There was a dawn chorus at the Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodphur, but the birds were only bit players. The main performance was from sitar and drums, played by musicians who sat on steps beneath the wide terrace where breakfast was served.
Enjoying classical Northern Indian music while eating a version of scrambled eggs that features biryani spices and paratha bread is just one of the magical aspects of a stay at the home of His Highness Maharaja Gaj Singh II of Jodphur. Strictly speaking the stay is actually in the Taj Hotels Umaid Bhawan Palace, which occupies one half of the building constructed in the 1940s by Gaj Singh’s grandfather. But the Maharaja can often been seen on the terrace of his private apartments, which occupy the palace’s west wing, as he takes breakfast in the company of his family and beloved Jack Russell terriers.
I first met the Maharaja at a camel camp in the desert, two hours from the palace. He arrived driving a battered jeep from the 1950s. His passenger was the erstwhile King of Nepal. We were then for camel polo and Babji, as the Maharaja is affectionately known, was our master of ceremonies. As the sky darkened and exploded with millions of stars the Maharaja held court as a cluster of camels formed and formed again, showing that pack animals with a herd instinct do not make great polo players.
The following day saw better sport, as the Maharaja hosted the semi-finals of the Maharaja of Jodphur Royal Salute Golden Jubilee Cup. As superb horses galloped from end to end under the control of world class polo players I sipped champagne and listened to the Maharaja talk about Jodphur’s history.
The Maharaja’s family are relatively recent occupants of the Umaid Bhawan Palace, which was built by Umaid Singh to relieve poverty in Rajastan. At one point 29,000 people were employed in its construction. When it was finished the Rajput family moved from the 15th century Mehrangahr Fort that sits on a massive rock in the centre of Jodphur. Dedicated to the sun deity, the fort is replete with fine artifacts and palatial rooms. The Phool Mahal is one of the higlights, created by Maharaja Abhaya Singh in the 18th centruy. It was designed as a chamber of pleasure and legend has it that dancing girls would swoon in exhaustion under the ceiling’s rich mantle of gold filigree.
The Mehrangahr Fort can be seen shimmering in the distance from the breakfast terrace of the Palace and from many of its finest suites. Trust me, you won’t want to leave.