Royal retreats, forts and palaces

India has a rich, cultural heritage and history with majestic forts and palaces which are architectural marvels and have been featured in many photos and documentaries. What better way to experience India’s regal lineage, than to visit these magnificent palaces and forts in India? These structures have been crafted centuries ago but still maintain their beauty after all these years. With its rich royal history complete with kings, queens, nizams and lords, there is no dearth of splendid palaces in India. These lavish residences, with many of them being converted to hotels are a unique way of experiencing the fascinating heritage of the country, which is sure to leave an indelible mark on you. Below are some of the most beautiful Forts and Palaces in India.

City Palace, Jaipur, Rajasthan – Constructed in the 18th century by Sawai Jai Singh II, the city palace is a beautiful amalgamation of various styles of architecture, namely the mughal, rajputana and european styles. The integrated pink walls and structures are a part of the heritage, which gives the city of Jaipur its label of the Pink City. The city palace includes not only a single palace, but two main palaces which are Chandra Mahal and Mubarak Mahal including other buildings as well. The royal family lives in the towering Chandra Mahal part of the palace. Their family flag flies atop it when the Maharaja is in residence. The remainder has been converted into the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II museum. On display is a magnificent collection of armory and weapons through ages, and housed within the museum in the palace premises that makes the place a delight to visit for tourists, history buffs and children as well.

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan – The Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur is considered to be one of the largest forts in India. The unique thing about the fort is that it is situated at an elevated platform rising 400 feet above the city of Jodhpur. The fort looks very imposing with its thick walls as boundaries. The fort has 7 distinct gates, one of which still has cannonball imprints signifying the wars of the past. There is a museum inside the fort which documents the rich history of the Rathore dynasty quite elaborately in the form of paintings, attires, arms, etc.
The Fort’s ramparts are lined with antique artillery and offer a panoramic view of the Jodhpur, also known as the Blue city. The Fort is also an evocative setting for music festivals.

Maharaja’s Palace, Mysore, Karnataka – The Maharaja’s Palace also known as Amba Vilas Palace or the Royal Palace of Mysore is one of the biggest palatial complexes in South India. It is the official residence of the royal family of Mysore and is a relatively newer palace in comparison to the other palaces in India. Its construction started in 1897 and was completed in 1912. Later on, the royal family commissioned the British architect Henry Irwin to extend the palace. The Wodeyar kings first built a palace in Mysore in the 14th century. However, it was demolished and reconstructed numerous times. The previous palace, made out of wood in Hindu style, was destroyed by fire. The current palace has been built in Indo-Sarcenic style, a combination of Hindu, Muslim, Rajput, and Gothic influences. The Palace’s predominant feature is its marble domes. The Palace has private and public audience halls, a marriage hall, pavilion of antique dolls, armory, royal painting gallery, and collection of sculptures and artifacts. The palace dazzles every Sunday evening as it gets lit up by around 100,000 bulbs, as well as briefly after the nightly sound and light show. It also remains illuminated during the ten days of the Mysore Dasara Festival.

Red Fort, DelhiA UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Red Fort in Delhi also known as Lal Qila is the apex of Mughal architecture, making it a one of its kind structures in the country. Built in the 17th century by Shahjahan , the fifth Mughal emperor as part of his new capital city of Shahjahanabad, located to the north of Delhi, the palace complex has been fortified by an enclosure wall built with red sand stone. Built between 1639 and 1648, enclosing an area of size 656 metres  x 328 metres and raising to a height of 23 metres on the right bank of the Yamuna River, it is linked to the Salimgarh Fort through a bridge over an old river channel, now a city road. It is one of the most well preserved, hence popular forts in India, not losing out on its grandeur after all these centuries. Crafted majorly using Islamic architectural sensibilities, the structures within the fort also exhibit strong elements borrowed from the Hindu, Timurid and Persian architectural styles. The Fort is open daily except Mondays, and a sound and light show is held there in the evenings.

