An ancient history and one of the most incredibly diverse cultures – this is the India that BECKONS travelers from far and wide. Testaments to its heritage are many. Just take a look at the splendid palaces standing tall and proud in all the four directions. They speak of ages past when emperors ruled and their glory was displayed for all to see. Today, these magnificent structures still inspire awe. If you love history and marvel at fine craftsmanship, it is time to plan a palace tour of the country’s most famous royal residences.
Jaipur’s Hawa Mahal
Hawal Mahal is one of the most recognizable palaces not just in Jaipur but in India. It was built in the 18th century by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh for royal ladies to witness everyday life down below. The distinctive honeycomb design lends a hint of whimsy and you cannot help but wonder what lies inside.
953 jharokhas with latticework dot the façade of the pink-and-white Hawa Mahal, enabling breeze to blow through and cool the interiors. Despite the large number, you will notice that they are incredibly tiny. Back in the day, royal ladies followed a strict purdah system and were not allowed to be seen by the public.
The Hawa Mahal looks amazing anytime of the day but you should visit in the morning when sunlight dapples the interior in mesmerizing patterns.
Udaipur’s City Palace
The glorious City Palace in Udaipur is a complex made up of several palaces. It is one of the largest in Rajasthan and it is only when you visit that you can appreciate the sheer scale of it. It is not just the blend of Mughal and Rajasthan architecture that takes the breath away; Lake Pichola creates a wonderful mirror of reflections especially at night when the palace is illuminated. Even if you visit during daylight, try to extend your stay till dusk to see it highlighted in a warm golden light.
There are numerous structures within the complex that you will want to take in during your visit. You absolutely should not miss Badi Mahal with its turquoise pool and miniature paintings. You can then make your way to Mor Chowk, a chamber that boasts three peacocks in relief that represent summer, winter, and monsoon.
You can learn about the Mewar Dynasty, many of whose rulers contributed to the palace’s structures, at the City Palace Museum. If you have the time, try to stay for the Mewar Sound and Light Show at Manek Chowk.
Karnataka’s Mysore Palace
One of South India’s most famous palaces is set in Mysore, Karnataka. It was the home of the Wadiyar dynasty who ruled for five centuries. They were patrons of the arts and employed some of the city’s best craftsmen to work on the palace under the design of Henry Irwin, an English architect. The style itself is a marvelous blend of Indo-Saracenic. Square towers sit seamlessly alongside marble domes. Inside, rooms like the Durbar Hall showcase elaborate ceilings while the Residential Museum gives you a glimpse into the royal family’s living quarters.
Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the main palace but you can aim your lens at the façade and surroundings. You should stay for the light and sound show in the evening as the palace, gates and grounds become fully illuminated.
West Bengal’s Cooch Behar Palace
One look at Cooch Behar Palace and you get a vague feeling that you have seen it before. Do not be surprised if you do; it was modeled after Buckingham Palace and features classical western and Renaissance architecture unlike most of the other palaces on our list. The elegant structure features arcaded verandahs, halls and rooms, including a toshakhana.
Despite the grandeur of the palace, you cannot expect to see too many remnants of the wealth of past royalty as much has been lost. However, the museum still showcases an impressive array of items including paintings and photographs. You should look out for the tribal gallery too that highlights the everyday life of Cooch Behar’s locals.
Madhya Pradesh’s Jai Vilas Mahal
Another palace boasting western architecture such as Italian, Doric and Corinthian styles is Jai Vilas Mahal in Madhya Pradesh. The glittering palace was built by the then king of Gwalior, Jayajirao Scindia, and a part of it is still used by his descendants today.
Step inside the grand halls and rooms and you will be greeted by royal memorabilia. However, the real treat is the collection of swords dating back to the period of Aurangzeb and Shah Jahan, and the Dubar Hall that features two massive chandeliers that weigh a whopping 3.5 tons! Before you look up to admire this colossal pair, gaze down at the huge carpet that stretches 100 feet long. It was woven by prisoners of Gwalior Fort over 12 years and it is as if it was designed to match the size of the chandeliers! And, if that was not lavish enough, there is a silver train on the dining table that once carried around food and drinks to guests.
Opulent, grand and many withstanding the test of time, India’s palaces hark back to periods when wars between mighty emperors were fought and sprawling kingdoms established. If you are looking to experience its long heritage, there is no better way to start than with a tour of the best palaces. It is like taking a trip to the past and reliving the glory.
Image courtesy: coochbehar.gov.in, jaivilasmuseum.org and Pixabay