India has been the land ruled by numerous Emperors. From the Magadha Empire to the Mughal Sultanate, India kept on peacefully shifting and adjusting to the grandeur of each Era and Empire and adding on to its Heritage and Culture of each Ruling Dynasty which is evident through the magnificently built Forts and Palaces that are a Marvel Architecture of Engineering. With India becoming the Republic of India in 1950, the Constitution abolished the status of Royalty and withdrew all the Royal Privileges, leading to the conversion of some of the exquisite Royal Residences into Heritage Hotels. Here is the list of Top 10 such Royal Residences who now stand as Luxurious Heritage Hotels.
Also known as the “Jewel of Jaipur”, this iconic palace has seen a lot of transitions. From being the home of Maharani Gayatri Devi’s favorite handmaiden, Kesar Badaran, to becoming a Royal Guesthouse and Hunting Lodge, and later as the residence of the Maharaja. Built-in 1835 moderately and later on refurbished for the Royals, the mansion was renamed Rambagh after the then reigning Maharaja, Sawai Ram Singh II. His grandson, prince Sawai Man Singh II, was brought here on his accession in 1910 who always dreamt of making Rambagh as his official residence while in England for finishing his studies. Soon after his return, he began actualizing his dream by converting Rambagh into the magnificent palace, taking inspiration from the Mughal and Rajasthani architecture. In 1925, Rambagh Palace became the permanent residence of the Maharaja of Jaipur. When India declared its independence in 1947, the Rambagh Palace became the Raj Bhavan or Government House and the Maharaja became the Raj Pramukh or the Governor.
Earlier known as Jag Niwas, on the name of Maharaja Jagat Singh II, is one of the four islands in Lake Pichola at Udaipur. According to the legend, the young prince used to indulge in moonlight picnics with ladies of Zenana on the Lake Island Palace. It was soon found out by his father and the option of having a pleasurable pastime was closed to him. As a rebellious gesture, the prince built his own pleasure palace on a different island on the lake that begun in 1743 and was inaugurated in 1746. The prince named it as Jag Niwas. By the half of 19th century, weather and time started taking a toll on the water palaces of the lake and in the reign of Maharaja Sir Bhopal Singh, Jag Niwas remained deserted and decaying. Later on, in 1963, Maharaja Bhagwat Singh turned Jag Niwas into Udaipur’s First Luxury Hotel and in 1971 transferred its management to the Taj Group of Hotels, Resorts, and Palaces. The very famous James Bond Film “Octopussy” was filmed on the premises of this beautiful Heritage Property.
Umaid Bhawan Palace:
The Umaid Bhawan Palace at Jodhpur is named after The Late His Highness Maharaja Umaid Singh. Constructed somewhere between 1929 and 1944, it became a royal residence in 1944. Even today, a section of the Palace is the private residence of the Royal Family of Jodhpur which is currently headed by His Highness Maharaja Gaj Singh II. It was converted to a Hotel in 1972 and was managed by the ITC Hotels since 1978. Later in 2005, the management of this Heritage property went in the hands of Taj Group of Hotels, Resorts, and Palaces. There is a Private Museum with a small but exquisite display section consisting of arms, antique furniture, clocks, and priceless China Vases, all from the personal collection of the Maharajas of Jodhpur.
Another architectural marvel, Devigarh Palace in the Aravali Hills, Delwara Village, 28 km from the city of Udaipur is the 18th-century fort. Raja Sajja Singh was one of the lieutenants of Maharana Pratap who was awarded the principality of Delwara as a recognition of his loyalty and bravery towards Maharana Pratap against the Mughal Emperor Akbar in the famous Battle of Haldighati in 1576. Originally the construction of fort palace started in the 1760s under the rule of Raghudev Singh II and as the rulers followed, further additions were made to this structure accordingly. Subsequently, after the 1960s, this palace was abandoned. It was empty and in ruins for about 20 years before being acquired by an industrial family of Poddars from Shekhawati region of Rajasthan in 1984 who began the restoration work of the palace with a team of 750 people. It took over 15 years for its restoration and reconstruction. It is now managed by the Lebua Hotels and is an all-suite heritage hotel.
