Maharajah Majesty By Sunshine Flint

Staying at these five spectacular palace hotels in Rajasthan will make you feel like a king or queen.

India is a land of legends, an exotic cornucopia of manmade and natural beauty. The most sweepingly romantic corner of the country is Rajasthan, the Land of Kings. Home to fairy-tale stories of Rajput princes and Mughal emperors, famed cities of pink sandstone and fabulous desert forts and palaces, Rajasthan never stops being a feast for the senses. See The Luxury Channel’s program in Rajasthan on the Gems of India.

Rajvilas

Built in the style of a Rajasthani fort, entering Rajvilas outside of Jaipur is like stepping back to the time of the Rajput princes. From the main building, there is a heavy brass and wood door that leads to a narrow moat–the only way to the 71 rooms and villas set into the 32 lushly-manicured acres. Gravel paths lead to the villas, pairs of rooms that lead off from a central fountain in symmetrical style. The pool (complete with elephant fountains) and two-story Banyan Tree spa are a welcome respite from the heat. Or take a long soak in your room’s step down marble tub that overlooks a private garden.

You may never want to leave the world of make-believe but the city of Jaipur is not to be missed. First stop, the medieval Amber Fort (reached on elephant back) and its bejeweled and painted palaces. Then, head into the old city with its straight roads and intersections laid out by maharaja and his architect in 1727. Jaipur became known as the Pink City in 1876 when the maharajah ordered it painted for the visit of the Prince of Wales; now residents are required by law to keep the buildings that color. Stop into some of the government-approved shops (your guide will be sure to take you to one) and have a sari or tunic made from the finest muslin or silk. They will be sewn up and delivered to your hotel at night. And don’t miss the gem palaces to purchase the incredible jewels made in the same way for the past thousand years.

www.oberoi-udaivilas.com

Umaid Bhawan Palace

If you fancy a stay in living history, the Umaid Bhawan Palace is the place to be: one wing of the palace is still the private residence of the current marahajah and his family. Built in the 1930’s, this Art Deco-meets-marahajah fantasy dominates a hilltop in the desert city of Jodphur. The entrance to the golden standstone building is a 105-foot high rotunda, so high that there’s a whispering gallery at the top, with polished marble floors. The Smoking room has books from Mark Twain to Jane Austen, all from the family’s private library, and in the billiards room, the pool table still has the original green baize. Peek in the Heritage room where portraits of the current maharajah and his ancestors hang in stately repose on the wood-paneled walls. Outside tables are set on a grand colonnade atop a wide staircase, overlooking a velvety smooth green lawn and brilliant stars against the black desert sky. The observant and constant present of the staff will have you feeling like one of the (royal) family.

The other major hilltop landmark is the must-see ancient Mehrangarh Fort. From atop its heights it’s easy to see why Jodhpur is called the Blue City. All the buildings below are painted a luminous light blue, cresting like a wave against the red sandstone cliff. The locals believe that the color keeps the mosquitos and other insects away. The fort has cannonball scars from battles fought long ago and the interior is filled with fabulous palace rooms decorated with colored glass from Venice, frescoes, and gorgeous inlay. Near the Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace), you can have your palm read by M.L. Sharma who charges $3.50 for the short version and $7 for the long.

www.tajhotels.com

Lake Palace Hotel

There aren’t many more astonishing sights than the beautiful white Lake Palace Hotel floating in the middle of the Lake Pichola. The 250-year-old palace was built by Maharana Jagat Singh II as his summer home (after he made the lake) and much of the hotel’s most charming elements like the Belgian glass floral tiles and colored glass finials on the cupolas are down to his taste. The palace rooms have been turned into guest rooms with an opulent mix of furnishings and fabrics, and they all have incredibly views, either of the cityshore or the blue Aravalli hills and the glorious sunsets over them.

A short boat ride takes you back to Udaipur and the City Palace complex where the current maharjah still lives. The palace has a special elephant parking lot—curved ramps on either side of the “spot” kept the elephant upright. Wander Udaipur’s old city, touring the temples and shop in the bazaars for handmade paper pressed with jasmine and other traditional handicrafts.

www.tajhotels.com

Udaivilas

The luxurious new kid on the block is the many-domed Udaivilas, on the far shores of the lake, with a large Banyan Tree spa and restaurants with wonderful views of the Lake Palace and city shoreline.

www.oberoi-udaivilas.com