Palace staffers will argue that it's impossible to compare his grandfather's time with now. After all, the present maha­raja's grandfather lived and ruled around the turn of the 20th century, an era that seems more like a millennium ago. Never mind that his preferred transport was an elephant howdah, whereas the present His Highness drives a '48 Buick convertible; that the grandfather carried a sword, and the grandson golf clubs; that Maha­raja Umaid Singh had many wives, and His Highness has one. What is remarkable is that so much has changed in Jodhpur in the last century, and the maha­raja has adapted like, well, a modern king. Or better yet, a contemporary CEO. This palace - the one with 347 rooms? It's now a hotel. And the 500-year-old ancestral fortress is a museum.

Backing up to 1971, it's important to keep in mind that His Highness was barely yet a man. Maharaja Gaj Singh II went from enjoying college life abroad to facing economic upheaval back home. He had to make a dramatic and immediate readjustment to his kingdom.

"It was quite frightening in one respect," the maharaja says. "But the people - the reception I received from the people when I came home from college - it was overwhelming."

Fresh out of Oxford's philosophy, politics, and economics department, the maha­raja put his thinking cap on. How, he wondered, could he conserve his family's­ property and collections with few liquid assets and no income?

In search of answers - His Highness is too modest - I head down 100 marble steps to the palace offices, a simple building tucked on to the grounds. I am ushered across the lawn by guards sporting long white beards, red velvet caps, and gold inlaid earrings, the signature mark of most Rajasthan communities. Large black birds flutter away and heavy doors swing open.

Inside, aides-de-camp scurry around Rao Raja Mahendra Singh, the Maharaja's cousin and chief executive officer, asking for signatures and bringing Chai (tea). He zeroes in on the maharaja's most obvious material asset, the palace next door. Once one of the largest palaces in the world, it was free and clear in the pretax days. After, imagine the financial liability. "The palace was His Highness' home, and suddenly it was his white elephant," Mahendra Singh says.

To get the elephant out of the living room and out earning its keep, the maha­raja teamed up with WelcomHeritage (which has ties to Sheraton) to transform the palace into an income-producing property where, for about $350 a night, you too can live like a maharaja. He kept one wing as private quarters for his family, and they live there today.

"By that time, so many changes had taken­ place in India, the people were behind [the change from palace to hotel]," the maharaja says. "We did it gradually. Being one of the newest palaces in the world, it was easy in some respects; others we did in phases. Turning the palace into a hotel was an engine for change."