Perhaps the best example of the maharaja's business acumen, though, is the conservation work on Nagaur Fort, which recently won him a United Nations UNESCO Award. Located 100 miles northwest of Jodhpur city, smack in the inhospitable Marwar desert, Nagaur Fort is one of the oldest intact architectural sites in India. Originally built in the fourth century out of mud bricks, the fort went back and forth between Muslim and Hindu rulers for 1,500 years until it landed in the maharaja's family portfolio. What's ironic is that Nagaur is one of the forts the maharaja gave to the state. Unable to maintain it, the state recently gave it back.
From the '50s until the '90s, the government housed its Border Security Forces there. Officers plastered over the delicately painted walls and kept camp in one part of the complex. Other sections were unguarded, and fell victim to looters. "Nagaur was simply coming down," says Mahendra Singh. "If another 10 years had passed, we would have lost it entirely."
Enthused by his success in conserving Mehrangarh, the maharaja focused on saving Nagaur. Like many a savvy businessman, he didn't attempt to do it alone. He approached Prince Charles, whose grandfather was the last emperor of India, and The J. Paul Getty Trust. Both signed on.
Almost 9,000 miles from the Indian desert, the folks at Los Angeles' J.P. Getty Trust were impressed. "The project at Nagaur Fort was a wonderfully presented proposal," says Joan Weinstein, associate director of the J. Paul Getty Grant Program. "They were clearly sophisticated in understanding the challenges in architectural preservation. They even had training components for local craftsmen whose traditions are dying out."
The museum granted $250,000 to the project, and the maharaja matched it. When he came back to Getty for more funds in 2003, the museum contributed another $250,000. "It's very unusual for us to fund a second grant," Weinstein says. "But this was a site, not a single building. We looked at the high-quality results of the first grant, and they were awarded a second to work on all the remaining features."
When asked if any other maharaja had appealed to the Getty Trust for conservation funds, Weinstein laughs out loud. "I can say with confidence, no other maharajas have ever approached us."
So what separates this forward-thinking maharaja from the many other princes who once ruled India? The maharaja himself thinks it's quite simple. "It is possible to save our heritage assets," says His Highness, "given the will to do so."