How to be a Royal: Lessons from a tour of Umaid Bhavan Palace

Umaid Bhavan
Umaid Bhavan, a.k.a. uber-rich people’s kalyana mantapa

I have earlier commented on how awesome it would be to live in a palace, and this is a continuation of that theme. Here, I tell you some of the lessons I learned about being royalty from my tour of the Umaid Bhavan Palace in Jodhpur. Built by Maharaja Umaid Singh, the palace is India’s most famous structure after the Taj Mahal, looking at the stream of modern royalty, a.k.a. movie stars, who chose to get married here. Probably my chances of being a royal are lesser than India’s chances of being the top medal winner at the Olympics, but well, a girl can dream. And also, the lessons learned in this life will serve me well in my next birth, when, hopefully, I’ll be born as Prince William’s great-grandson or something.

1. Royals build palaces on hills, so that they can lord over their subjects. There are no auto stands near the palace (they are royals, for god’s sake, only Rolls Royce stands are allowed), so auto drivers demand a princess’ dowry to take you there and back.

2. Royals convert their palaces into hotels, leaving a portion open to the public to admire their old clothes and crockery and photos of them playing polo and lunching with Indira Gandhi. There is always a corridor cordoned off midway, separating the museum from the hotel, where the people earning a handful of lakhs per annum can peek at the people spending a couple of lakhs in a single night.

3. Royals gift each other clocks during Diwali and New Year. And cars. Umaid Bhavan’s collection of antique clocks and the king’s stable of vintage cars are the two most awesome collections in the palace. I found myself wondering if selling both kidneys would get me enough money to own the two things I fell in love with- a carriage clock shaped like a steam engine, and a vintage Porsche.

4. Royals believe museums are like home decoration stores, places for the public to walk past a display of cups and dishes and vases. There is little context on how the pieces came to be, probably because royals never keep records. So the public is left to wander from one room to the next, seeing one blue vase after another.

Villas of Umaid Bhavan
Someday I will have enough money to spend a night in one of these villas without having a heart attack over the price. And someday, Dolly Bindra will speak softly.

Museums are just collections of items, it is the curation of those items that makes it memorable. Umaid Bhavan displays numerous photos of Maharaja Gaj Singh and his father hobnobbing with famous people, but considering that TV has made celebs our chuddy-buddies, pardon me for not being too star-struck.Most of the palace’s collections are superficial and there is nothing memorable, nothing to grab your attention. You have no sense of the story behind the artifacts. Probably the king is too busy with his guests in the hotel and the villas on the hillside to pay much attention to his museum. After all, it only earns him a measly 25 rupees per head, while Nita Ambani’s 220 crore birthday bash earned him at least 50-odd crores.

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