As a travel writer, I cannot allow excitement to cloud my opinion. But I could barely suppress the emotion at the prospect of checking into what is rated as the number one hotel in the world on TripAdvisor. You also start with the assumption that it’s going to be a great stay – again, I should not presume something without experiencing it. Of course, when expectations are set so high, I am sure it must be a challenge for the hotel not to disappoint guests on any count. So how did the Umaid Bhawan Palace, managed by Taj Hotels, fare for me?
Set on a small hill overlooking the city of Jodhpur in the Indian state of Rajasthan, few buildings in the world can match the grandeur and architecture of this hotel. I have yet to check into one to beat this. The only notable structure that I could see on a higher plane than Umaid Bhawan in the city is the majestic Mehrangarh Fort, clearly visible from many rooms, restaurants and the lawns. Despite being a desert state, the ‘blue city’ of Jodhpur has managed to paint itself a natural green. My stay also coincided with good tidings: it rained after nearly a year – making the blues, the greens and the browns even richer than they were, bringing smiles to locals and tourists alike. Would this be what you call a perfect stay?
The hotel is run by the erstwhile royalty of Jodhpur, and a part of the building serves as their residence. When you are being hosted by a ‘Maharaja’ and his family, nothing less than a suite would do. Yes, it’s an all-suites hotel.
Split into two parts, my suite opened into a sitting area with comfortable sofas and a bar with the bedroom beyond. The bedroom itself overlooked the Baradari lawns and the Mehrangarh Fort – I just stood and stared at the landscape till a knock on the door broke me out of my reverie. There would have been a time when most people lived in houses overlooking open spaces before urbanization took its toll on our entitlements; the open spaces before me brought a sense of calm within me. Give me a hotel – and a home – like this anytime.
I put a Do-Not-Disturb sign so I could allow the suite to pamper me. It was a hard choice between the luxurious bath tub and the showers; in the interest of the environment, I allowed myself a quick and warm shower. The walk-in closet ticked the next box for what makes for a good suite design. The walls are literally works of art – including the furniture and decorations. If the room was a Facebook post, I would click on Super Like.
Just when I was getting settled in, the general manager generously upgraded me to a presidential suite. If I was a head of state, this is what I would have needed for my entourage. Few suites in the world can match the size and opulence of this one. The dining table was set with fine crockery and crystal, and the living room had two ample sitting areas with sofas you could sink in. The oversized bedroom itself made me feel royal in bed. This further opened into a private massage room, a walk-in closet with two safety boxes (one big enough to hold the queen’s jewels!!) and a bath with a romantic jacuzzi. The walls themselves were adorned with specially commissioned works of art. I personally liked the wall sized images – if I had to order for myself, these are the kinds of works I may have liked to.
Overall impressions of the rooms? The beds were so comfortable I didn’t want to get up. The décor is a study in itself. The showers, rather tubs, are the place to dim the lights, bring on the candles, open the bubbly and compose poetry for your beloved. The cleanliness and freshness in the room were ten out of ten.
Can families stay in these rooms? Unless they are small children who can sleep on couches, even the bigger suites have just one king bed. But then again, Umaid Bhawan is best suited for couples in love – if children tag along, they should be given a room to themselves.
You can check out the different rooms and room rates here.
I had to practice saying a firm no to the chefs as they loved to indulge their guests; if I didn’t I would have no appetite to try other delicacies. Breakfast and lunch were at the Risala – with its indoor and balcony seating. The menu offered a selection of continental and Indian fusion – I personally liked the home style vegetable and lentils with chapatis for lunch. Breakfast was a generous spread with live counters to prepare your choice while you waited – I took it all in over multiple rounds of milkshakes served in old-style milk bottles. Despite the summers not fully gone when I visited, I booked my dinner at the Pillars – set in the verandahs overlooking the Baradari lawns and the Mehrangarh Fort. It was a delight watching the sun set in the horizon over evening tea – followed by a dinner of rich Rajasthani delicacies.
Do have the Mimosa – crafted by the bartender, it is a cocktail of champagne and orange juice. The waiters strongly recommend it over breakfast – to set the mood for the day to follow.
A spa below ground level
Go a few steps below ground level and you will see what must rank as one of the most romantic pools ever designed. Adjoining to it is Jiva, the signature spa of Taj Hotels. The next time I want to feel pampered, I know where I would want to be.
As I walked around…
A walk through the hotel is like turning pages of a history book. Generations of family photographs, a museum within the premises, art on the walls, paintings and images of important people who engaged with the powers-that-be – I was surrounded by countless stories, and then some more. Even before I visited, I had heard a lot about the Maharaja’s vintage car collection; I was not disappointed. Displayed in glass cases, each was a piece to be treasured and desired. Many still purr and run, a salivating prospect for the roadie in me who have loved to take one out for a spin. Maybe I should become best friends with His Highness?
Just when I thought the views from the ground could not get better, I got access to the rooftop; it is normally locked but you should request it to be opened when you visit. The views are spectacular from up there. Not only do you get a 360 degrees perspective of the compound, but you can see much beyond. Including an artificial lake that may have served as a reservoir in the past, the city itself, the fort and more.
Around the hotel
Jodhpur is a charming city to be in. You cannot walk for long before something or someone catches your eye. The bazaars are overflowing with bangles, bright clothes, footwear, handicrafts, pottery, spices and more. You have historical locations like the Jaswant Thada and the Mehrangarh Fort – don’t forget to book a dinner on the latter’s rooftop!! You will not have experienced anything like that. And then you have local food – mirchi vadas, kachoris, samosas, lassi, sweets – I certainly cannot stop myself once I get started on these.
To sum it all….
There are many hotels that offer you a delightful stay but the memories from Umaid Bhawan would linger for long. It all comes together here – the architecture, the design, the hospitality, the food, the surroundings and the vibe. You live the past and present at the same time here. You don’t go there to check boxes, you go there to be in a different world altogether.
Did I mention that they make a rose petal ice-cream in their kitchen? The dessert would be an apt metaphor for all that Umaid Bhawan stands for.
Jodhpur is the city you fall in love with. Umaid Bhawan Palace is where you check in with those you love. Again and again.
For more holiday inspiration, visit the Expedia India Travel Blog.