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Spaces
March 16, 2009

Contemporary Palace

Text by Devanshi Mody

Travel to Udaipur and discover a right royal property. Newly opened and straight out of a fairy tale, Fateh Garh, is a 150-year-old derelict palace, transposed bit by bit, onto a soaring hillside. Verve attends the recent soft opening and discovers a contemporary hotel owned by the dashing Jitendra Singh Rathore better known as JSR

The Prelude: An uphill route flanked by antique stones from the original fort and their replicas convey me to the hotel where chanting ladies from the village garland me, dot my forehead with a welcome tilak and proceed to perform some exotic ritual. My attention is hijacked by the hotel ‘manager’ whom I’ve spoken to over the phone and who turns out to be 50 years younger than I had anticipated…. JSR’s nephew, the young and debonair Dushyant Singh Rathore, hands in jodhpurs, presides dashingly at the fort’s entrance. I almost don’t remark on the magnificent antique door, such is my astonishment. Happily, I recover in time to imbibe the rock-hewn walls of a winding path-way stylishly showcasing family armour. Up a marble staircase and I’m in a glass-encased lobby where marvellous regal cloth pankhas impart to the marble-floored imm-ensity an antiquarian air. Then, I’m staggered before the step well with its exquisitely carved metallic flowers. But the marble Nandis sitting placidly on the steps seem completely oblivious to the stupendous wow-factor of their surrounds.

The un-enthusiasm of these aesthetically un-initiated animals in no way mitigate my explosions of delight when I finally ascend to the paradisiacal pinnacle, the hotel’s endless terraces. Flights of fancy inspired this place: marble fountains, marble sun beds, marble-topped tables, marble sundials stud the open-air courtyards. The cliff-edge infinity pool almost seems to flow into Lake Pichola. But try not to get carried away. At least not until sunset. I let Dushyant Singh get me a cold coffee and enjoy the spectacular sunset that irradiates the heavens in a myriad hues.

Princely panache: And then the man himself appears. JSR. Interestingly, the mastermind behind Fateh Garh, did a one-man-show. He informs me matter-of-factly that he conceived the project and managed engineering, architecture, interior decor et al. But this discreet noble seemingly better connected than the Queen and more influential than Don Corleone is under-stated and unassuming. JSR mentions equally casually that he has so many vintage cars (some glamorising the hotel exteriors), and alas didn’t know what to do with them, so has leased some to the Taj Rambagh and Lake Palace…. Even when relating swashbuckling tales of his ancestors’ gallantry (recorded in Udaipur’s City Palace Museum), he remains visibly unexcited. JSR’s lovely wife Gayatriji, whose touch is manifest in feminine flashes of the décor, too is dignity incarnate. But behind the unfazed façade lies revolution: JSR has redefined ‘palace hotels’ with a refreshing, surely trend-setting interpretation of ‘heritage’. Here are the ancient, including traditional royal architectural elements, with a chic twist. Soon other Rajputs will start running around the countryside ‘rescuing’ ruins and resurrecting them in new renaissance properties. And we can also expect a flurry of oof-so-stylish pools all with antique stone Buddhas sitting stoically at the water’s edge….

Suite dreams: Fateh Garh is conceived upon Vedic concepts and so JSR offers 51 suites exemplifying 51 eco-friendly Vedic principles and the hotel occupies 51 bigas (a Vedic measuring system). From the honeymoon suite’s domed roof winged angels watch over the newly weds whilst in the swank marble bathroom it’s showers of blessings in the twin bath cubicle. There’s no chance of falling off the maharaja-sized beds but if you fall out with the loved one, then reclining on the floor is quite in the Vedic spirit. The terrace suites come with private plunge pools, although I’m not entirely sure where in the Vedas such founts of pleasure are prescribed….

Royally recycled: The other masterstroke in JSR’s repertoire is ensuring that everything in the property is recycled: marble sculptures, ornately-adorned wooden doors, fine fabric, cool cutlery, glistening glassware…. Further, Fateh Garh works on the five Vedic elements harnessing (recycled) water power, solar power, wind power. The palace even comes with its own windmill. And if that is not enough, they have brought along their own forest. JSR has swathed the slopes with 30,000 indigenous trees which besides beautifying, perfuming and recycling the air also produce oil for fire: the palace, set ablaze with lamp light, arises phoenix-like. Here’s how to build an eco-friendly, economically viable ultra luxury hotel in the credit crunch! ‘Affordable luxury’ redefined!

A right royal treat: JSR’s father points out that Fateh Garh seeks to offer its guests a taste of Rajputana hospitality. And addictively delicious it is (as is the delectable cuisine). Here you relish five-star customised professionalism with flashes of endearing familiarity.

Marriages made in heaven: Fateh Garh opened to a glam NRI wedding party for which it was hired out. Of course, following a week of revelry, the wedding never happened. No, not because the bride decided to abscond with the eligible young Dushyant Singh but because the groom, who arrived on elephant accompanied by horses and what not, demanded a BMW minutes before the wedding ceremony.…  The bride’s family blessed the hallowed precincts of the hotel that divinely intervened to avert a disastrous alliance and proceeded to demolish the entire chaat counter during the ‘wedding’ reception dinner whilst JSR and family looked bemusedly on. Things were more auspicious for Bollywood director JP Dutta who just shot a film about princes and polo here.

Princesses and pumpkins: There’s no dearth of princes here. Whether charming or not, I leave to your discretion. It cannot be denied that this fairy tale castle, for all its spiritual aspirations, lends itself to romance. Indeed, on New Year’s Eve, before dashing off to a royal gala in Udaipur I deplore to JSR that I have nought to wear to the glitzy ball but my daily-use Kolhapuris. As I dashed off to the Maharana’s ball, the temptation was to leave a strategically positioned silver Kolhapuri on Fateh Garh’s flighty stairs. But then again, it was New Year’s Eve so there was little likelihood that I’d return before midnight. And pumpkins don’t make for the prettiest princesses. Besides, I couldn’t risk having princes turning into frogs….

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