OR MUGHAL PALACES TO DIE FOR, THE PINK CITY AND A FABULOUS ECCENTRIC HOTEL.
Shahar Palace Hotel
I don’t normally endorse hotels but this one is magic.
This heritage hotel in Jaipur has been run for the past 20 years by Colonel Virendra Singh and his wife Nalini , the scions of Royal Family of Shahar and Kunadi. Since his retirement from the Army in 1990, Col Virendra has sought to replicate this cozy intimacy in his ancestral home.
Flying down to Jaipur was a pleasure. Early morning flight, blue skies, efficient airline and the drive into the centre and the surprise at my oasis hotel being exactly like in the pictures! This gem of a hotel is an old stately house and the owners are wonderful faded gentry with a once famous polo player for a son. Their rather strict checking in belied their subsequent mild and gentle ways. The office was crammed with photos of their beloved son and their history in this fabulous place. I sat in a higgledy piggledy office with the owners strange filing system in piles around us both. As he plugged on with his ceremony of checking me in I gazed out into the morning sunshine over the green lawn and trees. I was in love. This was just my cuppa tea.
And what a fine cup of tea they made there. It was only Liptons but maybe it’s a different blend in India or the water was different in Jaipur, or the milk but whatever it was I drank it to such and extent they called me ‘the tea bird’
On staggering along the balcony walkway rubbing my eyes in the morning
‘Oh here comes Rebecca, get her her tea, that tea bird never stops’
And on waving from my balcony in the middle of my eggy breakfast needing more of that amber nectar.
‘Tea bird is calling, quickly, she’ll die of thirst!’
I loved them there fiercely as if they were my family. This shambolic but beautiful place always had something being reorganised by the owner or a private yoga lesson along that long walkway. New cushions were plumped and sighs and quiet remonstrations that they were in the wrong place now. Delicious spicy aromas as the staff prepared the families lunch. There were other visitors who loved this place and who were a very loud over excited bunch. The birds. They called and chirruped and sang their sweet hearts out for me each morning as I had my breakfast and again later, after I returned from seeing the wonders there in Jaipur, as I drank an icy beer in the twilight.
Then there was the fish business. There’s a little pond and fountain there and the lady of the house Nalini, was seen to be outside having just bought new fish. She told me, as I nosily ambled over, that ‘one of those damned birds’ had eaten the fish that had been there and the grandchildren would be over later and upset if they noticed they were different ones as the dear departed had been named and were well loved. She sighed and looked up at the tree glowering at that invisible bird.
Local Colour at the “Pink City”
The Forts and Palaces.
Jaipur is the capital of India’s Rajasthan state. It evokes the royal family that once ruled the region and that, in 1727, founded what is now called the Old City, or “Pink City” for its trademark building colour. At the centre of its stately street grid stands the opulent, colonnaded City Palace complex. With gardens, courtyards and museums, part of it is still a royal residence.
Amber Fort and Palace.
I, however, visited Amer, or Amber Fort and Palace on my first day and what a treat.
After a drive through arid and burning land I entered the Forts Lion Gate and entered the large courtyard with the usual forts parameter wall and inner sanctum of the palace through the inner gates high up on the hill. Then boom, lush green geometric gardens and a glittering mirrored halls opulently decorated.
It was so unexpected and glorious that I wandered around muttering to myself in an ancient tradition of old birds. Sometimes a lack of research means you are wonderfully surprised rather than somewhat deflated with a heavily awaited expectation.
Apart from the Central Gardens I spied from up on high later their magical “Floating Garden” in a rather depleted Maoti Lake. The geometric pattern clearly visible from above. Apparently they grew saffron there but I’m sure they would have grown all types of herbs and spices. Cardamon and green herbs are part of the Mughal cuisine so I’m sure they would have been harvested from these beautiful gardens by the palace kitchen.
Top Tip: Go to eat at restaurants with the Mughlai cuisine as it’s speciality. The deliciously complex blend of flavours, spices, and aromas will surely take you through some of the glorious dishes of this empire and transport you in time to our friend Maharaja Jai Singh II and his ancestors. See if you can find the most royal Murgh Musallam. The food is complex and often rich and creamy with dried fruit and nuts. With the assault on your nostrils of the combined spices along with the other ingredients you will completely submerge into the culture. Be warned a long siesta is needed if you indulge in a large lunch!
‘The courtyard has two buildings, one opposite to the other, separated by a garden laid in the fashion of the Mughal Gardens. The building to the left of the entrance gate is called the Jai Mandir, which is exquisitely embellished with glass inlaid panels and multi-mirrored ceilings. The mirrors are of convex shape and designed with colored foil and paint which would glitter bright under candlelight at the time it was in use. Also known as Sheesh Mahal (mirror palace), the mirror mosaics and colored glasses were a “glittering jewel box in flickering candlelight”.’ Wiki.
An exhausting nosing around in the upper ramparts, corridors and courtyards was justified despite the heat radiating from the building as I walked through. As the upper floors had less people and after all only mad birds and Englishmen go out in the midday sun I staggered around this beautiful palace for over two hours. The roof terraces were for the most part empty so I enjoyed my imaginings of the opulent life there, secret assignments, whispered poison, grim plots and finally love stories and fabulous food. Oh yes, I pictured it all.
The motif used all over is a representation of the Islamic paradise garden with its four waterways. Along with all the halls around the garden there were canals and a central fountain as usual, to cool the rooms at the height of summer. Sadly when I was there they were dry. Here soon will be planted, once restoration is complete, with vibrantly coloured, scented plants as there were long ago.. I could imagine myself slumping around on a bejewelled divan groaning at the heat, and dipping my hand in to splash water on my face while inhaling sweet perfume from beautiful flowers. I’m sure I had some fabulous palace in an earlier incarnation.
Once escaped from this small paradise on earth I found my driver amongst much furore outside the gate. Shouting and honking of horns was a rude awakening as I ran all over, trying to find him. It gets a little crazy there as the day progresses so I was relieved to be safely in my beautifully air conditioned car.I had one more stop before a late lunch.
Jah Mahal or “The Floating Palace”
Thought to have been built 300 hundred years ago, it is said the partially-submerged palace was used for Maharajah picnics and duck hunting soirees. Little is known about this beautiful structure, which features no chambers but just has a pavilion with a terrace garden. There are four submerged stories apparently, and fabulous carvings around all of those arched windows. However when I was there there was no access and my tummy growling and complaining, I pressed on for a fine lunch nearby.
Sadly they had no duck on the menu.