March 2017 | Sangeeta Menon

Royal retreat

Rambagh Palace is perhaps the most storied of the luxury palace hotels in the Taj Group. And not just because it was once home to the legendary maharani of Jaipur, the late Gayatri Devi, whose presence is still felt everywhere. Elegantly perched on 47 acres of land in Jaipur, the 78-room property overlooks manicured gardens dotted with languorous mango trees. Inside, glittering chandeliers, liveried staff and opulent suites transport guests to a world of royal grandeur. Little wonder, then, that Manish Gupta, general manager, Rambagh Palace, in conversation with Sangeeta Menon, admits to being “blown away” when he first arrived here.

Manish Gupta, general manager, Rambagh Palace, speaks about the hotel's uniquely regal experiences

How does Rambagh Palace maintain its uniqueness amid the other 5-star hotels in a city known for its palaces and forts?
Rambagh Palace is an iconic palace of Jaipur. Its transformation from a small hunting lodge in 1835 to a luxury palace, and then a luxury hotel, creates a lot of curiosity among guests. The rich art, culture and history of the city of Jaipur, combined with the history of Rambagh, makes this place unique.

The palace exudes the nobility and sophistication of its most beautiful royal resident, the erstwhile maharani of Jaipur, the late Gayatri Devi. From its distinguished and authentic Victorian interiors to the vibrant Rajputana architecture, from the original Italian crystal chandeliers to the alabaster marble sculptures, the originality of this palace has been painstakingly preserved over the decades.

When our guests drive through the royal gates of Rambagh Palace, they become part of a deeply experiential journey that gives them a glimpse into the lives of the erstwhile royalty of this city. This palace is like a beautiful storyteller who captures the imagination of his guests as they walk down its corridors or stroll around the neatly laid out gardens.

That said, today there is hardly an international hotel brand that is not present in Jaipur. To differentiate Rambagh Palace from the other brands, we have to combine our rich history, culture and heritage with unmatched global experiences. Guests come into this hotel expecting, of course, the history and grandeur of a palace, but they will not compromise on facilities such as great Wi-fi, fantastic culinary experiences, modern amenities, and so on. Over the last 50 years we have been able to successfully offer all of these to our guests without deviating from our core strength — our heritage and history.

Rambagh Palace and the Taj Lake Palace Udaipur are among the first palaces in India to become luxury hotels. How has the journey been?
Rambagh Palace has certainly come a long way since then. While its history makes it one of the most enigmatic luxury palace hotels of India, the artistic refinement through the years has made it one of the most bewitching as well. The work carried out in the late 19th century through the early 20th century (and recent refurbishments in 2002 and 2015) have transformed the palace into one of the most desired royal destinations in Rajasthan.

From a service perspective, the palace has preserved the regal charm of royal butlers, whilst simultaneously adapting to modern day standard operating procedures. Today, Rambagh Palace represents the perfect confluence of traditional values and contemporary service.

What, according to you, are the top three reasons for visitors to the Pink City to choose Rambagh Palace?
The rich history of the palace, the regal lifestyle we provide and the unmatched Taj touch, together with the genuine warmth of service extended by our team, creates a memorable experience for our guests.

Among the regal experiences is a historical tour of the palace and information about its most famous inhabitants, including the renowned late Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II and late Maharani Gayatri Devi. The cultural performances in the evenings are a reflection of the royal life, too — whether it is the Jaipur gharana ‘kathak’ or the sufi version, you will rarely find them being performed anywhere else today. Another experience I would strongly recommend is a visit to our exquisite herb garden with our chef; pick your own ingredients and watch the chef cook you a fantastic local meal. If you are on a celebratory trip to the palace, enjoy our exclusive experiences, such as a special dinner in a superb setting on the palace grounds, with a personal butler looking after you and a drive to the venue in a vintage car.

The exquisite Rambagh Palace, a luxury hotel of the Taj Group, is a perfect confluence of traditional values and contemporary service

Tell us a bit about the typical guest at the palace.
Rambagh Palace is, perhaps, the only palace that attracts both leisure and business guests. The maximum number of leisure guests are from the US, followed by the UK, Germany, Brazil and Australia. In recent times, we have noticed even Indian tourists seeking out royal experiences. Guests on a leisure trip are besotted with the fairytale story of a princess and a prince who once lived here in the golden era of Rajputana royalty, and Rambagh Palace never fails to live up to their expectations.

We also receive corporate leaders, government officials and heads of state as guests. Business travellers arrive at our palace expecting state-of-the-art business facilities, and Rambagh Palace effortlessly fulfils even the most formidable business needs. Besides, the palace is a preferred venue for high-profile destination weddings and premium product launches.

How does the concept of ‘Tajness’ play out in Rambagh Palace?
Tajness is the embodiment of Indian heritage and hospitality. The concept and philosophy of Tajness stands firm on the values of the Taj and how these values enable our associates to deliver their best, every time. Tajness is also about creating experiences that let our guests enjoy the nuances of the culture of the region where each Taj hotel is located.

Rambagh Palace reflects the finest of the royal Rajputana tradition in every service aspect. Be it our check-in experience, unmatched dining options, evening rituals or exquisite afternoon high tea, our teams work hard to offer the best hospitality to guests from the moment they set foot in the palace. The humility of our people, the excellence of our service deliveries and the sweet little surprises created at every touchpoint complete the circle of Tajness at Rambagh Palace for our guests.

Tell us about the celebrities and eminent personalities that the palace has hosted.
Rambagh Palace has played gracious host to innumerable dignitaries. The list is endless — among other luminaries, Lord and Lady Mountbatten, Jacqueline Kennedy, Prince Charles and the Dalai Lama have walked these royal corridors. In recent times, our palace has proudly hosted the Prime Minister of India and 14 heads of state. The Jaipur Literature Festival also gives us the opportunity to host celebrated writers and scholars.

What challenges do you face in running the property?
Being a heritage structure, there is significant expertise, investment and effort involved in its maintenance and upkeep. Luckily, we still have some people from the older era who understand the importance of each marble, metal or wood in the palace. Whenever we undertake any refurbishment, we are conscious that we never disturb the symphony of the place. The biggest challenge is to find the balance between preserving the heritage value of the structure while enhancing it to meet the expectations of our guests. The other balance that we always seek to maintain is between the generations of people who work here that include the Boomers, the Xers and the Millennials.

What has been your most unforgettable experience here?
The journey since October 2013, when I first arrived here, has been full of excitement. For me, running this charming palace hotel as the general manager is like living a dream every day of my life. Whether it is receiving a dignitary or hosting a cocktail or a large banquet, it is out-and-out challenging, with unlimited fun.

This article was first published in the January - March 2017 issue of Tata Review. Read the ebook here