India, in particular Rajasthan is known for its luxury hotels and Palace properties. And the newest (and hottest) name for design-lovers and luxe-seekers is the recently renovated Sujan Raj Mahal Palace. Here is a post about a design-led restoration and photo tour from my recent stay at this luxury boutique hotel.
Raj Mahal Palace in Jaipur is fascinating. During its 290 years of existence it’s faded in and out of glory on several occasions and yet, each time bounced back with greater magnificence than ever before. In its most recent avatar it was renovated from a listless hotel to a 14-room ultra luxury boutique property which is fantastical both in terms of its design sensibilities as well as its luxe-value.
The impact of this recent change can only be understood through a comparison with the past. Personally for me, the journey of a designer’s grand vision backed by a hotelier’s impeccable service-standard to bring back the splendour of the by-gone Raj era is just as compelling as its current wow-factor. I who purely by accident have ended by standing witness to this transformation, cannot help but remember the first time I visited Raj Mahal..
It was the 1990s and our tour guide spoke to us about The Raj Mahal – one of Jaipur’s oldest palaces. Built originally as a garden retreat by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh (founder of Jaipur) for his favourite Maharani – Chandra Kunwar Ranawatji in 1727 it was named Ranawatji-ka-Bagh. Built on the outskirts of what was then the city-centre, the garden palace lost its appeal with future kings who preferred to stay at the Royal residence – City Palace – which was inside the walled-city.
It remained in faint oblivion up until the 1820s when British entered into a treaty with the Jaipur Royal Family and with that Ranawatji-ka-Bagh became Raj Bhawan and home of the British Resident Political Officer. During British residency, many a wings and rooms were added to the small palace and the living room would often witness men and women in dinner jackets and lacey gowns waltzing or lounging in its gardens.
Post independence, came another stretch of quiet until 1958 when Maharaja Sawai Mansingh II and his beautiful wife Maharani Gayatri Devi decided to move away from their formal residence at City Palace and make Raj Mahal their home. With that, this small palace became Jaipur’s centre-stage what with the lavish parties in its splendid gardens and playing home to their A-Lister guests – Queen and Prince Philip, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Lord and Lady Mountbatten to name a few.
H.H. Sawai Mansingh II and Maharani Gayatri Devi outside their home at The Raj Mahal. Picture Courtesy : Raj Mahal Palace Archives
By 1980s the Palace once again was rarely, if ever used and the royal family converted it first as their guest house and then as a hotel whose management was handed over to a third party hospitality group.
Once the tour-guide finished telling us about this glorious palace, my parents and I decided to head to the Raj Mahal hotel for dinner. It was the 90s and I a teenager who was rather excited about step into the corridors where many an elite had walked before. Our great enthusiasm however was met with drab furniture in dowdy maroon upholstery, ugly white-light fittings, dusty plastic chairs and noisy a/c s – a shocking departure from the majestic grandeur we’d imagined. A courtesy drink later, we left just as quickly as we came – thinking in unison ‘what a shabby affair’.
If at the time someone had told me that someday I’ll willingly pay to stay at this property and spend hours cherishing its bold design and stunning details, I would have been left in as much disbelief and you would were I to call self Gisele Bundchen!
And yet, here we are. The palace – which is still owned by the royal family – underwent a massive renovation and reinvented itself as one of the most beautiful hotels in India. The property’s redesign, helmed by Adil Ahmad, is one of the most compelling stories of a design-led restoration in modern times. For those who cannot believe how ordinary (read : unattractive) the Raj Mahal was in the last two decades and until Mr. Ahmad was invited to renovate, take a look at this video from just six years ago –
Raj Mahal Palace Official Video – Before Restoration
Sujan Raj Mahal Palace Video – After Restoration
Driving through its main gate towards the rosy-hued and relatively simple facade of the palace one doesn’t quite expect the design marvel and a grand symphony of colours which unfolds inside its colonial walls. Dominated by 41 unique bespoke wallpapers, omnipresent mirrors, stunning crystal chandeliers and layer upon layer of colours and textures, the design aesthetic at the Sujan Raj Mahal Palace is simply magnificent.
Apart from the astounding effect the decor has on its visitors, the restoration also brings to life the new spirit of Jaipur. At a cusp of traditional and modern worlds, today’s Jaipur is at the forefront of contemporary interpretation of ancient Indian art & craft traditions. Whether it be jewellery, furniture, clothes or homeware – Jaipur is obsessed with using its age-old craftsmanship to create design which transcend borders. And Sujan Raj Mahal Palace is a fantastic example of just that – a shiny beacon of exquisite design fusion.
While its beauty is best seen in person, I did take a few pictures which are strung in a photo tour at the end of this post.
I was greeted, upon arrival, by several members of the Sujan team including the Resident Manager at the very steps of the palace – very Downton Abbey’esque but delightful nevertheless! Like all other Sujan hotels, Raj Mahal Palace too is a Relais and Chateaux property. The food, therefore is superb, as are the cocktails. And resident guests can order anything, at anytime, sitting anywhere in the hotel, with someone from the team always standing at a discreet distance, waiting upon you.
