Live like a princess at this Udaipur palace
A Mumbai family has bought and restored a Udaipur fort just so you can feel like a royal the next time you want to pamper yourself
Tour & taste
Historical & Luxury
For a heritage architecture buff, conversations around Mumbai's colonial-era structures is common. Homes dating back to a hundred years, seem inviting with their stories of three generations. To this, a friend from Ajmer once laughed. "You should come to Rajasthan. There, even the regular homes date back three centuries."
The Gandhi sisters — Payal Gandhi Kothari and Meghal Gandhi Pandya — have taken that advice a tad ahead. The sisters who grew up in a colonial-era Malabar Hill home have gone from merely visiting old homes to buying a 16th century fort, 30 km away from Udaipur city, and converted it, for the good of the general public, into a palace that history lovers like us can book a few nights' stay in and relax, treating ourselves like the princess that our inner goddess craves.
Battles of Mewar
Sitting in the dining hall of Gogunda Palace, Kothari is just about to take the second bite of the dal khichdi she has ordered, when she is distracted by a question on the history of the once-fort. Owned previously by the Jhala family, says Kothari, the fort possibly dates back earlier. It is deeply entrenched in the Mewar history of Rajasthan, with Maharana Pratap, the much loved and admired royal who spent his life warding off Mughal invasion in the region, being coronated in a room here in 1572.
The restoration project has been helmed by Italian architect Remo Serafin
You'd expect a large hall for the coronation of a king, but those times were different and perhaps simpler. The Maharana Pratap room (not its official name) is spacious by all Mumbai standards, yet small with the double bed now occupying space. The walls and dome-like ceiling are covered in Mewar-style paintings depicting scenes from Krishna's amorous life. In fact, the entire palace is full of art on the wall, much of which the family has taken pains to get restored by local artists.
But, back to Kothari, who has just been prodded by her husband to remember to eat. A keen hoarder of historical knowledge, though, Kothari is happy to have a stage and an avid listener. She talks of how this was the fort from where Pratap fought Akbar. And though, he lost the Battle of Haldighati, he escaped into the Aravalli hills. While the fort went to the Mughals, it came back to Mewaris as happens in times of continued conflict when one battle lost doesn't mean a forever truth. Eventually, the fort was handed over to the Jhala family for support given to the royal family. And that's how the Gandhis found it.
'It was there'
Sitting in the manicured lawns the next morning, Kothari and Pandya talk of how entering the hospitality industry was not Plan A. The family business is mining and that remains the sisters' day job. "But, our father has always had an interest in art and antique furniture and our mother, who is a graduate from St Xavier's and JJ School of Art and Architecture, is also interested in interiors," says Pandya. Aesthetics and history then, has been dinner table conversation.
In 2013, say the sisters, while on a road trip through Rajasthan, they spotted the Gogunda fort. Unoccupied, it wasn't in the best condition. They asked the caretakers about the history of the palace and, after returning home, they scoured the Internet, hunted books and spoke to anybody who knew about its history.
By this time, having bought an old chieftain's home near Hampi with the idea of restoring it and running it as a hotel, the family already knew it wanted to diversify its business. Soon, they bought Gogunda and brought on board Italian architect Remo Serafin to chart out a restoration plan. By mid-2018, the fort had become ready to host its first guests.
Live like a princess
The sisters spend a few hours in their Mumbai lives daily to coordinate the work back at Gogunda. Once a month, they make it back to the hotel to oversee the more mundane aspects of running a hotel. Our conversation once was, for instance, interrupted when Kothari had to decide which brush needed to be bought for the ghasai (scrubbing).
For a guest however, Gogunda might provide the perfect escape chariot. The rooms are plush and the bathroom are very much 21st century. A few even have bathtubs, if you feel like indulging yourself. Udaipur city is an hour's drive away, but everything you might need is contained within the palace with a prompt housekeeping unit to boot. The pool, which is no more than three feet deep, along with a shallower version for the kids, is by the Bougainvillea Bar, should you feel like a cooler post a swim. Lounge beds mean you can also read in solitude disturbed only by the many birds chirping.
Getting out of Gogunda
If however, you are a restless city soul and have the "need to do things" Gogunda does offer a range of activities you could participate in. Aside from visits to the city, encouraged for those with a shopping itch, the palace will also organise trips to Haldi Ghati.
Payal Kothari and Meghal Pandya grew up in a colonial era home in Mumbai
There are morning walks to the local village, a jeep safari in the Aravalli Hills or even a day with the local potters where you get to make your own wares to take home. The palace also recently acquired cycles which you could use to enjoy a quietitude rarely felt. As the sisters drive out of the palace, their children run to their favourite corners, bidding goodbye. After all, once you have tasted the royal touch, any other life will feel a tiny bit squished.
Getting there: There are daily flights to Udaipur from Mumbai. Once you have landed, hire a cab to the Palace
Monies: Rooms at the palace start from Rs 8,000 for two
To Book Log on: http://gogunda.noesis.tech/
Also visit: The City Palace Musuem
Built over a period of nearly 400 years, its construction began in 1553 and was started by Maharana Udai Singh II. The tour — you'll get audio guides as well as the old-school human guide, or you could explore the place on your own — can last hours, and will take you to beautiful views of the city and through narrow, claustrophobic doorways. Be prepared.
Time your walk, so it ends around sunset and you can enjoy it in the museum restaurant along with the sun setting over Lake Pichola.
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