Gajner Palace was built by His Highness Maharaja Sir Ganga Singh of Bikaner in the early decades of 20th century. Built of Red Stone, it stands on the edge of the Gajner Lake. Spread over 6000 acres, this palace is at a 30-minute drive from the city of Bikaner. It used to primarily serve as a Hunting Resort by the former Maharajas for the visiting British Dignitaries during the days of Raj. Maharaja Ganga Singh used this palace for grand shoots and lavish entertainment during his reign. During Christmas Season, the Imperial Sand Grouse Shoots at Gajner Palace used to be the most awaited invitation. This hunting resort was connected to the main Bikaner Palace by rail in 1922. Hence one can still see the remnants of the historic railway station, an ancient temple and age-old Banyan trees.
The Neemrana Fort, located at a 3-hour drive from New Delhi, is a 14th-century fort. Neemrana became the third capital of descendants of Maharaja Prithviraj Chauhan III of Chauhan dynasty who moved out after being conquered in the battle by Mohammad Ghori in 1192. The site for Neemrana Fort was chosen by Raja Rajdeo and the fort is built since 1464 AD. The name Neemrana is derived from the name of a brave local leader as it was his wish after he was defeated by the Chauhans. The rulers of Neemrana were always proud of their clan and would bow to none. It continued under the British Raj as well, eventually leading to curtailment of their lands and merging them away with regions that entertained the Raj Authorities with Hunting and Champagne Breakfasts like, Alwar, Patiala, and Nabha. In 1947, the façade of the fort crumbled, giving way to its ramparts, forcing its ruler Raja Rajinder Singh to move down from the place. Raja Rajinder Singh tried selling off this property for forty years but all efforts went in vain. In 1977, the splendid ruins of Neemrana Fort were spotted by Aman Nath & Francis Wacziarg who established a company by the name of Neemrana Hotels which is now managing the heritage property since then.
One of the prominent civil servants to Maharaja Jaswant Singh II of Jodhpur was a young man by the name of Kaviraj Muraridanji, a proficient politician and wise administrator. In 1894, he received the district of Chanwa Village as his Jagir where he built a small safeguarded Haveli. Muraridanji lacked a male successor to his Jagir and in 1941, fell victim to a law of “Khalsa” according to which the estates lacking a male successor and a recognized adoption in the lifetime of the deceased Jagirdar (Property Holder) were automatically resumed by the State, after his death. Ironically, this law was introduced by Muraridanji himself in the best interest of the State. In 1948, Maharaja Dalip Singh, youngest son of Maharaja Umaid Singh, was granted Chanwa Village in Jagir but the haveli turned fort got neglected for years and started to decay. Maharaja Dalip Singh then decided to convert the neglected and decaying fort into a glorious and enchanting Heritage Hotel open for travelers and tourists in 1992. Since then, after years of restoration, Fort Chanwa Luni has been back to its prestigious charm and glory. It is owned by Maharaja Dalip Singh and Rani Madhu Devi.
City: Madhya Pradesh
This fort is built with possibly the most dramatic and unique setting. Being about 250 years old, it rests on the edge of a cliff, facing and giving out an astonishing view of the kilometers wide sacred river Narmada and the Ghats immediately below. Maharani Ahilya Bai Holkar ruled this place from 1765 to 1796 and built Ahilya Wada. The fort encloses shaded courtyards and verandahs on different levels that are linked by stone walkways, centuries-old buildings, numerous gardens, hidden terraces, ancient turrets, and battlements. In the year 2000, Prince Richard Holkar, the son of last Maharaja of Indore and his American Wife converted Ahilya Wada into a guest residence known as Ahilya Fort. Should he be in the fort, expect to be taken care of in style.
Jhalamand Garh Fort, in the Jhalamand village, 10 km from the city of Jodhpur, was built by the rulers of the Sisodia Clan of Mewar region. They are the descendants of the famous warrior Maharana Pratap of Chittorgarh. Thakur Gambhir Singh Sahib was granted the Jagir of Jhalamand for rendering outstanding services to Jodhpur State. Now, this castle is converted to a heritage property and is run by the Jhalamand Royal Family itself and is a recognized member of the Heritage Hotels Association of India.
Ajit Bhawan Palace at Jodhpur was built in 1927 for Maharajadhiraja Sir Ajit Singh who was the younger brother of Maharaja Umaid Singh of Jodhpur state. For decades, it was the home to the Maharajas. Later on in, it was transformed to a Heritage Hotel, believed to be India’s First, by his Son and daughter-in-law, late Maharaja Swaroop Singh and Rani Usha Devi.