In this delightful article, Randall MacDonald talks about his tryst with royalty.
When our friend Don told us that he was related to the Maharaja of Jodhpur my interest was heightened, but when he told us that the Maharaja was having a party at his royal palace for Diwali and that he could get us an invite, I was all a-tingle. I have been accused of being obsessed with aristocracy, so you can imagine that the thought of mingling with the crowned set made me light-headed.
Arrangements were made and plans put in place for Darcy and me to attend the celebrations in Jodhpur. However, I had been invited to do a performance at a very glamorous wedding in Palm Springs the weekend before the Wednesday party. What this meant is that we would return to Edmonton on Sunday evening at 10:00 pm and have to be prepared to depart again Monday morning at 10:00 am to make our flights in time for the party. Another issue was that the dress of Diwali was traditional Indian. We knew we wouldn’t be arriving until noon on the day of the event and there would be no time to go shopping for an outfit. So again Don steps up with connections in Vancouver to help us obtain our outfits. I could have spent a fortune on our ensembles and as it was, even with exercising some restraint, I still spent way over my budget. Budget? What is that? A small bird?
Don also touched base with his royal connections in India, and before we knew it, we were being contacted by butlers in the palace who would be taking care of us during our stay there; did I mention that we were going to actually be staying in the Maharaja’s palace as well? One of the things they wanted to know was what kind of car we wanted to be picked up in. I asked what my options were and there were the usual on the list; Jaguar, Land Rover, etc. but there was also a list of vintage cars from the Maharaja’s personal collection. I love vintage cars, and after some investigating decided on a 1947 Cadillac. The palace was advised of our choice of cars but we warned them they should be aware that we travel with a fair amount of luggage. They responded “Oh sir, your luggage would never travel in the same vehicle as you!”
So with suitcases and Indian outfits pre-packed, we made our luggage exchange back home and headed off to the land of colour and spice.We arrived at the airport in Jodhpur the morning of the gala to be greeted by our head luggage handler. He was very apt at directing his two flunkies as they gathered our multiple bags. We headed out of the airport to see four white-gloved attendants standing there with silver trays holding water, cold moist towels, etc. by the monstrous Cadillac waiting for us.
The Maharajas of Jodhpur had lived in the Mehrangarh Fort from 1459 until the 1930’s when it was decided that a new 347-room palace should be built; today it is considered one of the best examples of Art Deco in the world, still retaining all of its original furnishings, which were designed in Paris. The wing to the right of the public rooms is the private residence of His Royal Highness and the one to the left has been turned into a museum which the public can access via a separate driveway and entrance from the main palace. As our motorcade entered the palace grounds, we noticed a rush of museum patrons to the fence separating them from the main porte-cochere. Once our car pulled up to the entrance of the palace, four costumed gentlemen descended the stairs supporting a velvet canopy. As we exited the car, there was a shout of camera shutters from the onlookers and a man throwing rose petals walked backwards up the stairs in front of us as we entered. We were shown to one of the royal suites and served a refreshing cocktail. The apartment went on for days and we settled in after running around it, squealing with delight. Luckily the suitcase which carries all our champagne had arrived safely and we opened a bottle as we relaxed on our veranda overlooking the palace grounds.
Our butler had asked us if we wanted a tour of the palace and of course we said yes! We gathered in one of the state rooms and there met a lovely couple from Antwerp who would also be attending the evening festivities. After the tour it was time to dress, so we headed back to our abode. At first we worried that our dressing in Indian attire might be taken as mocking, but upon leaving our apartment, our worries were put to rest. The staff of the palace seemed so pleased to see us in the national costume and we were greeted with many cries of “You look very auspicious!” and beaming smiles.
Diwali is the celebration of light; it is traditional for fireworks to be set off on that evening and it was no exception at the palace.
As we headed out onto the grounds, fireworks were being lit. There were dancers and singers helping us get into the mood for the evening. We ran into Kathy and Edmund and learned that they had become engaged between our parting after the tour and dressing for the evening. Well, this of course called for champagne and we had some sent over in short order. We enjoyed the festivities on the grounds for about an hour, but it was now 8:30 and time to move up to the main party at the Mehrangarh Fort. Arrangements had been made to have the guests driven from the palace to the fort, about a 45-minute drive, and there was a fleet of cars passing through the porte-cochere. As we were about to embark, one of the butlers approached us with the usual gushing about our dress, and in passing Darcy mentioned that he wished he had a turban. With that we got into the car and headed to the fort.
