Get Leashed Goes to India

Calling all Disciplined Dogs to ‘Taj and Chill’ at Umaid Bhawan Palace

By Si Si Penaloza

India is a rising star when it comes to pet-friendly travel. You may be surprised to learn India is home to a booming pet culture. On my many travels there, I have certainly noticed this niche evolving with every trip. Airlines and hotels in India are increasingly adapting to the idea that clients wish to bring their pets when they play, work, and travel. The country’s hospitality scene now offers pet-friendly specialized amenities and vacation packages. According to recent statistics, the pet industry in India is growing 10-15% every year and is worth over $800 million USD.

My top recommendation must go to one of my most beloved hotel stays of all time, the legendary Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur. Commissioned by the reigning Maharaja Umaid Singh, grandfather of the present owner Gaj Singh, this beacon of Beaux Arts architecture served as the principal residence of the Jodhpur royal family. The palace also houses a museum devoted to the 20th century history of this esteemed clan. I admit, I was rather surprised to learn that Umaid Bhawan Palace is pet-friendly on request; it’s a royal palace after all.

Photo: Umaid Bhawan Palace at Near Circuit House Road, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India; tajhotels.com

One of the world’s largest private residences, the palace still serves as the principal home for the Jodhpur royal family. I stayed in the hotel wing of the palace managed by Taj Hotels, called the Taj Umaid Bhawan Palace Jodhpur. It features 70 guest rooms including the top tier Regal and Vice Regal Suites and the ultra luxurious Maharaja and Maharani Suites with impressive art deco flourishes. The Maharani suite features distinctive parquet flooring and a terrace which provides scenic views of the garden. The bedroom has an attached kitchen and the furnishings are pink and peach color. The banquet hall of the palace now forms the large restaurant.

Photo: Umaid Bhawan Palace at Near Circuit House Road, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India; tajhotels.com

On my first morning in the Maharani Suite, I enjoyed breakfast on the suite’s sprawling sun terrace. As I finished my mimosa, I caught a distant glimpse of the royal family enjoying coffee on their private lawn below. To my sheer delight, there were two frisky Maltese pups running rings around the table. It remains one of my favorite travel sights, much in part to all that flossy white fur flying around the jade green grass. I never felt so grand as falling asleep beneath a stunning etched-glass mural depicting the Goddess Kali by Stefan Norblin (the Maharaja’s favored European artist). The tingles continued as I took an hour long soak in the Norblin-designed bathtub carved out of a single piece of pink Italian marble, reputed to be the only one of its kind in India.

Photo: Umaid Bhawan Palace at Near Circuit House Road, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India; tajhotels.com

Built between 1928 and 1943, this grand yellow sandstone palace spreads over 26 acres of gardens. Magnificent in its grand proportions, the building’s footprint includes a throne chamber, private meeting hall, a diplomatic hall to greet the public, a vaulted banquet hall, private dining halls, a library, an indoor swimming pool and spa, a billiards room, four tennis courts, and two unique marble squash courts. The sandstone was transported by rail and dressed at site into large blocks with interlocking joints, laid without the use of mortar to create a most beguiling edifice. Indo-Deco interiors feature gorgeous white Makrana marble and gleaming Burmese teak wood. On completion the palace boasted 347 rooms, several courtyards, and a banquet hall large and lavish enough for 300 distinguished guests.

Photo: Umaid Bhawan Palace at Near Circuit House Road, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India; tajhotels.com

If Jay Z had the chance to spoil Beyonce while on holiday in Rajasthan, surely he would have chosen Jiva Spa – one of the world’s top hotel spa brands – at this exquisite palace. Try the Sushupti treatment for total unbridled bliss; it’s a hedonistic delight you won’t find anywhere else, for a spa day to end all spa days. The classic Sushupti played a ritualistic role in preparing Rajasthan’s wealthiest, most ravishing brides for their wedding day. My therapist arrives early to prepare the treatment suite, one of eight rooms in this sprawling residence, once the sensual, private enclave of the Maharaja’s most favored bride.

Photo: Umaid Bhawan Palace at Near Circuit House Road, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India; tajhotels.com

She initiates the ritual by cleansing my feet in a copper bowl of warm water, lathering me up with rose and jasmine petals. She then exfoliates my body with a blend of rice, honey and cream, drawing out every delicious stroke. True to Jiva’s preference for organic over synthetic materials, I’m then cocooned in a luxurious conditioning wrap using soft cotton sheets – not the disposable plastic or foil still used by many luxury hotel spas. As she releases me from the wrap, I smell more like a five star dessert than a jet-lagged nomad.

Photo: Umaid Bhawan Palace at Near Circuit House Road, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India; tajhotels.com

After I shower off the paste in an enormous steam shower, she guides me to a warm bath of pure milk and beautifying rosewater. Surrounded by scarlet rose petals, I soak in this fragrant broth (wishing I had a straw or spoon as my nose detects traces of cardamom and clove). Deeply nourishing massage stimulates blood circulation while the milk bath soothes the mind. The finisher, a languid facial massage, tames an unbalanced complexion with calming oils. After two hours of epic pampering, she invites me to “rest” on the suite’s palatial terrace, overlooking pristine palace gardens and the historic Mehrangarh Fort in the distance.

Photo: Umaid Bhawan Palace at Near Circuit House Road, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India; tajhotels.com