Слободкина Ольга
Discover the Heritage Hotels of India

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  • © Copyright Слободкина Ольга (slowboat@mail.ru)
  • Обновлено: 22/04/2011. 16k. Статистика.
  • Очерк: Публицистика
  • Аннотация:
    Published by Passport Magazine, Sept. issue, 2007, passportmagazine.ru

       by Olga Slobodkina-von Bromssen
       It was a passionate saga, penned by Col. James Tod in the early 19th c., that immortalized "Oodipoor" for the benefit of the modern world. "The palace (of Oodipur) is a most imposing pile,... nor is there in the East a more striking or majestic structure..." wrote Col. Tod in 'Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan', Vol.I, 1829. Udaipur has been hailed as a city of peace, the "Venice of the East". The smiling capital of the Sisodia Rajputs ever since Maharana Udai Singh II laid the foundation stone in 1559 AD.
       Its magnificent palaces and island-palaces, in the backdrop of misty mountains and lakes, beckon you to plan memorable holidays in a unique heritage city.'
       That's what I read in the booklet "Experience the Original in the Abode of the Kings" given to me by His Majesty Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar in September 2006 when he came to Moscow for the launching of an album "Fashion and Style of the Indian Royal Houses".
       And - lo! - I'm here. And although my hands are still shaking as I walk up the Palace gate after the multi-hour flight Moscow-Delhi, a transit from the International to the local airport, several hours of waiting for the local flight and a four-hour flight Delhi-Udaipur with a landing in Jaipur. Plus the forerunning rigmarole with the invitation and the visa at the Indian Embassy in Moscow.
       But that seems to be gone and I'm here, at the Royal Palace in Udaipur, India. I'm here for the Maharana Cultural Foundation Awards at the invitation of His Majesty who is also the Maharana Foundation President and the owner of the Palace, or, to be more exact, the Udaipur Palace Complex, a city within a city.
       When democracy reached the shores of India the Mewar family turned their property into luxurious hotels. How many stars? Five? Seven? I think, much more. For I've never stayed in a hotel like that. Likewise, I've never lived in a palace. And the Mewar family made me feel very welcome and loved.
       - But you have palaces at home, in Russia, in St, Petersburg, for example, - said Shriji.
       - But those palaces are museums, so you are being shown a marble bath-tub that belonged to the tsar and here, in Udaipur, I'm bathing in the royal bath-tub myself and for a while it belongs only to me, - I answered.
       Yes, I'm here, at the Royal Palace or the Udaipur Group of Hotels, as they are called now and I'm staying at the Fateh Prakash Palace. My room is wonderful. Absolutely Royal. All marble and through the window I can see another gate and a guard wearing a flamboyant Indian costume against the background of flowering bougainvillea reminding me of the blossoming oleanders in Turkey.
       As I'm falling into a lethargic sleep instead of going to the dining room for breakfast I can feel the embracing softness of a marvelous bed and the miraculous serenity of the Palace energy - engulfing.
       Several hours later I was woken up by the manager who was my chaperone. "Miss Olga. Lunchtime." As soon as I left my room several boys wearing uniforms rushed to help me with the lock and I walked down amazingly high steps covered by a light-turquoise plush carpet - to the dining-room. The way down was somehow easier than up - a few hours before - or maybe I'd rested already or maybe I was converting into an Indian... Hard to tell, but the Palace accepted me and the King's hospitality was reaching me even without his physical presence.
       In the dining-room, which is all about a huge glamorous hall with huge crystal chandeliers and the Royal family portraits covering the walls plus a little museum "A Crystal Gallery" upstairs, I met Her Royal Highness Maroni, the wife of the King. We had first met in London back in 1989 at a fun tennis tournament in the presence of Princess Diana. Maroni recognized me at once and we had a pleasant talk spiced with tasty Indian food. When lunch was over I ran up to my room right above the dining-room and next door to the Crystal Gallery to fetch a Kuznetsov tea-service, my present to the Royal family.
