INDIA TRAVEL - 6 MOST BEAUTIFUL BUT LESSER KNOWN ROYAL PALACES OF INDIA

Hi Friends! India is a country with great historical past. It has seen a number of Kings and Queens ruling different states in different times. Maharajas, Nawabs, Nizams and Ranis are an integral part of India's history and almost all of them have left a legacy of their own. The palaces of India are an equally important part of that history. Each palace has it's own story to tell. And what makes them stand apart is the uniqueness of architecture of each one of them. Every palace in India is a proof of the tastes and grandeur of it's erstwhile owner/originator.
I am bringing out 6 of the most beautiful but very less explored palaces of India. You can feel the royalty of these palaces only after visiting them.

1. LUKSHMI VILAS PALACE, VADODARA - Located in Vadodara in one of the most developed states of India, Gujrat, this palace was built by Maharaja Siyaji Rao Gaekwad in the year 1890. It's sheer size makes it unique. It is believed to be four times the size of the Buckingham Palace and is supposed to be the largest private dwelling unit ever made. It's architectural style is Indo-Serecenic. Though it was built in the late 19th century but even at that time it had all the modern amenities like elevators. The interior of Lukshmi Vilas Palace looks like an European country house. With it's compound spread in an area of 500 acres, it houses many buildings.

Many scholars are trying hard to get it included in UNESCO's world heritage list.

Lukshmi Vilas Palace image
LUKSHMI VILAS PALACE
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 Some of the main buildings are Maharaja Fatehsingh museum, Moti Baug Palace and Lukchmi Vilas Palace banquets and convention centers.

The royal family still lives here and is held in high esteem by the locals.

The highlight of the palace is it's ornate Darbar Hall. It has a venetian mosaic floor and walls with intricate mosaic decoration. Windows are made of Belgian stained glass. It boasts of an Italianate courtyard with fountains. Nowadays, this is used for musical concerts and cultural events sometimes.

A golf course was opened in the palace in the year 1930 by Maharaja Pratap Singh for his European guests. It was renovated and opened for public in the year 1990 by his grandson Samarjit Singh. It also has an indoor tennis court with a teak floor, which is very rare to find. Along with this it also has a badminton court.

Lukshmi Vilas Palace has an amazing collection of old armory. It also has old sculptures made of bronze, terracotta and marble. It's walls are adorned by the paintings of world famous Raja Ravi Verma.


View of Lukshmi Vilas Palace
GLORIOUS VIEW OF LUKSHMI VILAS PALACE
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There is a well called the Navalakhi(nine hundred thousand) well, a fine baoli of stepwell is located 50 m north of palace.

Another unique feature of the palace is a miniature railway line built by Maharaja to take his children to school in the palace compound itself. The engine of that train has been refurbished and is visible at the entrance of the museum.

Maharaja Fatehsingh Museum - Opened as a school named Moti Baug School in the year 1875, it was later turned into a museum and opened to public in 1961. The museum has a vast collection of artifacts collected by Gaekwads. Maharaja Ranjit Sinh Gaekwad had a huge collection of vibrant headgears from Gujrat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. A separate headgear gallery was opened in the museum in the year 2015, which displays this collection.

Entrance fee for museum -  There is an entrance fee for mueum as per the following structure :
Indian Adults - INR 60
Foreigners - INR 150
Children - INR 40
For a group of 20 school children - INR 400
Timings - 10.30am - 5.30 pm 

Lukshmi Vilas Palace Tickets - There is an entrance fee of INR 200 for the palace also, which includes an audio tour.

Timings - 10 am - 5 pm

HOW TO REACH LUKSHMI VILAS PALACE - Vadodara is a major city in Gujrat and is very well connected by air, rail and road to the rest of the country. It is easily accessible from anywhere in India.

2. UJJAYANTA PALACE, AGARTALA - Located in the capital Agartala of the North Eatern state of Tripura, this is an erstwhile royal palace now turned into a museum. Constructed by Tripura king Radha Kishor Manikya between 1899 and 1901, Ujjayanta Palace is situated on the bank of a small lake and is surrounded by Mughal gardens. It was an abode of Manikya dynasty till 1949, till the time of Tripura's accession to India.

In 1972, state government purchased the palace and started using it as legislative assembly. However, after 2011 it was turned into a state museum.

It now displays the arts, traditions and lifestyles of North East India. It was given the name Ujjayanta by the great poet Rabindranath Tagore.

