I have walked through the gates of City Palace, Jaipur countless times, but I have never felt so regal before. Someone who has grown up in the city and is acquainted with its culture would know that the palace looks its stunning best after sunset. Unfortunately, its gates close for the public at 5 pm. I haven't had many opportunities to step inside after the sun goes down.
My recent visit,however, was not of the usual kind. I was invited by City Palace, Jaipur to explore the Gudliya Suite, hitherto reserved for guests of the royal family, but now open to the public via Airbnb. The suite was officially opened to the public on 24 November, and it is already booked till January. It is certainly not a bad time for the palace to open its doors to guests, since the last week of January witnesses the renowned Jaipur Literature Festival at Diggi Palace, a couple of kilometers away.
As I enter the suite near Chandra Mahal inside the palace, I quickly rush to the master bedroom, which was, as per hearsay, the highlight of the entire suite. I would soon realise that the highlight presents itself muhc later, but the bedroom was nothing short of queenly. Framed pictures of the ancestors of the royal family, and their relatives, adorn the wall of a huge space painted in baby blue. There's a keen awareness of the blue-blooded nature of the space.
Next you notice the huge chandelier, as its dim, patterned light guards the master bedroom. Besides the muted yellow light, what overlooks the room is a rather interesting wall pattern. It is in the shape of arches, and characterises every wall, barring one which extends to the neighbouring veranda. The veranda also has a seating space, along with a potted garden of plants, ranging from lemon to guava. What is most enticing about sitting in the outside area is looking up at the stars (an advantage Jaipur has over most Indian metropolises).
While the suite could be replicated anywhere else in the world, a look at the sky and towering hawelis outside confirm that the experience is unique to City Palace, Jaipur.
Surrounded by larger arches on the wall are smaller ones on either side of the bed that serve as shelves. More than being utilitarian, they house ancient paintings that add to the old-world charm of the room. The presence of an air conditioner may take away from the fantasy that one is a guest of the royal family, like in the days of yore. But on the other hand, there are these paintings, two in the small arches behind the bed and two on the wall in front of them. When one looks closely at them, one realises the paintings have not been restored, since the paint does not appear fresh. Rather, some of the green colour in one portion spills over to the rest of the painting. That has been left untouched since the visible wear and tear (despite the unending historic and aesthetic appeal of the paintings) adds to one's experience of living life king's style.
"These paintings have remained the same since they were first completed. Any touching up, though only minor, would have been done over 40 years ago. The idea is to give our guests an experience, which is a good blend of modern facilities and traditional art," says Rima Hooja, Consulting Director of City Palace, Jaipur museum and a city historian.
"The Gudliya suite was used as a private affair, mainly for guests of the royal family, such as cousins from Kishangarh. When a new Jaipur was born in 1947, parts of the palace were opened to the public and some parts were reserved for the royal family (who continue to live there), and their guests and relatives. Over time, the purpose for which the Gudliya Suite was used kept changing. Very recently, some parts of the suite, which were locked up till then, were discovered. After that, it came to be used as a suite," adds Rima.
She says the idea of making it available on Airbnb came after Maharaja Padmanabh Singh had a pleasant experience with the website abroad. He is the son of Diya Kumari, a Parliamentarian, and the grandson of the late Gayatri Devi, former queen of Jaipur. A renowned polo player, he is spearheading the initiative of being the first 'king' to open a part of the palace property on Airbnb. The proceeds from the bookings of the property online will go to Princess Diya Kumari Foundation, an NGO working for the upliftment of rural women and artisans.
The master bedroom leads to a small chowk-like room, where a three-sided, round pink sofa dominates an otherwise yellow space. The pink stands out in the yellow room because it gives you the luxury to sit down and marvel at all the walls and the rooms they lead to. After much deliberation, I enter possibly the smallest room of the suite — the dressing room. A pink pattern on the upper walls and ceiling overlook the room that modestly consists of only a dressing table and wooden cupboard. While the wood of the cupboard looks (and smells) freshly polished, the dressing table boasts of a regal table mirror, a couple of empty bottles of perfume, and a few handkerchiefs with the palace's emblem on them.
I decide to then explore what looked like the last room of the suite, decked up in orange. It turned out to be a rather majestic bathroom, where a wide range of toiletries graced the shelves and towels were placed on the railing. What caught my attention was the white Water Closet. It would be difficult to use it with all the intricately and sophisticatedly detailed artistry around. But then, I had not seen the bathtub in the neighbouring room coming.
The bathroom is based on the concept of hamam or the Turkish bath, traditionally an Islamist practice of ritualistic public bathing in order to cleanse oneself of all sins. A grand bathtub in the centre dominates the room, with places to sit all around. While the idea of bathing while people are seated around may not be something you warm up to easily, it was a common practice, particularly in areas which have seen the influence of Mughal rule in India.
In case you don't wish to bathe in public as was the ritual, you can use the private swimming pool inside the suite (or lock the door). It is a huge pool where the orange colour of the wall does not fail to reflect in the water. Having witnessed the two alternate modes of bathing, I head back to the exit, only to find that I had missed the first room in a bid to rush to the master bedroom. The majestic gates of the suite open to a turquoise blue room that leads to the master bedroom. It is a stunningly embellished room that precedes a space with a much more muted colour and light. Padmanabh's smiling picture placed in one of the shelves there welcomes the guest to the Gudliya Suite. And in case you did not feel welcome enough, there is the City Palace, Jaipur emblem ensuring you do feel so once you enter the doors that remained shut for all these centuries.
All images by Rahul Sharda
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Updated Date: Dec 17, 2019 13:42:06 IST