       All I wanted to do after lunch was to come back to my room and sink into the Kingdom of Morpheus once again, but during the lunch I struck a conversation with a Professor of London University Dr. Richard Wyse (doing a project in Russia) and he immediately invited me to see the Lake Palace he was staying at. Thus my exploration of the Udaipur Palace Complex began.
       If you sit on the Sun Setting Terrace (where I usually had my meals) and look at the lake with the Palace Hotel floating like a ship and another Palace, Kumbhalgarh Fort, high in the mountains, where the Royal family used to rest during their tiger hunting and still one more Palace on the left called Jagmandir with nobody living there anymore, but only Hollywood stars celebrating their weddings, one may have a poetic sentiment and if one is a poet one may write a little piece in blank verse:
       How can I describe India?
       So many words have been said
       about its striking contrasts,
       of its utmost poverty
       and overwhelming riches,
       about its temples,
       some of which
       are carved of marble
       where each column,
       each little thing
       is meant to symbolize Infinity...
       has anyone said about the langur monkeys
       who sit on the stone bridge
       hugging their babies
       on the way from Udaipur to Jodpur?
       About the banyan and neem trees,
       their precious qualities,
       or about the wild peacocks
       who come in dozens with their guttural cries
       not long before the sunset
       and make themselves at home
       in rich estates,
       the heritage property
       turned into posh hotels?
       Has anyone said about the soft air
       and a mild flower fragrance
       in the Udaipur Palace Complex
       where the bougainvillea
       flowers like blossoming oleanders?
       About the glittering waters of the lake
       when you sit on the Sun Set Terrace
       looking at the Lake Palace,
       which pretends to be a white ship
       ready to put up its anchor,
       but will never do so?
       I'm sure
       a lot has been said
       about the politeness and cordiality
       of the servants in the Palace.
       has anyone said
       about the joyful hospitable spirit
       of its Shriji,
       of his Royal kindness and generosity
       as well as
       about his inexhaustible sense of humor?
       But back to my first day. After a boat trip round the lake with Dr Wyse landing at Jagmandir (where I took a photo self portrait in the table mirror lid) and looking at all kinds of birds, including those from Siberia, which live on another island, it's time for the Awards Ceremony. And jet we manage to stop by the Lake Palace once again and see a little concert in the foyer(hotel life goes on regardless of all the ceremonies) - beautiful Indian dancers sitting on the floor. What is dancing is just their hands - wavering flexible tender skillful hands of Oriental dancers. Around them aromatic smokes stream upwards while in the spar there are some other people resting. Who are they? Maybe travelers on their way to the Himalayas...
       Now we must be in a real hurry. We don't only have to take a boat to "the continent", so to speak, but I have to change to look "as beautiful as my long evening dress", a compliment paid to me later.
       The first night of the ceremony is a fantastic concert of Indian songs and music. However, we have to wait for the King who has been elsewhere and is on his way from the airport. While everyone's waiting I venture to put my foot out of the Place gate - into the night city of Udaipur and immediately herds of salesmen are after me offering all kinds of things and a variety of smells cardinally different from those in the Palace hit my nose. So I make up my mind to put the exploration of the city until the next morning.
       When Shriji finally arrives and the concert starts we all fall in love with the solo singer, Mrs. Sulochana Brahaspati. Although a lady of 75, she sang for over two hours almost without a break and without a sip of water, her passionate vibrating voice going up and up all along the Palace Wall where pigeons find refuge at different levels, the Palace that took twenty two generations to build.
       After the concert I finally met His Majesty to give him my present - Cds of my poetry put on music. As we sit at a party in the open air in front of the huge Palace Wall covered with a patina of time I recollect the famous saying: "The World fears Time, but Time fears the Pyramids." I would say, the same is true of the Udaipur Palace. What century are we in? The 16th? The 17th? Maybe, if you look at the Palace and around. Or in the 21st judging by the up-to-date service and equipment.
