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India from the Inside - a Tour Through Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh

Bikaner, Rajasthan

Before we left Bikaner I stopped at the Lall Garh Palace. This massive pile is an extension of the Laxmi Niwas Palace, the entire building being comprised of four wings around two central courtyards.

Ganga Singh, the Maharaja of Bikaner started construction in 1896 but the design credit belongs to Sir Samuel Swinton Jacob, the great British architect who skillfully blended Rajput, Mohgul and European genres to create a singular, Indo-Saracenic style for his royal client. The Rajput style facade is clad in finely carved red sandstone quarried from the Thar desert, and it covers all three stories. Combined with lavish cupolas, porticos and Jali screened windows, it sits impressively on the site just a short way from the old Junagarh Palace.

The Lall Garh had massive lawns and lush shrubbery - the bougainvillea was in bloom when I visited and it blazed on the edges of the manicured greens. Inside, it was all quiet faded luxury. It reminded me of an old English mansion-cum-country house still stuck in the turn of the century. Downton Abbey with an Indo twist - minus Maggie Smith. And there was loads of atmosphere. From the acres of marble flooring and priceless Indian portraits to the antiques decorating the airy public areas, the entire palace oozes elegance. The royal family still maintains apartments in one wing and one can get a glimpse of the luxurious lifestyle they had by wandering the wide halls and expansive exteriors.

Lord Curzon followed by King George V and Queen Mary were prominent visitors here during it's heyday and invitations to the adjacent hunting lodge on Gajner Lake were much sought after during the grouse season. I discovered afterwards that there was a railway connecting the two properties for the convenience of the royal guests - a distance of 32 kms.

Two wings of the complex are now independent luxury hotels under a charitable trust in service to the palace - The Laxmi Niswas Palace Hotel and The Hotel Lall Garh Palace. The trust was established in 1972 by Karni Singh, M.P. the Maharaja of Bikaner. His daughter, Princess Rajyashree Kumari, owns and manages the hotel today.

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