When you think of Rajasthan, you think of its history and wealth – gems and jewels, palaces and forts, royal families and principalities. Often when visiting cities throughout the state, there’s the chance to stay at some of these palaces and experience the royal lifestyle of ‘Rajputana’.
However, a new kind of palace has opened its doors to guests in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan – a royal residence turned luxury hotel that boldly reflects an emerging, modern Indian aesthetic. In more recent times, as economic growth and prosperity have taken hold in parts of India, you can see a new India – forward-looking, restless for the new, bold with a view to being noticed, yet respectful of tradition. Rajmahal Palace in Jaipur, which reopened this year after extensive restoration, feels like all of these things – a palace for new India, you might say.
Rajmahal belongs to the Royal Family of Jaipur, who have a residence in a separate property on the same grounds, and while it’s one of the oldest palaces in Jaipur, it very much feels part of a new India now. This is largely thanks to the designer – Adil Ahmad – known for his work with Good Earth – who has worked with the royal family on the design concept of this hotel. If you have been to the Good Earth stores in India, the hotel’s décor and furnishings feel familiar to what you find when strolling through these shops.
The stand out feature of Rajmahal is its 36 different wallpapers – which range from deep navy blue and red to green and white, and pastel pink and blue. The vibrant, colourful designs cover every inch of wall space throughout the hotel. There’s wallpaper in vibrant pink in one of the dining rooms; others that feature India’s national flower, the lotus; peacocks on some walls; and horses and birds in the breakfast room. The inspiration for some of the wallpaper motifs was drawn from original doors inside the City Palace that depict the four seasons of the year – summer, winter, autumn and spring.
Throughout the hotel, there are original chandeliers and rugs from the palace, while the outside is painted pink in keeping with the best traditions of the Pink City (though Rajmahal’s pink is much more ‘look at me’ than the deeper pink of the city’s original sandstone buildings). There’s an abundance of crystal and silverware in the restaurants that adds to the opulent feel of the hotel, and what is like a lobby feels more like a sitting room with big, velvet sofas and chairs, and side tables covered in heavy framed photographs of famous guests that have stayed there such as Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Queen Elizabeth II. In the driveway as you pull up to the hotel sits a mint condition 1940s Thunderbird – available for use by guests who stay in the Maharaja Suite. Instead of numbers, the rooms are christened after guests that have stayed at the palace – there’s the Prince of Wales Suite, Lord Mountbatten Suite and of course the Kennedy Suite, where Jackie stayed for many months.
The hotel, being run by the emerging SUJAN group, is new and it’s aiming high. What we most enjoyed about it was its anti-hotel approach: the lack of a conventional lobby or any signage (listen when they are giving you the orientation); an apparent absence of staff until you need something, at which time you’ll be set upon by any number of them; the fact that no two rooms are alike. There’s 24-hour butler service, free laundry for guests and afternoon tea served each day.
You won’t forget staying at Rajmahal – if the contrast to the old city around you and Rajasthan’s other, more staid palaces and forts doesn’t stay with you, the many wallpapered rooms surely will.