Location: Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur, Rajasthan
Umaid Bhawan Palace is very, very big. It is the biggest and best private Art Déco building anywhere, and it still has most of its stylish fixtures and furnishings. It is the sixth biggest private residence anywhere. Designed by H V Lanchester for the Maharaja of Jodhpur and built from 1928 to 1943 on Chittar Hill outside the walled city, it announced modern Jodhpur. An elderly Jodhpur royal would reminisce to me about the grand balls held there in the 1940s. More recently it was the party palace for the prince’s fairytale wedding attended by more (former) rulers than at Delhi’s 1911 Durbar.
Today, the central third is your hotel.
Umaid Bhawan is heaven to stay in, provided you are up for walking a lot to pamper your mental wellbeing. Curiosity leads the way as you glide through voluminous spaces defined by precision-cut stone, stylish sculptures, sky-wide domes, sweeping staircases, internal courtyards, carved-screened corridors. Then, hang out in time-warp spots: in the snooker room, in the bar with its trophies in place, in the ballroom with its sprung floor, definitely in the ladies loo (deep sofas for gossiping), and on the terrace to gaze at the view across to Mehrangarh Fort. You can top up your physical wellbeing, too: down in the circular basement pool, across the 26 acres of gardens, up and down the outdoor pool, on the tennis court, in the gym. The spa is fab.
People tend to spend two days in Jodhpur, a mistake; it needs a week (if necessary, splash out for two nights at Umaid Bhawan then move out to a budget-pleasing pension). The top quality experiences need time – Mehrangarh Fort, Rao Jodha Desert Park, the old city’s lanes, local lac bangle-makers (have bespoke ones made for you), desert dhurrie weavers, Mandor’s cenotaphs, Osian's fine ancient temples, a desert sunset camel ride. For something super-special, set up a concert by the world-renowned Nawab Khan and his musician family or get a second Art Deco fix at Sardar Samand desert retreat.
Wellbeing is everywhere - this a wellbeing city!
Must-do wellness experience: Swimming in the circular Art Deco pool
Umaid Bhawan buzz phrase: See you on the terrace!
Ideas for unpacking your kind of slow-down wellness at Umaid Bhawan Palace
Shree Gaj Singh ji - known affectionately as Bapji - is head of the Rathore clan of Rajputs. This photo shows him at his coronation aged four in 1952, to be the titular ruler of Mewar state. Find it in Mehrangarh Fort where Bapji kicked off his lifelong project to conserve, mend and energize Jodhpur, working with global specialists to make it one of India's most vibrant, congenial and successful historic cities.
Spend a morning at Mehrangarh Fort, lunch at the bottom overlooking the restored gardens. Enrich this by visiting Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park before for morning light or after for sunset - superb naturalists have made this a verdant bird haven, with great fort views, book one to guide you through.
Join in Holi festivities. Two-days of fun start with bonfires, rituals and dancing to remember wicked Holika whose immunity to fire was overruled by the god Vishnu; best enjoyed in the desert. Next day, social rules are suspended - boys can flirt like Krishna did with the gopis, throwing coloured powder and dancing; best enjoyed in the old city lanes.
In Jodhpur's old walled city, dip down side lanes to find seed merchants, vegetable sellers, cobblers, jewellers, beads and bangles, tulsi wedding garlands, a stunning stepwell. Look up to spot carved windows and balconies, find tiny temples with seriously cool bejeweled deities like this one. Then, choose a little cafe or rooftop bar.
Drive out into the Thar desert to spot chinkaras (tiny deer) and visit Roopraj who runs the most inventive and efficient craft co-operative I've seen. Buy from his storehouse as you sip his wife's superb chai, or sit with him (and his grandson, probably) to commission your bespoke design, size and colours. His desert weavers will make them, then he'll courier them to your home.
Episode 20: Radisson Blu Temple Bay, Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu
It really is time to start planning your Unpacking Wellness experience for 2022!
How shall we want to travel?
We are emerging into a more cautious world, one where we perhaps want to move more slowly, be in control of our interaction with other people, avoid crowds, be outside as much as possible. I am here to help you achieve this in the Himalaya, on the Deccan Plateau, along the coast, in forests, desert and villages.
If you have not traveled with me in a group before ....
Please know that we experience great sights in the best possible way, with lots of add-on encounters and visits to off-beat places. We meet conservationists, curators, craftsmen and musicians, we walk with naturalists, we cook with local chefs. In sum, we imbibe the essence of each area thanks to my four decades of studying and visiting India - and making great friends who I share with you.
For private travel ....
I work with you to create your tailor-made trip to any corner of India, to any budget, for all interests and special needs, for families and parties of friends, for business groups and for honeymoon couples - India is ideal for everyone!