Ujjayanta Palace image
UJJAYANTA PALACE
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The palace compound is spread in an area of 250 acres. The main rooms in the palace are the Darbar hall, reception hall, throne and library.

Buildings and grounds cover an area of 800 acres.
The palace building has two storeys and three large domes. The largest dome is 26m(86 ft) high and rests over a four storeyed central tower. The building has a mix of Mughal, British and Roman architecture. It's tilted floors and carvings on front doors give it a distinct look. A musical fountain in front of main entrance has been added as a new attraction.

The grounds are designed as Mughal gardens with beautiful fountains. Both sides of the garden have large artificial ponds which are decorated with fountains.

Ujjayanta Palace view
GRAND VIEW OF UJJAYANTA PALACE
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The Ujjayanta Palace surroundings have many Hindu temples. Each temple is dedicated to a deity. Some of the more important ones being dedicated to Uma Maheshwari, Lakshminarayan, Jagannath and Kali.

Entrance fee for palace - INR 10 Per person

Timings - 10 am - 5 pm (Monday closed)

HOW TO REACH UJJAYANTA PALACE -
Air - Agartala has it's own airport and regular flights are available to and from this place.
Rail - Nearest rail heads are Kumarghat at 160 km(100 mi) and Dharma Nagar at 200 km(125 mi). Both of them are not major stations but are connected to Guwahati and Lamding which are major rail stations and are very well connected to the rest of the country.
Road - Agartala has a good network of roads and is well connected and easily accessible from all parts of the country.

3. LALLGARH PALACE, BIKANER - It was designed as Laxmi Niwas Palace in the year 1896, to be abode of Bikaner king, Maharaja Ganga Singh, which was completed from 1898-1902. But later on it was expanded and became much larger Lallgarh Palace. This expansion was carried on between 1902 and 1926, when Lallgarh palace was finally completed. It has been carved in red sandstone
This palace was named after father of Maharaja Ganga Singh, Maharaja Lall Singh and was designed in Indo Saracenic style.


Lallgarh Palace image
LALLGARH PALACE
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Karni Singh established Ganga Singh Charitable Trust in 1972 and a part of the palace was used for this purpose. Two wings of the palace were converted to two independent hotels. Currently, the palace is owned by the descendents of Maharaja Ganga Singh, who also run the hotel.

The palace is arranged into two courtyards. First one, Lakshmi Niwas is the most impressive one. Lallgarh Palace was constructed in stages and final stage was completed in 1926.
Red sand stone, quarried from famous Thar desert was used extensively in building the palace along with finely carved stones.

There are several grand halls inside the palace along with various rooms like drawing rooms, smoking rooms, guest rooms etc. Palace also has large cupolas and pavilions. A large dining hall with a seating capacity of 400 is also there.
Fire places, Italian colonnades, beautiful pillars and intricate lattice work add to the charm of the palace.

Darbar hall and an indoor swimming pool decorated with art, form the part of Karni Niwas.

Lallgarh Palace swimming pool
INDOOR SWIMMING POOL AT LALLGARH PALACE
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Presently, Lallgarh Palace is house to the following ;
- The Shri Sadul museum in the west wing. This wing also has a huge library, considered to be the 4th largest library in the world. This library opens from 10 am to 5 pm everyday except Sundays.
- A second wing is home to the Royal family of Bikaner.
- The Lallgarh Palace Hotel which is owned and run by Maharaja Ganga Singh Ji Trust.
- The Laxmi Niwas Palace. A true reflection of the royalty with all it's charm and charisma. This structure has Mughal and Rajput style exteriors and British style interiors.

 It has separate Billiards and cards rooms. The carvings on balconies and cupolas have been so well carried out that red sandstone reflects with it's full glory even today.

Timings - 10 am to 5 pm on all days except Sunday.

Entrance Fee - INR 10 for Indians and INR 20 for foreigners.
Photography is restricted in certain areas of Lallgarh Palace.

HOW TO REACH LALLGARH PALACE -
Air - Nearest airport is Jodhpur International Airport which is 252km(158 mi) from Bikaner. Jodhpur has regular flights from rest of the countries. From Jodhpur, you can hire a taxi to reach Bikaner.
Rail - Bikaner has it's own railway station Bikaner Junction and is well connected with other major cities.
Road - Bikaner is easily approachable by road from rest of the country.

4. COOCH BEHAR PALACE, WEST BENGAL - A landmark of Cooch Behar city of West Bengal state, this palace is also called Rajbari and Victor Jubilee Palace.  Built during the reign of Maharaja Nripendra Narayan in 1887, this palace was modeled after Buckingham Palace. It's grandeur and elegance is noteworthy.

