Where to stay in India? These 8 ancient palaces are now hotels

India’s Maharajas of the past built magnificent palaces as a symbol of their power.

But in 1971, India abolished “private purses,” that is, government payments made to these leaders. Many of them transformed their vast estates into heritage hotels, or rented them to renowned hotel chains who carefully restored them to their former glory.

From the eastern state of Odisha to Rajasthan in the north, here are eight royal retreats where travelers can live like kings and queens.

1. Jehan Numa Palace – Bhopal

Visitors can step back in time at the Jehan Numa Palace in Bhopal, which has a neoclassical style and 19th century exterior.

Jehan Numa Palace.

Source: Jehan Numa Palace

This pristine white building was built by General Obaidullah Khan, son of the last ruling Begum of Bhopal, and converted into a 100-room hotel by his grandsons in the 1980s. The hotel contains original artifacts salvaged and Raj-era photos as well as modern luxury amenities, such as a palm-fringed swimming pool and Chakra spa services.

Its sumptuous charm lives on among the racehorses that gallop around the track surrounding the hotel. Travelers can enjoy Italian and Mediterranean cuisine here, but Indophiles opt for the hotel’s legendary Bhopali fare, prepared from secret palate recipes at a restaurant called Under the Mango Tree.

2. Haveli Dharampura — Delhi

Once the home of a nobleman, The 19th-century Haveli Dharampura was meticulously restored over six years under the leadership of eminent political figure Vijay Goel.

Haveli Dharampura.

Source: Heritage Dharampura

It is now a 14-room boutique hotel, which received an honorable mention in the 2017 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation. This atmospheric Mughal-era hotel features arched red sandstone colonnades, a marble courtyard, arabesque tiling, and intricate stone and wood details that echo the opulence of yesteryear.

The on-site Lakhori Restaurant prepares historic Mughal recipes, while the airy rooftop provides a charming setting for lounging with a drink in hand while listening to the call of the muezzin from the neighboring Jama Masjid – a moving reminder that you are at heart of Old Delhi.

The hotel offers guided heritage walks, kite flying and afternoon tea on the rooftop terrace, as well as kathak performances on Saturdays and Sundays, where guests can enjoy an evening of classical dance Indian.

3. Taj Lake Palace – Udaipur

Accessible by boat, this gleaming white edifice in the heart of Lake Pichola (as seen in the 1983 James Bond film “Octopussy”) was originally a summer pleasure palace for Mewar royalty in the 1740s.

It was converted into a heritage hotel in the 1960s and is today impeccably managed by the Taj Group.

Taj Lake Palace

Source: Taj Lake Palace

Straight out of a fairy tale, the Taj Lake Palace is home to domed pavilions, ornamental turrets, crystal chandeliers and 83 antique-filled rooms and suites, some overlooking a sparkling courtyard that hosts dances nocturnal folklore.

It has four restaurants offering globe-trotting menus, a spa boat and butler service.

4. Taj Falaknuma Palace – Hyderabad

Perched almost 2,000 feet above sea level, this hilltop hotel has 60 rooms and suites, increasing in luxury as you move up the room classes.

Taj Falaknuma Palace.

Source: Taj Falaknuma Palace

By the time you reach the Nizam Suite – adorned with fine tapestries, a private swimming pool and a personal butler – it’s easy to imagine the lifestyle of the Nizam of Hyderabad, who lived in the palace in the 19th century .

The rooms aren’t the only attraction. The 130-year-old building is known for its state banquets featuring old-fashioned dishes, its large gardens, its billiards room with monogram cues and ivory balls, And a library modeled on that of Windsor Castle. The cabins are decorated with Venetian chandeliers, royal portraits and family heirlooms from the time of the Nizams.

5. Taj Usha Kiran Palace – Gwalior

This palace dating back to the 1800s was, in its past life, a guest house and then a royal residence of the ruling family of the state of Gwalior.

Taj Usha Kiran Palace.

Source: Taj Usha Kiran Palace

Today, it’s a lavish Taj hotel that balances old-world ambiance with contemporary style. Its interiors contain ancient stone carvings, filigree work and rich tapestries. For a royal experience, travelers can take a heritage tour through the sprawling estate and stay in one of the royal suites, complete with four-poster beds, Venetian mirrors and mother-of-pearl mosaics.

The hotel also offers plenty of facilities to help guests unwind, including a spa, an outdoor pool and an Art Deco-style bar.

6. Rambagh Palace – Jaipur

Set in 47 acres of gardens which are Home to peacocks, this former hunting lodge and royal residence of the Maharaja of Jaipur dates back to 1835. It is today a heritage hotel managed by the Taj group.

Rambagh Palace.

Source: Rambagh Palace

Exquisite antique furniture, silk curtains, wooden ceilings and four-poster beds give the 78 rooms and suites a regal atmosphere.

Many other features make Rambagh Palace an unforgettable retreat: heritage walks around the premises led by the palace butler, a golf putting green, an original palace dining room with chandeliers and a gilded mirror, an ornate Polo bar trophies and memorabilia of the Jaipur polo team, and a spa with Indian healing services.

The palace has hosted people like King Charles, Louis Mountbatten and Jacqueline Kennedy.

7. Belgadia Palace – Mayurbhanj

Nestled in the charming town of Baripada, Belgadia Palace has been owned by descendants of the same royal family since its construction in 1804, giving it an authenticity that is difficult to replicate.

The Belgadia Palace.

Source: Belgadia Palace

A part of this historic palace was converted into an 11-room hotel by Mrinalika and Akshita Bhanj Deo, royal descendants of the family. It has high ceilings, marble hallways and artifacts.

There is also a sumptuous dining room that serves Odisha-style meals and elegant verandas on which to drink tea. The palace organizes activities such as traditional Chhau dance performances on the pristine lawns, visits to craft villages and other excursions.

8. Chittoor Kottaram—Kochi

The height of exclusivity, the Chittoor Kottaram – which once belonged to the king of Cochin – only accommodates one group of maximum six people at a time.

Chittoor Kottaram.

Source: Chittoor Kottaram

Nestled among coconut groves on the edge of Kerala’s lagoon backwaters, the three-room abode features magnificent Athangudi tiles and wooden ceilings.

Treasured works of art by Lady Hamlyn from the Helen Hamlyn Trust, the restorer of this 300-year-old palace, give the property a museum-like atmosphere. A personal chef prepares traditional Kerala dishes which can be enjoyed at a waterside kiosk or in the lush garden.

Ayurvedic massages and private cultural performances can be arranged, as can a private sunset cruise on the serene waterways.

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