A Royal Visit

Field trip! Yesterday we — for the first time — ventured out of Ahmedabad and into the countryside. We were even in a different state! The reason for this was that Nashy-ma’am, the school director, wanted to take us to the Maharaja’s palace-and-hotel for the day. We were okay with that. It was absolutely beautiful and relaxing — definitely one of the highlights of the trip.

Rural India
Rural India

Within good, there must be some bad. Yesterday, that came in the form of having to be at school at 5:15 AM to board a bus and drive four hours. So that wasn’t ideal. But I came prepared with a pillow and slept for a while before we stopped for coffee — after which a pillow was not necessary! Once I was awake, the rest of the drive was spent looking out the window, awestruck by rural India. It’s a completely different world from the city. People are wearing traditional outfits, the houses are small and a bit ramshackle, but wonderfully colorful, and everyone who saw us either broke into a huge smile or stared in utter disbelief. We attract attention in the city as well, but it’s more of a slight curiosity. My phone was at the window the whole time, snapping any photos I could. I found myself wishing I had a real camera and time to explore.

Once we arrived, we were escorted to the breathtaking swimming pool to freshen up in the washrooms before breakfast. We then walked through a courtyard, into the palace, through another courtyard, and then another room of the palace to a half-courtyard half-room breakfast area. Breakfast was delicious, like all food here, and featured a rare appearance by silverware and napkins!

Imagine curling up with a book here :)
Imagine curling up with a book here :)

After breakfast, we took a tour of the palace. I won’t try to describe each room here, but know that they were unbelievable. It districting felt like a royal home, rather than a hotel. Because it’s the off-season, we got to see quite a few rooms and by the end of the tour, we were ready to move in! We also went up in this temple thing that was in the central courtyard, only to learn that we went up too far and had broken a rule. Oops. No one seemed mad though, so I think it was fine. Hopefully. The palace was breathtaking and what came next was insanely cool — the garage.

The Maharaja loves vintage cars, a habit he picked up from his father, and between the two of them quite a collection has been created. Because they are royalty and can do these things, a 50s-themed garage has bee created. I cannot wait until I have function Internet and can post pictures! The boys were geeking out over the cars while I geeked out over the music (they played Grease!) and the MOVING BAR! Obviously the moving part was exciting, they didn’t serve us anything from the bar. This is how it worked: in the back of the garage was an area with tables and chairs and in the center of that was a raised potion with some chairs, couches, and the bar itself. That area was surrounded by a wrought-iron fence. Everyone got on, they closed the gate, pressed a button, and the bar started to rise up! It went up at least five feet before stopping and then we hung out there for a bit before returning to Earth. It was the coolest thing! The Maharaja’s five-year-old son was with us and, besides being obscenely adorable, he was in charge of music volume — which resulted in some very loud YMCA! It was so much fun.

The interior of the palace
The interior of the palace

Once we left the garage, we piled back into the bus and drove up through Dungarpur, the most beautiful and colorful village, to the old palace. This is where the royal family lived for centuries before British rule meant they no longer had to worry about defense and built the new palace, where we had been earlier, down by the lake. Without a doubt, it’s my favorite thing we’ve visited this trip. The palace has seven floors and each floor was reached by tall, narrow stairs. Each floor held new discoveries in the form of breathtaking views, painted rooms, and exquisite carvings. If not for the ridiculously low doors, I would have moved in then and there! The pictures show what I cannot properly describe, especially since this was yesterday and I’m quite tired. History and exploring historical sites fascinates me, so I was thrilled to have this opportunity.

After we finished at the old palace, we headed back to the new palace! This is where my memory of the exact order of events gets fuzzy. Throughout the afternoon we visited the small shop in the hotel, spent time relaxing by the pool which is by the lake, had lunch with the Maharaja’s wife and son, visited the small museum they have on the grounds, and had high tea with the Maharaja himself! He was very nice and held himself in such a way that his royal heritage was apparent. Hearing things from his perspective was fascinating and we all had some very nice conversation. It was glorious to spend the day out in the fresh air surrounded by trees and water after nearly two weeks in the city.

We left for Ahmedabad around 5, which is where the wonderful relaxation ended. The bus ride home was hot, we were all tired, and, despite all of us insisting we weren’t hungry, we spent half-an-hour sitting on the bus while they got food for us. It wasn’t all bad though, I did have a great conversation about exchange and USA vs India with one of the AFS volunteers who just returned from a year in Iowa. But we were all relieved to be back when we reached the school around 9:30.

It was a magical day, perhaps even the best one of the trip. I am so grateful to Nashy-ma’am and the Maharaja for all they did arranging it and hosting us. Today was a bit rough after such a late night and long day, but I took a nap after school and am about to go out to dinner with the group! Hopefully I’ll post an update tonight, if not I’ll have it up tomorrow. I can’t believe the trip is almost over! Time flies. Until next time, अलविदा!

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