Built in classical western style, this sprawling palace is a brick built structure having an area of 766.8 sq. m (51309 ft). It is on rests of 4ft 9 inches above ground and is 120 m(395 ft) long and 90 m(296ft) wide.

Cooch Behar Palace image
COOCH BEHAR PALACE
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A series of arcaded verandas form the front of the palace with their pieces arranged in single and double rows alternately. A projected porch in the center provides the entrance to Darbar Hall.
Darbar hall has a beautiful metal dome, which has a cylindrical louver for ventilation at the top, which is built in Renaissance type architecture at a height of 38m(124 ft). Corinthian columns support the cupola. Interior of dome is carved in stepped pattern.

Halls and rooms in the palace include Drawing rooms, dressing rooms, billiards hall, Toshakhana, dining rooms, library, vestibules and ladies galleries.

Cooch Behar Palace picture
ANOTHER VIEW OF COOCH BEHAR PALACE
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Main entrance to the palace will remind you of St. Peter's Church in Rome.
There is a light and sound show in the palace on every Friday and Saturday from 6pm to 8 pm.

Timings - 10 am to 5 pm (Friday closed).

Entrance Fee - INR 10 (Children below 14 years are free).
No food items are allowed inside the palace premises and photography is not allowed inside the main building.

HOW TO REACH COOCH BEHAR PALACE -
Air - Nearest airport is New Cooch Behar airport, which is hardly 20 minutes drive from the palace.
Rail - Nearest railway station is Cooch Behar railway station, which is 8km (5 mi) from the palace.
Road - Cooch Behar is well connected by road with rest of the country.

5. RANJIT VILAS PALACE, WANKANER - Wankaner is located in Morbi district of Gujrat. The Ranjit Vilas Palace here is a living proof that the Royals of Wankaner were very passionate about architecture. art and engineering alike. So much so, it was designed by Maharaja Amar Singh Ji himself in the year 1907 and took seven years to complete.

Ranjit Vilas Palace stands proudly on top of a hill and overlooks the city of Wankaner, the purpose for which it was built.

Ranjit Vilas Palace Wankaner
RANJIT VILAS PALACE
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It's architecture is a mix of many styles. While on one hand it has Gothic arches, on the other it boasts of a grang Clock Tower with a Mughal style dome. Windows have Franco Italian panes and balconies are built in Oriental style.

Members of Royal family still live here but a part of it has been converted into a museum. This museum contains artfacts, armaments and many other masterpieces. This museum is open for public. It has a huge collection of antique weapons like many swords, spears,daggers and shields. Then it has a collection of a variety of stuffed animals and paintings. An added attraction is the collection of vintage cars. Also there is a collection of medieval era chairs and period furniture, chandliers, glass galleries and regal lamps.

And the best part is a large stable of Kathiawadi horses.

Maharaja Amar Singh Ji named this palace after his friend Maharaja Ranjit Sinhji of Jamnagar, who also inaugrated the palace.

The sprawling palace is spread over an area of 225 acres, having a Mughal style dome and a large Dutch style roof at the center. River Machchhu goes in a bend, past the hill, on which the Palace stands. The hill has an average height of 81 m(270 ft).

Ranjit Vilas Palace has beautiful Italian style fountains and a three storeyed step well. It has a state guest house named Chandra Bhawan.

Inside Ranjit Vilas Palace
GRANDEUR OF RANJIT NIVAS PALACE
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The front and the back of the palace have been so designed as to merge with the surroundings. Due to the receding height of the palace towards front, it gives an appearance of terraces.
Apart from it's center, the clock tower has Mughal style domes at each of it's corners also and goes tall upto seven storeys.

Hexagonal chattris adorn a five storeyed bastion. Whole structure of Ranjit Vilas Palace has Gothic arches along with Italian style pillars and victorian style windows.
A special feature of the palace is a double staircase, inspired by similar structure at Chatrau de Chambord in France. This was created for the ladies of the palace to enable them to go upstairs and downstairs without being seen.

Timings - Ranjit Vilas Palace is not normally open for public. You have to contact the palace office to get the permission to visit the palace.

