Saturday, June 15, 2024

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Umaid Bhawan Palace

Place : Jodhpur, Rajasthan
Significance : Last of the royal palaces in India. 
Best Season : October to February
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Perched high above the desert capital of Jodhpur, Rajasthan, Umaid Bhawan Palace is a fine example of Indo-colonial and the art-deco style of the thirties. One of the largest and grandest private residences in the world, Umaid Bhawan palace is also the last of the royal palaces in India. 

Due to its location on Chittar Hill (which is the highest point of Jodhpur) and the usage of Chittar sandstone for its construction, it is also known as the Chittar Palace. Set amidst 26 acres of lush gardens, this magnificent  palace was built by Maharaja Umaid Singh (grandfather of the present Maharaja of Jodhpur) on the Chittar hill in south eastern area of Jodhpur. Even though the foundation work of the building was started on 1929 by Maharaja Umaid Singh, it was unfinished until 1944. This magnificent palace was the world's largest private residence with 347 rooms when it was opened in 1944. Since then this palace has been the main residence of the Jodhpur royal family and is named after Maharaja Umaid Singh. The palace also has a specialty that, during the period of second world war, the palace served as the military base for the allied troops.

It was designed by the famous Edwardian architect Henry Lanchester and the resident engineer for this project was Mr. Hiranand U. Bhatia. The interiors of the palace was designed by Maples of London. Over 5000 workmen worked for nearly 14 years, constructing this vast palace of pink sandstone and marble, about one million square feet in area and designed with the most modern furnishing and facilities for its construction. The palace grounds cover 26 acres (105,000 m²), out of which constructed area is 3.5 acres (14,000 m²) and 15 acres (61,000 m²) are devoted to lush green lawns. 

Instead of using mortar or cement for binding stones, this building was constructed by pieces of carved stones joined together by a system of carved interlocking positive and negative pieces. And these carved stones were transported to the site using a special train line. 

The primary entrance to the palace is called the Rajmahal, which contains the traditional Rathore coat-of-arms with a sacred kite embossed on it. Kite is believed to be an incarnation of the family goddess so kite hunting is not allowed in Jodhpur. There are several banquet halls and ball rooms in the palace which were used for entertaining the guests of the Maharaja. The palace also contains subterranean swimming pool decorated with signs of the zodiac, a billiard hall, eight dining rooms and an imposing Durbar Hall.

Architectural style makes this palace unique in the state. The architecture is a blend of eastern and western influences with lavish interiors containing elegant furniture and artwork which follow the Art Deco style. Exotic murals of  Polish artist Stefan Norblin enhances the beauty of the interiors. The 105-foot high cupola is influenced by the Renaissance and the towers has inspiration from the Rajput tradition.  

The current heir of the palace is His Highness Gaj Singh, The Maharaja of Jodhpur. The Palace is divided into three functional parts by him. And the three parts are a five-star hotel (the most expensive hotel at Jodhpur), residence of the royal family and a part with a small museum, which has been opened to the public. The museum houses pictures, items belonging to Jodhpur's royal heritage - weapons, antiques, fascinating clocks, priceless China vases that formed a part the private collection of Maharajas of Jodhpur, hunting trophies etc. The opening times of this museum is from 10 AM to 4 PM, and it is closed on Sundays. Entry is Rs. 50/-. Tickets are sold at the gate house.

This spectacular hilltop palace looks stunning when the building is illuminated at night, but is also causing some controversy in the city that continues to endure daily multi-hour power cuts.