort is open daily and entry is free.
There is also a large wildlife sanctuary here, known for its wolves. The scarcity of water holes between March and June makes this the best time to sec animals. Other wildlife includes chowsingha (the four-homed antelope), leopard, panther and sloth bear. This is one of the few sanctuaries that allow people to enter on horseback. The Aodhi Hotel, at Kumbhalgarh can organise horse safaris and jeep-safaris for adventurous guests.
A mere two kilometres from the spectacular Kumbhalgarh Fort, The Aodhi Hotel nestles like a small village on the side of the hill, blending into the landscape.
The rooms arc thematic, drawing their inspiration from Kumbhalgarh’s rich and varied wildlife; (hence the Parrot room and the Tiger). Everything, down to the smallest detail, contributes to the unique ambience. Each room has a private balcony where one can relax and enjoy the natural beauty, and catch glimpses of the wildlife at the Kumbhalgarh sanctuary.
The Aodhi boasts a superb, multi-cuisine restaurant, arrange around a central fireplace, and with an adjacent around bar. The Aodhi also has a swimming pool, and the poolside is a wonderful place for a barbecue dinner – or just to relax with a drink.
For those who enjoy nature trails, the pathway leading to the nearby lake is ideal for walking or cycling, while the hill besides the hotel offers fabulous views of the sunrise and sunset. Meanwhile the historically-minded can visit the Kumbhalgarh Fort and the 15th century Ranakpur temples.
The hotel organizes jeep safaris to the Kumbhalgarh wildlife sanctuary and fort, and also a special village safari: a trek that leads to the homes of the Garasia and the Bhil tribes, living in seclusion in the forest.
Total rooms: 26
Suites: 3 Deluxe suites
Rooms: 23 Deluxe rooms
Tariff: Rs. 1,399 – Rs. 5,500
SHIV NIWAS PALACE
The view will take your breath away. From the sweeping crescent of’ the Shiv Niwas Palace you overlook both the city of Udaipur and the beautiful Lake Pichola. The City Palace complex of Udaipur was built over the centuries by no fewer than twenty-three Maharanas. But the Shiv Niwas Place itself was built during the early twentieth century by Maharana Fateh Singh as his private residence. Later, during Maharana Bhopal Singhji’s reign, the apartments around the awe inspiring courtyard were used to entertain royal guests. It was the vision of the late Maharana Shri Bhagwat Singhji which led to tile conversion of the palace into a luxury hotel.
Throughout Shiv Niwas Palace, the accommodation is stunning, ranging from the Imperial, Royal, and Historic suites to the deluxe rooms that command the approach to the courtyard.
Most exquisite of all is the Imperial suite, where everything from the dining table to the bed is made of silver. All the suites feature original royal furniture and paintings. Some also have intricate glass inlay work on the columns and ceilings, dating back a century. The terrace suites enjoy panoramic views of Lake Pichola, the Jagmandir island palace and the Lake Palace Hotel or the city.
The Shiv Niwas Palace offers its guests a host of facilities and attractions. There is the Paantya Restaurant, serving continental food and a wide range of Indian dishes. There is Paneera Bar, whose original mirror inlay work on the walls and ceiling – not to mention the huge mirrors and rare portraits of the Maharanas – make it one of a kind. The Palace also has a billiard room and a squash court.
As the Palace is built on the eastern bank of l.ake Pichola, a sunset stroll by the lakeside is enchantingly refreshing after a hectic day.
Total Rooms: 34
Suites: 2 imperial, 3 royal, 4 historic and 8 terrace
Rooms: 7 deluxe rooms
Tariff: US$90 – US$600
FATEH PRAKASH PLACE, UDAIPUR
The Fateh Prakash Palace is part of the magnificent City Palace Complex built in the early 20th century during the reign of Maharana Fateh Singhji. Situated on the shore of Lake Pichola, it is one of the most exclusive palace hotels of India. Each suite is decorated to provide sumptuous comfort, and contains original portraits and furniture that have been in the royal family for generations.
