Magical Moments in India: Breakfast at the Umaid Bhawan

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After nearly eight months of convalescing in Normandy I'm traveling to Portugal this week to visit my furniture in storage outside of Lisbon.  As I've been run off my feet visiting friends I actually forgot to take a lot of photos except a lot of boring ones of all the beautiful furniture that I had bought in Rajasthan in 2016.  When I loaded it into a container to ship to Portugal I never could have imagined that less than a year later, I would be visiting it, now dressed in plastic and bubble wrap, in a storage unit outside of Lisbon.  Since it's beneath the dignity of such beautiful furniture to be shown in such a sad and neglected state, I've decided to share a few last blogs from its home:  Jodhpur in Rajasthan.   

It’s early morning at the Umaid Bhawan, one of the last of the great palaces built in India, and, as the Maharaja of Jodhpur still lives here, it is one of the largest private residences in the world.  I pad along the lavish interior lined with gilt furniture and elegant artwork, then enter a Renaissance cupola, my hushed footsteps echoing toward the ceiling.  The warm morning air smells sweetly fragrant—it must come from the vases of roses I see dotted within the room.   

The Umaid Bhawan is so vast and palatial that the empty space has created a character of its own.   I’ve noticed that many sacred spaces such as churches and mosques and temples also have this inner emptiness that is, well, full.  It is as if the building contains an interior architecture that has presence.  With its enormous dome, I feel as if I’m walking within the Vatican. 

Outside, a raised terrace is sprinkled with empty tables covered with crisp white linens.  Silver urns filled with every delicacy imaginable beckon from the long table behind me.  Men in white Nehru jackets and the most magnificent turbans in shades of pink and red and burnt orange are carrying coffee, tea, masala chai, and large glasses of pomegranate, sweet lime or watermelon juice.  We place our hands in front of our hearts in the traditional Indian greeting of respect.  “Namaskar.”

Stretching in front of me, at the end of the manicured green lawn, is a graceful bandstand with fluted white marble columns like a Greek temple.  Smack in the center, looking like Aladdin sitting cross-legged on his magic carpet, a thin musician dressed in long white robes plays the Indian flute.  The melodic notes dance on the morning breeze.

At dawn I performed an hour’s yoga on the lawn, saluting the rising sun with my Suria Namaskars while peacocks wailed with their haunting calls.  I settle at my table and savor the surreal, serene stillness while the faint music in the distance envelopes the art deco palace in an otherworldly air.  Without realizing it, I, too, have become part of the Umaid Bhawan interior landscape.  Surrendering willingly, I smile inwardly and sit back to enjoy my breakfast.  Another day in India has begun.