Gwalior Fort, Madhya Pradesh – The Gwalior Fort is one of the most majestic forts of central India, not only because of its strong, military style architecture, but also because of the aesthetically painted fortress wall, that sports a bright and royal blue color in the carving. The fort brings together extremely diverse religious faiths, with altars dedicated to Buddhism and Jainism, while the architecture draws freely from the Mughal and Rajput style, and has been home to various dynasties, from the Suris, Mughals and Rana Jats to even the Marathas. The Fort’s initial construction dates back as far as 525 AD. Over the years, it was subjected to many attacks and had many different rulers. It wasn’t until the reign of the Rajput Tomar dynasty that the Fort really rose to prominence, and was built to its current scale and grandeur. During this time, ruler Man Singh constructed one of the Fort’s main highlights, Man Mandir Palace, between 1486 and 1516. Its outer walls are distinctively decorated with blue mosaic tiles and rows of yellow ducks. A sound and light show is held every night in the fort’s open air amphitheater.

Golconda Fort, Telangana – Located about 10 kilometers from Hyderabad, the Golconda Fort ruins are a popular day trip from the city. The Fort’s origins, as a mud fort, have been traced back to the 13th century when it was founded by the Kakatiya Kings of Warangal. Later, during the 17th century, Golconda Fort rose to prominence for its diamond market. Some of the world’s most priceless diamonds were found in the area. The Fort’s ruins consist of numerous gateways, drawbridges, temples, mosques, royal apartments and halls, and stables. Some of its bastions are still mounted with canons. The intricately carved domes, pillars, entrances, mosques and temples are a delight to discover. What’s most interesting about the Fort is its architecture and special acoustic design. If you stand at a certain point under the dome at Fateh Darwaza (Victory Gate) and clap, it can be clearly heard more than a kilometer away at Bala Hissar Gate, the Fort’s main entrance. Apparently, this was used to warn the royal occupants of attack. An evening sound and lights show narrates the story of the Fort.

Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh – Fatehpur Sikri, “the City of Victory,” was built during the second half of the 16th century by the Mughal emperor Akbar . It was the capital of the empire and seat of the grand Mughal court, but only for 14 years. Despite bearing exceptional testimony to the Mughal civilization at the end of the 16th century, it had to be abandoned due to lack of water and unrest in north-west India, leading the emperor to shift the capital to Lahore. Akbar decided to construct it in 1571, on the same site where the birth of his son, Jehangir was predicted by the wise saint Shaikh Salim Chisti . The work, supervised by the great Mughal himself, was completed in 1573. The complex of monuments and temples, all uniformly in Mughal architectural style with Indian embellishments, includes one of the largest mosques in India, the Jama Masjid, the Buland Darwaza, the Panch Mahal, and the Tomb of Salim Chishti. The photogenic sandstone boundary walls, along with the separate complexes for the king and the queen exhibit distinct masculine and feminine architectural sensibilities. The twin forts and project city are a sight to behold! The city has numerous other palaces, public buildings and mosques, as well as living areas for the court, the army, servants of the king and for an entire population.

Hawa Mahal, Jaipur, Rajasthan – Hawa Mahal literally means ‘Palace of Winds’. It was constructed in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh for the queens and princesses of the royal household to observe the city outside, the colorful bazars and fairs while undetected from people. The engineering of the windows is such, that the person on the inside of the palace cannot be seen, and hence is considered one of the most advanced architectural marvels of its time. The name of the palace is also derived from the fact that the hundred installed windows make it very breezy. The palace sports some of the most exquisitely designed stained glass windows and carved corridors and staircases.

Agra Fort, Agra, Uttar Pradesh – Agra Fort, also known as the Red Fort is located on the right bank of the Yamuna River. Built in red sandstone, covering a length of 2.5 kilometers and surrounded by a moat, it encloses several palaces, towers and mosques. These monuments are remarkable for the fusion of Persian art and the Indian art form. It was here from here that the Kohinoor diamond was seized by the Mughal ruler Babur. He was a victor in the first battle of Panipat. Babur’s successor Humayun was crowned here and defeated and the fort was captured again. It is through a history of usurpation that the fort came to increase in area and structures. Three of the most aesthetically designed complexes in the fort are the Khas Mahal, the Shish Mahal, and the octagonal tower of Muhammam Burj. Shah Jahan is said to have died in the magnificent marble balcony of the Musamman Burj, overlooking the Taj Mahal, during the time he was held captive by his son Aurangzeb. Another attraction is the evening sound and light show that recreates the Fort’s history.

