There’s no better way to gain a sense of what life must have been like for the inhabitants of Rajasthan’s forts and palaces than to spend a night or two in one. India must be the only place in the world where you can find yourself sleeping in a king’s bed having only recently met his descendants over a gin and tonic for an update on the latest cricket results or a more serious discussion about water harvesting and the lack of monsoon rains.
Centuries ago there were dozens of kingdoms where rulers displayed their wealth in the adornment of their stately homes, but the withdrawal of royal privileges and the abolition of the status of royalty in 1971 pulled the rugs from under their feet. Maharajas sold up, leased to hotel chains or took in paying guests to meet the bills and have now become hoteliers in their own right.
There are opulent retreats in Jaipur, Udaipur and Jodhpur restored to their original splendour complete with five star facilities and swimming pools with views to die for but there’s character a plenty in many a simpler place. Head to the palaces at Narlai or Deogarh and their maze of steep stairways and narrow corridors that demand a ball of string to find the way back to your room and old four poster beds so high that you need steps to climb up to them at night simply add to their charm. The decor is invariably stunning with walls decorated with murals of peacocks and gods and hung with paintings and sepia photographs of maharajas in their full regalia. The elephant foot umbrella stands and teeth baring trophies of tigers which glared down at dinner time have now usually been discretely removed and relocated to private apartments or storerooms. Ask, and you may get to have a look.
Wherever you stay, you’ll be welcomed with traditional Rajput hospitality, delicious meals prepared to secret family recipes and turbaned bearers ready to attend to your every need. It’s easy to get used to and you’ll begin to wish that you too are of royal blood.
See our itinerary suggestion for how a trip to some of Rajasthan's palaces might look.
Andrea Hulme joins Natural High with a wealth of knowledge, first-hand experience and love of the Indian Subcontinent gained from more than 15 years living, working, volunteering and travelling in India, Nepal and Bhutan.