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HH MAHARAJA GAJ SINGH JI OF JODHPUR

— JASMEEN DUGAL

With HH Maharaja Gaj Singh II of Jodhpur committed to preserving the city as one of the finest examples of Living Heritage, Jodhpur's magnetic charm drawn from centuries-old tradition, culture and heritage, is luring the discerning traveller. For the uninitiated, 'Living Heritage' characterised by the concept of 'continuity' approaches heritage as 'alive' i.e. constantly evolving to make it relevant today. That is his goal and his vision, which is being fulfilled through a set of initiatives, one of them being the conservation, development and transformation of Umaid Bhawan Palace and other ancestral homes, into luxury heritage hotels. In conversation with His Highness.

 

What are you currently working on towards boosting luxury heritage tourism in Jodhpur? Please do share your perspective and aspirations.

 

I always believe that a destination must create memorable experiences for the travellers. In order to do this, we have designed Mehrangarh museum galleries to showcase the history, art, culture and heritage of Marwar. The rich architectural heritage conserved and restored by Mehrangarh Museum Trust provides a glimpse of a bygone era to visitors. We also have music festivals such as Jodhpur Rajasthan International Folk Festival and World Sacred Spirit Festival that promote folk artists and provide them with an opportunity to share the stage with renowned International artists. These festivals indirectly create an identity of the fort and the city at an International level, increasing the footfall of visitors. 

 

Do share your initiatives towards preserving the city of Jodhpur as living heritage. 

 

Not just to promote Jodhpur's tradition of hospitality, but also to initiate heritage tourism in Jodhpur, I decided to convert Umaid Bhawan Palace into a hotel. This led to a heritage hotels movement that encouraged people in Jodhpur to convert their heritage homes into hotels for visitors to have a truly Rajasthani experience. We have preserved our historic Mehrangarh Fort, Jaswant Thada, Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park, Mandore Cenotaphs and Sursagar Palace in such a way that they attract visitors from across the globe. These visitors also get a chance to be acquainted with the history, culture, art, local crafts and traditions of the city. 

 

On a personal note, having transformed Umaid Bhawan Palace and other properties into heritage hotels to give them a new lease of life, how did it feel to let go of these ancestral homes? How do you feel today?

 

I feel very satisfied with how we have been able to change and adapt this beautiful Palace and other residences into a thriving palace and well appointed resorts. This not only takes care of my family's homes and their maintenance but also provides hospitality and a cultural experience to a number of International and national travellers who thank me for the 'privilege' of sharing our homes. It also means we continue to live in a Palace and other homes, which we still enjoy.  So in fact we have let go of  nothing and only enhanced the experience and comfort of these ancestral residences.

 

This is a generation that values experiential luxury and the travellers staying at Umaid Bhawan Palace expect to experience its history, culture and royal traditions. How do you make it an enriching experience for them?

 

The very fact that they are staying in a living Palace which is still the home of my family, where we celebrate all our occasions and festivals, and which is staffed by the families of our old retainers guided by the best hospitality managers from the Taj, is itself a genuine, authentic experience that has few parallels.

 

From a viewpoint of destination weddings, you have properties other than Umaid Bhawan Palace i.e. Mehrangarh Fort, Bal Samand Lake Palace and Nagaur Fort. Do guests request combining it for a wedding?

 

In recent times, the bride and the groom themselves plan and organise their events as per their choice and most destination weddings are spread over two-three nights.  Our properties are very diverse in nature and act as  a perfect blend of venues for various ceremonies. Taj has been providing a package for such requests where all these locations are used for different events such as Mehendi, Sangeet, Wedding and Reception. Bal Samand Lake Palace is mostly liked by people as the Mehendi venue since it has a large poolside lawn that adds charm to day time functions. Mehrangarh has spaces that can host Sangeet and Reception programmes. And Umaid Bhawan Palace is the perfect venue for a fairytale wedding. There have been numerous weddings here among which, weddings of Priyanka Chopra - Nick Jonas, Liz Hurley - Arun Nayar have made International headlines.  Liz Hurley personally curated her sangeet at the Nagaur Fort!

 

When it comes to cuisine, what are the expectations and requests at luxury destination weddings in Umaid Bhawan Jodhpur? Is it leaning towards experiential dining, traditional cuisine or ancient royal recipes?

 

Guests comes to Umaid Bhawan Palace with the vision of mainly three components with regards to grand wedding menus — the creative cuisine of the Palace, authentic Marwar and royal kitchen recipes, world cuisine options; and most importantly, the quality of the food and ingredients. The menus are tailor-made and curated as per guests' vision. The trends for grand wedding menus at Umaid Bhawan Palace are for an interactive display kitchen with live on-site culinary artifacts and delivery in small portion plates to be able to sample an assortment of different dishes. More healthy options, on-site stations with minimal usage of fats and oils and organic produce is also a big trend these days.

 

Polo and Jodhpur share a strong bond since the nineteenth century with the sport being an integral part of the region's heritage. Do you foresee extending the Polo season to encourage the discerning traveller?

 

Miniature paintings in the Mehrangarh Museum reveal that the Rathores first played Polo with the Mughals which  become a real passion with them in the late nineteenth century. After the establishment by the British of the Calcutta Polo Club, the oldest club of modern Polo in the late 1800's, my ancestor Sir Pratap Singh, younger brother of  Maharaja Jaswant Singh II and Prime Minister of Jodhpur State, asked Colonel Stuart Bateson of the Bengal Lancers to train the Jodhpur Lancers and then obviously Polo followed. The first team came to England in 1897, during the Queen's [Victoria] Jubilee and did very well, winning games at Hurlingham and Ranelagh. Jodhpur then came to be well known in England. Thereafter, the team continued to play up to the Twenties. In 1923, supported by Sir Pratap Singh, a young Jodhpur team played against the Patiala team, the most experienced and invincible team, in front of Prince of Wales Edward VIII; Jodhpur beat the Patiala team in extra time, in a thrilling encounter still spoken about today. In 1925 my Grandfather, Maharaja Umaid Singh, brought a team to England. In the team were included two of the best players in India, one of whom was the legendary Rao Raja Hanut Singh [nine goals] and the other his brother Abhay Singh [eight goals]. Later the Jaipur team continued into the Thirties, thanks to my grandfather sending these two players and horses to encourage the young Maharaja of Jaipur, his brother-in-law.  After Independence the states merged, and then after the war polo went into decline, but only the Army kept it going. I joined Oxford Polo Club when I was in England but they were difficult times. When I came home I was determined to revive polo. I knew we had the talent, and my son got into it, took teams abroad, went to Kenya, Brazil, Zambia, France, Egypt, England in the 1990's. And today, we also host a month long Polo Season in Jodhpur in December.  In fact, we host British Polo Day in Jodhpur as well. 

 

How important is it for youngsters to develop consciousness of their role as heritage guardians? How are you working towards this in Jodhpur?

 

The younger generation is the future of India and through various Heritage Clubs in schools, students are made aware about the city's heritage. I am State Convenor of INTACH [Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage] and through our activities at INTACH, and young INTACH, we involve children, youth and women in heritage activities to make them aware about issues and how they can help with their efforts. 
 

HH Maharaja Gaj Singh II of Jodhpur
HH Maharaja Gaj Singh II of Jodhpur
 
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15-APRIL-2019
 
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