Jaisalmer Fort, Rajasthan – The Jaisalmer Fort stands on the Trikuta Hill in the Thar Desert, and has witnessed innumerable battles in the past. It is the only living fort in India. Besides 4,000 odd residents, the fort has around 200 shops, 40 hotels and restaurants, a palace complex, intricately carved havelis (mansions) of rich merchants, and several temples inside it.The fort is a sight to behold. Atop the hill, it has a yellow shaded lion on it which during sunset, develops a strong golden haze. That’s where it also gets the name of Sonar Kila, or the Golden Fort. The Fort was built in 1156 by Rajput ruler Rawal Jaisal, after whom the city is named. The condition of the fort though is deteriorating due to the numerous hotels and restaurants and other activities that are conducted within the boundary walls of the fort.

Chittorgarh Fort and Padmini Palace, Rajasthan – Chittorgarh Fort is considered to be the biggest fort in India and also a World heritage site. Spread over about 2.8 kms and 400 acres, the highest elevation in the fort is at about 1075 metres. The two distinct pillars in the fort, the Kirti Stambh and the Vijay Stambh are extremely preciously carved with the most intricate artwork found in the region. With about twenty water bodies, nineteen temples and 4 palace complexes and memorials, this is one historical site that needs quite some time for exploration and will leave a lasting impression on you. It’s located in the southern part of Rajasthan, just over 100 kilometers from Udaipur. The Fort lastly belonged to the Mewar rulers, whose capital was located there until Mughal Emperor Akbar captured the Fort in 1568. Following this, Marahana Udai Singh II moved the capital to Udaipur. The eldest son of Emperor Akbar, Jehangir, ended up giving the Fort back to the Mewars in 1616. However, they never resettled there. Due to its size, the Fort is most comfortably explored by vehicle and it’s a good idea to allow at least three hours to do so. Some parts of it are in ruin but its former glory is still very much present.

Warangal Fort, Andhra Pradesh – What remains of the Warangal Fort are chiefly ruins, that include gateways, shrines and tablets, but with adequate knowledge of the Kakatiya throne, the ruins are a one lifetime of an experience to witness the rise and fall of the bloodline. The chief attraction is the thousand pillar temple which is usually not accessible to the general public, and the smaller sculptures carved from an unidentified black stone.

Cooch Behar Palace, West Bengal – Renaissance architecture, majestic, yet subtle color coordination and the culture of Bengal is what embodies the Cooch Behar Palace in West Bengal. The palace is designed entirely on the model of the Buckingham Palace in England. The Corinthian columns and the arcaded verandahs are a delight to walk around in.

Amber Fort, Amer, Jaipur, Rajasthan – The Amber Fort is also called the Amer Fort because it is situated in the city of Amer around 20 minutes from the pink city of Jaipur. The Fort’s main construction started in 1592 by Rajput ruler Maharaja Man Singh. It continued to be occupied by them until Jaipur was built. Elephant rides right upto the entrance of the fort are available which is a big attraction. The Ganesh Pol entrance is one of the most aesthetically pleasing and intricately carved portions of the fort from where the private quarters of the king and his family can be entered through. The Fort’s architecture is a magnificent blend of Hindu and Mughal influences. Made out of red sandstone and white marble, it consists of a series of courtyards, palaces, halls, and gardens. The most beautiful part of it is the Sheesh Mahal, the mirror palace, with its intricately carved, glittering walls and ceilings. You can learn about the Fort’s history in the evening sound and light show.

Taj Rambagh Palace, Jaipur, Rajasthan – Rambagh Palace is a living legend in Jaipur and was home to the royal family for over 30 years. Built in 1835, it was first converted into an upscale palace hotel in India in 1957. It’s elegantly appointed rooms, marbled corridors and majestic gardens echo with history where the tradition of culture and royal hospitality is still maintained. The Palace was built by Maharaja Sawai Man Singh I.  The Palace has a very affluent past, and continues to be graced by dignitaries from around the world. The Palace hotel is rated as one of the finest heritage hotels in the world.

Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur, Rajasthan – The construction of this grand and imposing yellow sandstone palace started in 1929 and was completed in 1944 after 15 years in the making and was one of the last great palaces to be built in India. Its majestic 105 – foot high cupola is influenced by the Renaissance, while the towers draw inspiration from Rajput tradition. Built over 26 acres of land it is one of the largest private residence with 347 rooms.The palace is divided into three parts, the hotel chain run by the Taj group, the private residential complex of the royal family of Jodhpur and the museum. One of the must visit parts of the Palace is the vintage car collection of the royal family which is on display.

Kumbhalgarh Fort, Rajasthan – Often referred to as ‘The Great Wall of India’, the imposing wall of Kumbhalgarh Fort extends for more than 35 kilometers and is believed to be the second longest wall in the world after the great wall of China. This World heritage site was built in the 15th century, by Rana Kumbha of the Kumbha dynasty. Situated 80kms off Udaipur, this fort was the most important fort of the Mewar kingdom after Chittorgarh because its rulers used to retreat there during times of danger as it was almost impenetrable.There are about 360 ancient temples, as well as palace ruins, step wells, and cannon bunkers inside it.

Daulatabad Fort, Aurangabad, Maharashtra – Daulatabad Fort was the capital fort of the Tughlaqs, under Muhammad bin Tughlaq. This fort, built upon a whim, remains a sight to witness. Muhammad bin Tughlaq forcibly moved the whole population of Delhi here, and before he knew it, they ran out of water and eventually had to abandon the fort and city.

Junagarh Fort, Bikaner, Rajasthan – The fort was originally called Chintamani and was renamed Junagarh or “Old Fort” in the early 20th century when the ruling family moved to Lalgarh Palace outside the fort limits. Junagarh Fort is one of the few major forts in Rajasthan that hasn’t been constructed on a hilltop. This is an important fort for the locals because the city has evolved and grown around the fort. The fort museum is known for the post medieval arms.

City Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan – The City Palace exudes magnificence and is known for the fusion of Rajasthani and Mughal influenced architecture. The panoramic view of the city from the palace is surreal. The City Palace is still partially occupied by the Mewar royal family. The “jewel in the crown” is the City Palace Museum. The Museum comprises both the Mardana Mahal (King’s Palace) and Zenana Mahal (Queen’s Palace), which make up the City Palace. Constructed over four and a half centuries, starting in 1559, the museum is the oldest and largest part of the City Palace Complex. The architecture is the main highlight, along with the priceless private galleries, artwork, and photographs.

Sindhudurg Fort, Maharashtra – Sindhudurg Fort is located in the Malvan town of Sindhudurg District (Konkan region) of Maharashtra, 500 kms south of Mumbai. It was constructed by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. Iron was used for casting after the foundation was laid. Near the fort are well established scuba-diving and snorkelling facilities. These magnificent forts in India exude gallantry, royalty and exuberance, and all of them have a long and unique story to tell.

Laxmi Vilas Palace, Baroda, Gujarat – Laxmi Vilas Palace, Baroda is one of the biggest palaces in the world. The palace is four times larger than the Buckingham Palace in England. It has a rich interior design as well as beautiful architecture. It is the official residence of the Gaekwad dynasty, the royal family.

Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan – The Lake Palace in Udaipur is considered to be one of the most beautiful palaces in Rajasthan. It was built by Maharana Jagat Singh II, who was the 62nd king of Mewar dynasty. The palace is built on Lake Pichola’s natural foundation of 4 acres. Built between 1743-1746 as a royal summer palace, this ultra-luxe white marble hotel has been voted as the most romantic hotel in India and in the world. The ‘Royal Butlers’ working in the hotel today are descendants of the original palace retainers who served the maharajas in their time.

Jai Vilas Palace , Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh – Gwalior was one of the largest princely states in India. Jai Vilas Palace was the official residence of the ruling king during the princely era. The palace was built in 1874 by Maharaja Jayajirao Scindia of Gwalior. It is now the official residence of the royal family of Gwalior.