       The next morning started with my visit to the City Temple, I was accompanied by the Chief Manager of the Palace Hotel Complex and was not only amazed by the miraculous Temple, but mostly by the crippled beggars at the entrance - I've never seen such born body distortions in my whole life. What did those people do in their previous incarnations to have such distortions in this one. An old man with a wall-eye is sitting solemnly under the belly of a stone elephant. He is wearing a turban over his head and looks like the head of the gang. I give him a ten dollar banknote. He takes the banknote and runs his fingers over it several times as if he has never seen anything like that. After this careful scrutinizing of the banknote he gives me an appreciating stare. We exchange glances of gratitude and understanding.
       Hardly could I catch my breath after that experience when the Chief Manager took me to the Palace Museum to learn the history of the Mewar dynasty. And oh! Isn't it impressive!
       After lunch when I met a bunch of Spanish baronesses, friends of Dr Wyse, I was invited to see the Crystal Gallery. This museum is the only one of its kind in the world.
       Time for the Ceremony. The picturesque event housed 200 people, the first rows designed for the VIP, and lasted long into midnight. We watched all the nominees of Indian science and culture, including students and army girls, go up to the King, touch his garment as a sign of respect, get the award and retreat giving place to the next person.
       Very late at night we had a Grand Celebration Party in one of the inner courts at a swimming pool and an unusual tree whose wide massive leafage stretched on both the sides so far from the trunk that it looked like a ram fur hat of a mountain herdsman.
       The last morning at the Palace started with a most unexpected thing. Shriji was blessing a Himalayan rally - the owners of vintage cars from all over the world had got together at the Udaipur Palace to start a non-competitive rally to the Himalayas. As we stood at the Royal Palace cars drove up and stopped in front of us. Drivers got out of their cars, walked up to shake hands with the King who then raised a red flag and waved it in a gesture of blessing. The sight was both flamboyant and exciting. We've seen all kinds of vintage cars of the beginning of the 20th century - Rolls Royces, Mercedes and so on.
       My next destination in India was a private estate (also turned into a posh hotel) of a Lord, a college friend of the King in Rohe Gart, Jodpur.
       On the road from Udaipur to Jodpur (a five hour trip), which goes through the jungles, over the rivers with stone bridges where
       the langur monkeys
       come to sit
       hugging their babies
       and a miraculous Jain temple carved of marble and cleverly hidden in the mountains from the Moslems where
       each column,
       each little thing
       is meant to symbolize Infinity...
       we stop at one more Palace of the King in Fateh Bagh, the latest addition to the HRH Group of Hotels. It's a Royal retreat located in Ranakpur, the famous Jain temple-town of Rajasthan. Fateh Bagh is recreating a forgotten chapter of Rajasthan's history. It's probably India's first attempt at transplanting a palace, faithfully preserving the richness of Rajpur architecture for the 21st century visitors.
       Finally we get to Rohe Gart and although nothing at all in the whole world can hold a candle to the Udaipur Palace Complex I can appreciate this nice place the next day,
       when wild peacocks
       who come in dozens with their guttural cries
       not long before the sunset
       and make themselves at home
       in rich estates,
       the heritage property
       turned into posh hotels...
       which I spent entirely by the swimming pool relaxing and tossing aside a jeep safari tour to an Indian village to see different ethnic varieties, or, as the guide told me "to see the people". I've seen the people already and now I need some rest before the next leg of my trip - to Goa.
       I also need to sort out my impressions of the Palace and as I lay at the swimming pool having my slightest whim being satisfied by the estate serfs I recollect my meeting an American couple at the Sun Setting Terrace. The husband is the owner of the Chicago Bears football team. They have come to visit their daughter who is a school girl in the Himalayas. They've had a safari with tigers. When I asked them if their room is being cleaned as many times as you leave it (all the towels changed, the bowls of fruits changed, boxes of chocolates changed if you take at least one piece) they shook their heads and I realized what it meant to be a special guest of Shriji. They enjoyed themselves anyway and I introduced them to the King during the blessing of the rally.
       And another episode. At night when I took a boat trip round the lake the sailors told me about a horrible creature named "kokoral, which is three feet long, lives in the lake and eats people". A good beginning for an epic poem in the style of Vedas, isn't it?

  • © Copyright Слободкина Ольга (slowboat@mail.ru)
  • Обновлено: 22/04/2011. 16k. Статистика.
  • Очерк: Публицистика

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