HOW TO REACH RANJIT VILAS PALACE - Wankaner is easily accessible from the rest of  country.
Air - Nearest airport is Jamanagar, which is 98 km(61 mi) away. You can get a taxi from there.
Rail - Wankaner has it's own railway station Wankaner Junction and is well connected to other parts of the country.
Road - The nearest bus station is Morbi, which is 25 km(16 mi) away. You can get taxi or local transport from there to reach Wankaner.

6. CHOWMAHALLA PALACE, HYDERABAD - Chowmahalla means four palaces. This palace is situated in the old city of Hyderabad near famous Charminar. When Nizams ruled Hyderabad, it used to be their residence as also the seat of Asaf Jahi dynasty.

While it was started by Salabat Jung in the year 1750, it took extremely long time to complete. Eventually it was between 1857 and 1869, during the reign of Afzal ad-Dawlah Asaf JahV, that the palace was completed.

When constructed, it had an area of 45 acres, but now only 12 acres of it remain and is still a property of Barkat Ali Khan Mukkaram Jah, heir of Nizams.

It received the prestigious UNESCO Asia Pacific Merit Award for cultural heritage preservation on 15th March 2010.

Chowmahalla Palace image
CHOWMAHALLA PALACE
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Functions like accession of Nizams and reception of Governor General were all held in this palace.
It's a unique blend of style and elegance. Since it took so long to complete, we can see influence of many architectural styles.

Palace has two courtyards, fountains and of course gardens. And then there is the grand Khilwat(Darbar hall).

Sothern Courtyard - Built in neo-classical style, this is the oldest part of Chowmahalla Palace. It has four palaces namely Mahtab Mahal, Aftab Mahal, Afzal Mahal and Tahniyat Mahal.

Northern Courtyard - It has a long corridor of rooms called Bara Imam on the eastern side and once housed the administrative wing. It faces the central fountain and on the opposite side is Shishe Alat which is it's mirror image. Rooms here were used for officials accompanying the Nizam's guests, as guest rooms.

Khilwat Mubarak - This is considered to be the heart of Chowmahalla Palace and is held in high esteem by the people of Hyderabad. Many persian architectural elements like ornate stucco work and Mughal style domes and arches adorn the Khilwat. These are typical of the buildings built during that period. There is a pure marble platform in this grand pillored Darbar Hall, on which is built the royal seat called Takht-e-Nishan. All the Royal ceremonies and Darbar were held here. Recently, Darbar hall was refurbished and restored to it's old splendor by reinstalling 19 magnificent Belgian crystal chandeliers.

Chowmahalla Palace chandeliers
CHANDELIERS OF CHOWMAHALLA PALACE
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Clock Tower - There is a clock above the main gate of the palace which has been working for more than 200 years and is affectionately called Khilwat Clock. The best thing about it is that an exoert family of clock repairers winds this mechanical clock every week.

Council Hall - The Nizam used to meet his important officials and other dignitaries here. It contains a large collection of manuscripts and books. Exhibitions of the treasures of Chowmahalla Palace are often held here from the collections of a bygone era.

Roshan Bangla - It was named after mother of sixth Nizam of Hyderabad, Roshan Begum. He is believed to have lived here.

Chowmahalla Palace is often compared with Enchanted Gardens of Arabian Nights for it's grandeur. It is believed that at any given time, it used to have as many as 7000 attendants.

Sprawling magnificent lawns with green landscape contrasting with yellow and white motifs of palace have a hypnotizing affect on the visitors.

You get first impression of the architectural excellence of the palace with a huge fountain in the front, which has beautifully carved pillars. Each hall has differently designed glass chandeliers.

Palace also has a huge collection of vintage cars used by Nizams, which was opened for public viewing in 2005.

There are many galleries in the palace. Each gallery displays beautiful collection of crockery, furniture, pictures, cloths and even coins and currency of that era.

Mughals gifted many horse carts(Buggies) and a fish motif on a poll to Nizams. These are also on display.

Palace has a souvenir shop. It has a large collection of carved decoration pieces and showpieces with traditional designs. This shop also has beautiful collection of jewelry which includes bangles, earings and pearl necklaces, the specialty of Hyderabad.

Entrance Fee -  Indian Adults - INR 50
                          Foreigners -     INR 200
                          Children -         INR 10
There is an extra charge of INR 50 for photography and INR 100 for video cameras.
Please note that SLR, Professional cameras and tripods are not allowed inside.

Timings - 10 am to 5 pm all days (Friday closed)

HOW TO REACH CHOWMAHALLA PALACE - Hyderabad is a major metropolitan city of India and is very well connected to all parts of the country by air, rail and road. Very easily approachable.




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