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
"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 onto
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.