Back in the room, beds are super comfortable just like other amenities which are tastefully chosen and thoughtfully placed. I loved coming back to my room each night to find a beautifully wrapped souvenir left next to a piece of gourmet chocolate on my bed. Every detail imaginable is already taken care of – as if the Sujan team is anticipating guest needs on steroids. I was infact on an odd schedule during my stay but my strange requests were met with such ease one would think everyone who comes to the palace must be asking for a 4am breakfast too!
Let’s just say, that for someone who is constantly trotting from one great hotel to another, discerning to a point of being annoying – even I was left dizzy with the attention to detail, level of personalisation and their quality of service. It was simply magical.
So here’s to yet another spell of Raj Mahal Palace’s impeccable beauty, royal splendour and authentic luxe….
A Photo Tour
The grand and royal welcome at the Sujan Raj Mahal Palace. Picture Credit : Sujan
Settling into my room – The Prince of Wales Suite
Luxury 1,000 thread-count bed linen monogrammed in royal emblem
The Living Room at the Palace ‘Durbar Hall’ is decked-out in bespoke wallpaper. Sofas and chairs are upholstered in royal colours of emerald green, cobalt and jade lush velvet layered with silk cushions in fuchsia and gold and interspersed with mirror detail tables.
Durbar Hall’s silk and wool carpets were commissioned by the British in the 19th century and were carefully restored during the renovation. They are the inspiration of the botanical print wallpaper which envelops the room
My favourite corner at Durbar Hall features a beautiful landscape from the personal collection of the Royal family. Glass candle stands in distressed silver patina with lit candles are placed atop mirrored tables which create infinite layers of soothing candle light.
B&W photographs in silver frames and are placed elegantly through-out Durbar Hall. A reminder to the guest that they are indeed at a home of the Royal Family.
Walk past Durbar Hall to enter hotel’s magnificent gardens which are two levels. Picture Courtesy : Sujan Raj Mahal Palace
Hotel’s 24 hours restaurant “The Colonnade” overlooks the garden and it outfitted in distressed gold furniture and turquiose blue upholstery. The Colonnade is open to non-resident guests though it needs to be pre-arranged.
The Colonnade during the day. Picture Courtesy : Sujan Raj Mahal Palace
Behind the locked glass cabinets at the “Polo Bar” are priced trophies won by H.H. Sawai Mansingh II who was a renowned Polo player along with several B&W pictures of the era that’s now so far gone, yet here. Picture Courtesy : Sujan Raj Mahal Palace.
The breakfast room – “51 Shades of Pink” is an ode to the Pink City. Fresh and dramatic, this room overlooks the gardens and fills with oodles of light each morning. Picture Courtesy : Sujan Raj Mahal Palace.
The mood at the formal dining room – “Orient Occident” is deep, subtle luxury. Service in bespoke China which was made especially for the Raj Mahal.
The 2,899 sq ft Maharani Apartment is to my mind the most stunning room at the palace. A very high bed and sitting room make for the vast bedroom which is connect to private dining room and kitchenette.
The pink, white and black marble mosaic work on the bathroom walls of Maharani apartment is a wonderful interpretation of the age-old mosaic art
Sitting room at the most expensive suite of the palace – Maharaja Apartment opens up to a small but elegant fountain courtyard. The wallpaper and furniture takes on royal blue and green shades befitting a more masculine theme of the apartment.
Breathtaking, to say the least, “Chinoiserie Room” is an elongated corridor which connects the driveway facing reception area to an internal staircase leading to first floor rooms and suites. The inspiration of the Chinoiserie Room came from the heavily carved lacquered doors which were gifted to the Royal Family by the Chinese ambassador. Covered with crimson and sapphire blue wall paper designed in an oriental theme and archways in black lacquer finish, this exotic room is lined with plush red velvet sofas and mirror inlay tables with many more B&W pictures on either side.
The Vestibule : Original marble staircase curves upto a corridor of rooms and suites. Oversized artworks of the main doors of the City Palace adorn the stair-way.
Mirror Mosaic ceiling above The Vestibule which was restored to its original glory during the renovation.
The sprawling gardens of the Palace lead up to the swimming pool. The fountain feature added during the restoration. Picture Courtesy: Sujan Raj Mahal Palace
Royal Family’s Vintage Thunderbird stays mostly at the porch at Sujan Raj Mahal. Apparently Maharani Gayatri Devi was driven to to her ‘new home’ at Raj Mahal in 1958 in this car.
Sujan Raj Mahal Palace : the splendour of a bygone era and true Raj-style luxury resurrected. Picture Courtesy : Sujan Raj Mahal Palace
P.S. – This post is an unbiased account of my observations and experience at the property. I personally pay for all my travels and all its related expenses, including this one.