We arrived and headed up to the party which was being held on the ramparts. The sight was amazing; original cannons, tables draped in white, and butlers serving hors d’oeuvres to the 250 guests. On the roof of the fort were musicians and singers, and the Blue City below was literally ablaze with fireworks. We met up with Kathy and Edmund and gathered two more into our entourage. We were offered red and white wine, but I was disappointed to learn they weren’t offering champagne. So after chatting with our new friends for a while, over the din of the fireworks, music and chatter, I hear the pop of a cork! I turn to our group and announce that I had just heard champagne being opened and was setting off to investigate.
I confidently walked up to the bartender and advised him that although I was enjoying my white wine, I was a champagne drinker and was sure I had just heard the sound of a cork popping and would like to obtain a glass of said bubbles. The bartender became very uncomfortable and hesitantly advised me that the champagne was only for the Maharaja and his entourage. I thanked him and headed back to our group and announced that two things had been learned from my journey; one, that the champagne was strictly for the Maharaja and secondly that the Maharaja had arrived. I announced I had every intention of meeting him and if they wished to do so as well, to hang on. So off through the throngs we went.
His Royal Highness arrived with all the pomp and security one would expect from someone of his status.
I hit the secret service men with head held high and laser vision on my target. One of them made the mistake of putting his hand on my chest to stop me, to which I replied confidently “No, no! I know him” and pushed my way through, dragging my group with me. I marched up to His Highness the Maharaja Gaj Singh II of Marwar and proceeded to explain to him how he would know us. After a few photos, it was now time to take our seats.
We found our table and within minutes of taking our seats an Indian man, whom we had not seen before, approached our table and said to Darcy, “Mr. Kaser?” to which Darcy nodded. The man said he would be right back and I’m sure at first the group thought we were about to be arrested for crashing through the Maharaja’s security team and entourage. About 10 minutes later the man returned with two hand wrapped turbans from the palace. It turned out that the throw away comment by Darcy was taken to heart by the butler and he had set about getting the 6 yards of fabric for each of them, had them wrapped and put into a car with the instruction to the driver to look for the two white guys in Indian garb.
We thanked the gentleman very much and placed the fabric crowns upon our heads. Like Frosty’s hat, there was definite magic in these. Once on, we instantly turned into rock stars. People were insisting on photos and it felt like everyone there wanted a picture with us. After the dust settled, we headed back to our table and sat down. As soon as we landed, the bartender arrived at our table with a bottle of champagne from the Maharaja and two glasses. I thanked him very much, advised him that we would be needing four more glasses and that we would be drinking champagne all night.
After dinner around midnight, the musicians were now seated on the ramparts. His Royal Highness was placed in front of them with some of his entourage, enjoying their music. I noticed that there were two empty chairs next to him, and without a second thought, grabbed Kathy and rushed to the chairs. We stopped just behind them, and upon seeing us, were invited to sit down by our host. We chatted with him about the wonderful party and his lovely palace. We drank scotch, bubbles and smoked cigars. After a half hour of this I asked Kathy if she knew how to Indian dance. She said no, and I said I had been to a wedding and would show her what I knew, but we must stand behind the Maharaja as I didn’t want him to see me teaching her to screw in the light bulb and pet the dog. My plan didn’t work though and we were spotted. His Majesty insisted that we come and dance for him and his crew. With champagne courage, we stepped out in front and danced for them, and luckily our moves were met with approval. We sat down after dancing, chatted some more and suddenly it was 1:30 in the morning. All that were left were Darcy and me, Kathy and Edmund, His Royal Highness, two of his bodyguards and two of his entourage. He suddenly arose and walked away, signaling the end of the party.
We too made our way back to the palace and got ourselves unwrapped and into bed. The next day, too many of the palace staff who had worked the party, though they didn’t know our names, would point to us and say “Champagne!!” As we had breakfast, I turned to Darcy and said “Well, this is quite the way to kick off a trip, and three more weeks of luxury to go!”