One of tile most spectacular features of the Fateh Prakash Palace is The Durbar Hall, whose foundation stone was laid in 1909 by Lord Minto, Viceroy of India. In fact, the Durbar Hall was originally called the Minto Hall in his honour. The walls are covered with portraits of the Maharanas of the House of Mewar. This majestic edifice has hosted weddings, court occasions, formal durbars, state banquets and royal parties through the decades. The size and splendour of the hall have to be seen to be believed, and its capacity makes it the ideal venue for any large reception or party.
Overlooking the Durbar Hall is the Crystal Gallery. Originally the viewing gallery from which ladies (it the court observed the official functions, the Crystal Gallery now houses a staggering collection of crystal.
Opened to the public for the first time in 1994, this unique collection was ordered by Maharana Sajjan Singhji in 1877 from the Birmingham-based company F&C Osler, whose Calcutta showroom provided Maharana Sajjan Singhji with the inspiration for the collection. Alas, the shipment of crystal did not arrive from England until after the early demise of the Maharana.
The variety of crystal objects includes fountains, vases, crockery, furniture and beds. Alongside these gorgeous objects there are beds and chairs of silver, brocade and velvet, adding further to the opulence of the collection.
Total rooms: 31
Suites: 7 Historic Suites
Rooms: 21 Dovecote Rooms & 3 Deluxe rooms
Tariff: US$ 90 to 600
Capacity of The Durbar Hall Buffet: up to 300
GAJNER PALACE, GAJNER:
Amid the dry and barren lands between Jodhpur to Jaisalmer, just 40 kilometres from the city of Bikaner, lies an oasis of lush and almost unreal beauty; an oasis that is the site of an incomparable palace known as ‘the jewel in the Thar Desert’.
Built by Maharaja Ganga Singhji of Bikaner, the Gajner Palace is an extravagant architectural celebration in flamingo-pink sandstone. Formerly used as a royal hunting lodge, its location is unparalleled. Set in a 6,000 acre wildlife sanctuary, the palace stands on the banks of Lake Gajner, whose hypnotic waters dreamily reflect its gardens, walls and terraces.
In winter, the palace, woods and lake become a haven for different species of migratory birds – the most renowned being the Imperial Sand Grouse. Endangered antelopes like the Chinkaras, Black Bucks, Neelgais, and other animals such as the wild boar, freely roam the area.
The Gajner Palace organises tented feasts on nearby dunes by bonfire light, where folk dancer and local musicians entertain the guests. Puppet shows are another regular feature. But boating, and horse, camel and jeep safaris are perhaps the guests’ most favoured leisure activities.
The Gajner Palace has four wings, each with its own distinctive style. Dungar Niwas houses the royal suites, which overlook the lake, and are furnished with English country house gentility with exquisitely painted ceilings. Each suite has spacious bathing and dressing areas, elaborate fireplaces, crystal light fixtures and intricate mosaic floors of exceptional beauty.
Gulab Niwas offers a breath of freshness with its green lawns and private sitting areas; Mandir Chowk is named after the temple in the courtyard around which the rooms are built, while Champa Niwas is a new jewel in the crown. Each room is indeed a private palace.
The high ceilings, intricately carved fireplaces and gold-framed mirrors of the lakeside Imperial Terrace restaurant nostalgically recall a grand and gracious era of royal dining, Nearby, The Mrigtrishna Bar, with its magnificent chandeliers, frescoed ceiling, furniture and paintings, perfectly evokes the atmosphere of a truly majestic hunting lodge.
The palace, the woods, and the wildlife, the water: All in all, the Gajner Palace is one of the world’s most perfect palace retreats.
Total rooms: 42
Suites: 11 historic suites
Rooms: 31 deluxe rooms
Tariff: Rs. 1,399 – Rs. 5,500
For more details visit www.hrhhotels.com
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