An Overview of Umaid Bhawan
As one of the Jodhpur's two main attractions (the other being Mehrangarh Fort) for visitors to this arid city (located at the edge of the Thar Desert) it certainly must rank among the largest residences in the world. Umaid Bhawan (originally called Chittar Palace), with 347 rooms, is truly palatial both in size, ambience and decor. Once the residence of the Maharajah of Jodhpur, Umaid Bhawan today boasts of a deluxe hotel (in operation since 1972 when royal privileges were abolished) occupying one portion of the building while the rest of the building houses a museum and the private residence of Maharajah Gaj Singh II (grandson of Maharajah Umaid Singh) and his family. The museum makes for an interesting insight into the eccentric interests of yesteryears maharajahs including a fascination for items such as crystal, colorful glass and intricately decorated clocks.
Umaid Bhawan was built in a fusion of Art Deco and local Hindu architecture and made of locally available pinkish brown sandstone, a stark contrast to the ubiquitous blue toned buildings seen in the older/walled section of Jodhpur. The architect behind Umaid Bhawan was Henry Vaughan Lanchaster, a renowned Edwardian architect. Construction took place over a period of 15 years with the help of 3,000 local people as a famine relief operation due to the monsoon having failed for three consecutive years. The foundation stone was laid on 18th of November 1929 and the building was finally ready in1944 to receive the members of the royal family. A specially built rail track was used to transport blocks of sandstone readily chiselled into shape to the construction site at Chittar hill. Interestingly no mortar whatsoever was used to bind the interlocked blocks. The building's central dome rises 56 meters above the central rotunda and is topped by a finial with carvings of four black kites (also known as cheel - milvus migrans).
The furnishings and fittings were originally designed by Maples of London. Tragic struck when the ship transporting the goods was sunk by Germans in 1942. The private wing of the palace is well presented by Art Deco furniture and murals paintings by Stephan Norblin, a Polish artist, who designed the interiors as well.
The garden thrives with rose bushes and bougainvillea and even the odd peacock can be spotted or at least heard. The alfresco Pillars restaurant on the garden side patio overlooks the well-kept lawns. A large ballroom and various dining halls and even a movie theatre are some other features of the palace. The basement includes a spa and a swimming pool decorated with the Zodiac signs.
The hotel boasts of some 75 rooms and suites all unique in furnishing and style. The rooms were originally built for use of the royal administrative staff.