Its time to prepare plans for 2018. I have always been very fond of Palaces and the richness they exude, with countless stories to tell about themselves and the people who built them. India has a terrific collection to choose from, and here is my personal list of absolute best in India. Traveling to see these, stay there and absorb them is worth every second and every dime of yours.
These may all not be uber luxurious hotels, may not match with numerous “top 10” lists, and may not all be small or big, old or new. These are my picks and each of these is absolutely stunning! So, here goes
Top 10 palaces in India
(1) Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad
Built around 1898 by the prime minister of then State of Hyderabad, who later handed it over to the ruler – the Nizam Mir Mahboob Ali Khan Bahadur – this palace tops my list. Sheer opulence, luxury and symmetry, now enhanced by the famous hospitality of the Taj Group.
Reaching Hyderabad is convenient from anywhere in India, and the Palace is a 20 min drive from the Airport. Best time to visit is Indian winter months from Oct – Feb.
(2) Grand Palace, Srinagar
Originally known as Gulab Bhawan, built by the then ruler of Kashmir – Maharaja Pratap Singh – in 1910, this is now better known as the Hotel Lalit Srinagar. Extremely picturesque location, with views of the Dal lake and the Zarawan mountains, this is my another favorite.
Srinagar is well connected by air from major Indian metros and is also well connected by rail and road from Jammu – which in turn is much better connected to rest of India. The Palace is in the most secure & VIP area of Srinagar which is always peaceful and secure. Its about 45 mins drive from the airport. Best time to visit is from April – Oct.
(3) Ummaid Bhavan Palace, Jodhpur
This is a palace where the royalty still resides in some parts of the 350 odd rooms it has. Relatively new (completed 1943, was built to provide employment to the city population between the wars), it also houses a museum as well as a part of it is a hotel – so that one could stay and absorb the grandeur.
Jodhpur is well connected to India through the hubs of Delhi, Mumbai and Jaipur while a few towns also have hopping flights. Roads are excellent but would take ~8-10 hours from outside of Rajasthan. Trains also have a good connect with Jodhpur. You can select any mode that suits your pace and budget. Best time to visit are Indian winter months of Oct – Feb. Dec – Jan could be biting cold!
(4) Cooch Behar Palace, West Bengal
This palace, also called “Raajbari” is said to be modeled upon the Buckingham in London. The town is the gateway to Eastern Himalayas and is quiet, serene and tranquil (all words mean the same). Part of the palace is now a museum open to all, which is what we normally expect these days.
The nearest airport is Bagdogra (or Siliguri) which is everyone’s gateway to North Bengal and Sikkim. The town and the palace are 2.5 hours drive from Siliguri (120 km). There is also the railhead of New Jalpaiguri (which is very near to the airport again) that connects Kolkata and many other Indian cities. From there, taxis and buses abound. Best time to visit is Oct – Mar.
(5) Jai Vilas Palace, Gwalior
Gwalior has been the seat of power for the Scindia dynasty and continues to be. This magnificent palace, inspired by European architecture is a crown jewel of the dynasty (their Gwalior fort is equally impressive and huge). It was built in 1874 and is now the residence of the royal family. It also has a museum.
Gwalior has its own airport which connects many Indian cities to it. Being in the center of India, it sits squarely on many rail lines going north-south or east-west. Its a 6 hour drive from more popular airports like Delhi or Jaipur or Bhopal. Best time to visit is Oct – Mar.
(6) City Palace, Udaipur
Udaipur Palace (Courtesy: Rajasthan Direct.com)
Consisting 3 different palaces attached into a main complex. Built over 400 years (started in 1553), this is one of the oldest in my list. Its a magnificent place, with huge halls, expansive and decorated rooms, and a portion of it converted into a hotel. The entire property is lined up on the banks of a lake (Lake Pichola) and attracts thousands of tourists every year. It also has, a museum (and its worth buying the ticket).
Udaipur is connected a little less by air – primarily Mumbai, Delhi and Jaipur. One can also fly till Ahmedabad and then drive down. Well connected by road, but not so by trains (as it is a bit into the Aravalis). Its good to visit throughout the year except the peak summer months of Apr – July.
(7) Lakshmi Vilas Palace, Baroda
Much similar to the history of Scindias, is the history of Gakewads (whose dynasty base is Baroda). Hence, Laxmi Vilas is an equally impressive addition to the rich spectrum of palaces dotting India. It is estimated to be 4 times the size of Buckingham and has countless movies shot here depicting royalty of its owners.
Baroda has an airport, that connects most frequently to Mumbai and Delhi. Trains connect it better from Kolkata, Jaipur and other cities. Alternatively, Ahmedabad is merely 2 hours away. There are buses from all major cities in Gujarat, MP as well as Mumbai, Delhi and Jaipur. Best time to visit remains Oct – Mar.
(8) Ujjayanta Palace, Agartala
This one is a gem from the North Eastern State of Tripura and built by the royal family of Manikya around 1900. Its name was given by Rabindranath Tagore and the King liked it a lot. It used to function as the state assembly till recently as 2011 and now houses a museum (thank God for that). The interiors are still well preserved.
Agartala is connected most usably by air for most Indians, though residents of North East India may fancy a road trip. It is well connected by air from Kolkata, Guwahati and Bagdogra. Other Indian airports will provide hopping options into Agartala through these 3 airports. Best time to drop in: Oct – Jan
(9) Amba Vilas Palace, Mysore
It still is the official residence of the Wodeyar dynasty and is widely used for royal functions – most well known amongst them is the Mysore Dussera festival. It was rebuilt by 1912 after an unfortunate fire gutted it, and is now a well preserved and functional palace with exceptional riches on display (tickets are absolutely worth the price).
Gateway to Mysore is Bangalore which is extremely well connected across the country by air, rail and road. Mysore is a 2.5hr drive from Bangalore. Others can also take the train which takes 3 hours. The palace is within the city center. Best time to visit: Oct – Feb.
(10) Kowdiar Palace, Trivandrum
Once a residence of the royal Travancore family, this palace was first built out as a wedding gift for the royal princess in 1934. It is one of the most significant heritage structures in Kerala. More than 150 rooms made in the Dravidian style so often seen in South India, this is a much larger property than what the picture makes it out to be.
Trivandrum, capital of Kerala is well connected by air to all parts of India. Trains from all corners of India stop here. Roads are also excellent in Kerala though they happen to be narrow 2 lanes in most places. Best time to visit: Oct – Feb.