Kings knew how to keep it simple. As a new queen came, the old queen was retired. But for services rendered (the loyalty, the love, the heirs and such stuff) and tradition’s sake, she got a palace of her own to nurse wounds and retain pride. The cab driver Bheem Singh sums it up as he tells me it is the same in the king’s garage where old cars are kept at the back and new cars taken out.
This invaluable tip on loving and loathing in Jodhpur comes to me outside Umaid Bhawan Palace which Bheem Singh says is one of the last palaces built in India. Google agrees. The present day king of Jodhpur stays there and so do dollar-stuffed NRIs and very rich Indians. I am lodged close by, in a palace built by the younger brother of the Maharaja of Jodhpur, Maharaja Ajit Singh. It is called the Ranbanka Palace and there is a spring in my step after I am told the royals still occupy a wing of this property that is now a heritage hotel.
It is a sunny winter day, a rather Indian mix-up like palaces and poverty, and I am on a sightseeing tour with the affable Bheem Singh. It is my first time in Jodhpur and Ranbanka Palace has enough charms to keep me indoors for the whole duration of my two-day stay. Like an old woman, she has her secrets, her suites have been aesthetically restored (the charm is not in overdoing it, but in understated elegance), rich fabrics keep the sun out of spacious rooms and rich
teakwood stand as furniture, the
king-size bed in the middle of the room invite me to an afternoon laze and more.
But I want to make the most of my stay and here I am with Bheem Singh at the Umaid Bhawan Palace. The king had a thing for all things Western and so his palace was designed by an Englishman Henry Vaughn. This part-home, part-hotel in the southern side of Jodhpur is the very face of bespoke luxury.
After a good look at what I cannot have, I make my way to Meharagarh Fort, one of the most imposing forts one would come across perhaps anywhere in India. On a hill in the outskirts of Jodhpur city, the construction of this massive structure was started around 1459 by Rao Jodha, known to be the founder of Jodhpur. But he couldn’t complete it in his lifetime and Raja Jaswant Singh got the job done in the second half of the 17th century. The walls of the fort have a height of
36 metres and a width of 21 metres. There are several palaces inside it, but joy is in standing there and looking out at the city that stretches before you. If the view doesn’t make you feel like the king of the world, do yourself a favour and jump down to salvation!
Next stop Mandore Gardens. Mandore was the capital of Marwar dynasty before Jodhpur. Located about 10 kms from the main city, Mandore Gardens, with a high rock terrace, is a major tourist draw. Cenotaphs of former Marwar kings, built like traditional Hindu temples, adorn the place as do postcard-perfect landscaped garden. There is also a ruined fort and a palace. But something, rather some one, else has my attention. The frail musician sitting outside, on the road, playing his Ravanhatta, which the European gent standing next to me calls a ‘bowed fiddle’, transports me to another time, another place. The day is drawing to a close, there is now suddenly a chill in the air, and standing before a ruined fort and empty tombs of kings I ask him the meaning of his song. ‘The deserted is calling out to her lover, hair open, eyes kohl smeared, to come back to her one last time, before he leaves her forever.’ Night descends.
The charm of Ranbanka Palace is magnified under the stars. The Garden restaurant, where you drink the finest scotch, smoke some cigarettes, and watch the Rajasthani dancers bring the evening alive with live performance, makes you wonder why go back to the city at all. This is where life is. Right here. At Ranbanka. Dinner is a lavish spread and the wide hotel bed a wonderful companion to end the day with.
Mornings at Ranbanka are about talking walks. A walk through the many rooms (80 in all), the terraces, the gardens. A walk through history. As you enter the courtyard you are whisked away in time by the puppet and magic shows. The garden path leads you to the polo bar that displays original polo trophies that had been with the royal family with generations, with new add-ons.
History done and dusted, time’s just right for some pampering at the royal spa which promises to rejuvenate the body, mind and tortured soul before all three are hurled back to the big, bad city and it’s mango men talk.