Udaivilas Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan – Located in Udaipur, which is known as the ‘city of palaces’ and nestled in idyllic splendor, with the blue waters of Lake Pichola on one side and against the backdrop of the Aravalli Hills, the Udaivilas Palace is the embodiment of the old-world charm of princely India. Udaivilas Palace is one of the most beautiful royal heritage as well as one of the most luxurious palace hotels in India. Every room has generous garden space with a patio, and some have a semi private, infinity-edge pool.

Ranjit Vilas Palace – Wankaner, Gujarat – Ranjit Vilas Palace is one of the most beautiful palaces in Gujarat. The palace was built by Maharaja Amarsinh and named after Jamnagar’s Maharaja Jam Ranjitsinh. The palace consists of  Italian marble and European architecture.

Raj Palace, Jaipur, Rajasthan – The charming Raj Palace hotel was built in 1727 and is Jaipur’s oldest mansion. A perfect example of old world charm with royal architecture, gardens and beautiful courtyards, its breathtaking Durbar Mahal suite was used by the Maharaja himself. The Swapna Mahal restaurant here has been richly decorated with real gold leaf work, a majestic rare crystal chandelier and a crockery museum which houses century old collections.

Devi Garh, Udaipur, Rajasthan – Nestled in the Aravali hills the Devigarh palace was the royal residence for the rulers of Delwara until the 20th century. Today the palace hotel boasts of opulent suites decorated with semi-precious stones, local marbles and a black marble swimming pool. Despite the new facilities, the palace has managed to hold on to the old-world charm, making the stay here a fascinating experience.

Laxmi Niwas Palace, Bikaner, Rajasthan – Built in 1904, Laxmi Niwas Palace hotel in Bikaner used to cater exclusively to princes, select statesmen and architects of history. The palace has enticing hand-painted friezes and gold-laden walls. One can examine up close the inspiration behind Lutyens’ and Baker’s architectural style from this palace.

Wildflower Hall, Shimla, Himachal Pradesh – Once home to Lord Kitchener during the rule of the British, Wildflower Hall recreates the grand style of the colonial era in the Himalayas. Filled with original artwork and wood paneling, the hotel creates an aura of old world charm and provides a panoramic views of snow covered peaks.

Jai Mahal Palace, Jaipur, Rajasthan – Set amidst 18 acres of beautifully landscaped Moghul gardens, this incomparable palace dates back to 1745 A.D. A masterpiece in the Indo Saracenic style of architecture, this palace hotel blends spotlight-grabbing opulence with tantalizing comforts that transport guests to a world of Rajasthan magnificence.

Fernhills Royal Palace, Ooty, Tamil Nadu –  Fernhills Royal Palace was built in 1844 as a summer palace of the Mysore Maharajas. The palace has been with the Wodeyar dynasty. The palace is superbly finished with Burmese teak. It features a magnificent ballroom with a highly valued ornamental papier mache ceiling.

Samode Palace, Jaipur, Rajasthan – The 475 year old Samode Palace is famous for its courtyards, hand-painted walls, silver armchairs, chandeliers and lounges that boast exquisite mirror work. The Sheesh Mahal has a series of mirror-tiled and mural-lined rooms, each more breath-taking than the last.

Deogarh Mahal, Rajasthan – Partially occupied by the royal family of  Rawat Nahar Singh, this sun-coloured fort in the Aravali hills is poised between Jodhpur and Udaipur. The Mahal is an exceptional work of architectural magnificence, complete with graying battlements, domes, gun enclosures, jharokhas and gigantic entrances.

Taj Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad – Previously the residence of the Nizam of Hyderabad, Taj Falaknuma Palace sits on a hill 2,000 feet above and overlooks Hyderabad city. It is one of the most beautiful palaces in India. Entirely built in Italian marble, the incomparable palace boasts of large venetian chandeliers, rare furniture, grand marble staircases, priceless statues and art works, a world-class collection of crystals and Mughal, Rajasthani and Japanese gardens personally conceived by the Nizam.