How Prince Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar of Udaipur transformed his palace into a luxury heritage hotel
Whether you want to sit on a terrace and sip a Chilean wine by the lake at night or gaze at the artefacts of the Mewar dynasty by day, there is plenty to delight and amuse at the Fateh Prakash Palace, situated on the eastern shores of the picturesque Lake Pichola of Udaipur. This region, where the Maharanas of Mewar once held court is now a tourist destination, as the palace has been converted into a luxury heritage hotel with beautiful rooms and premier suites that are steeped in history and art. Right from the opulence of the Durbar Hall with its dazzling chandeliers and the weaponry on the walls, to the Crystal Gallery with the largest private collection of crystal in the world, it is a palace that seems to have floated right out of the pages of a beautiful fairytale into the present.
Today, the Fateh Prakash Palace is a property of HRH Group of Hotels, with Prince Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar, presiding as the Executive Director of HRH Group. In an exclusive interaction with Lakshyaraj, he tells YS Weekender about the palace, its history and how to build a business with a heritage hotel…
A tryst with history
The history of Mewar’s palaces in Udaipur stretches back across centuries. “Let me narrate the history in a few words,” says Lakshyaraj. “Fateh Prakash Palace is named after one of the greatest Maharanas of Mewar, Maharana Fateh Singhji, and his period of reign was from 1884 to 1930. The palace was built in the early 1900s and was the private residence of Maharana Fateh Singhji.”
Ever since it was opened for tourists, the palace grew famous for its historic suites and regal, lake-facing suites. It is a repository of exquisite chandeliers, rare paintings and unique crystal and porcelain collections, and has been painstakingly preserved for guests who are able to experience the original lifestyle and décor as maintained during the reign of the Maharanas of Mewar. In 2010-11, they celebrated the centenary year of the Palace.
Transforming a palace into a hotel
Transformations and changes are a 'work in progress' for them. “It never stops,” explains Lakshyaraj. “In the 1980s my father Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar, as Chairman and Managing Director of HRH Group of Hotels, began the process of transformation. And it has been truly historic!”
In 2011, they began with the launch of Dovecote Premier Suites to cocoon their guests in the lap of luxury. These suites were exquisitely furnished with lake-facing views and with modern amenities like wi-fi internet services, satellite TV and ensuite facilities.
“The Satkar Banquet Hall has been an addition to the renowned Durbar Hall of Fateh Prakash Palace. The new Banquet Room has an independent entry and can accommodate many more guests for conferences and meetings,” he adds.
Challenges are many in the hospitality business. “You have to keep alive the heritage and the spirit of the palace. At the same time, we have to modernise the building, bring in the best in-house facilities and amenities. It is a fine balance. But we have learnt the ropes over these years,” says Lakshyaraj.
Never out of character
“Since these are palaces are where the royal families lived and entertained their guests for centuries, they have a distinctive character and guests here can experience the original feel of the place in the abode of kings. This is, in fact, our USP,” says Lakshyaraj.
The heritage venue has also been refurbished for guests to plan out elaborate wedding ceremonies and celebrations with music and dance performances. “We have been organising these weddings for a long time, and over the last 20 years, the HRH Group of Hotels has become synonymous with these interesting experiences,” he says.
What the tourists love
According to Lakshyaraj Singh, heritage-loving tourists are a class of their own, as they want to absorb the history of the region and not merely travel through a city. “The lake-facing suites at Fateh Prakash Palace and the Royal Suites of Shiv Niwas Palace are much sought after by these guests,” he says. “Hospitality is all about providing authentic experiences, and it starts from the moment they click on your website and plan their heritage-holiday with you.”
As for the cuisines, there is a vast variety of menus to choose from, as a spectrum of Indian, Rajasthani, Mewari, Italian and continental fare are on offer. “Our chefs ensure that every breakfast and meal is made special at the Paantya, The Sunset Terrace or at Palki Khana. Where else can you sit back and enjoy a wine while gazing across a timeless lake?” he says.
Their slogan - ‘Experience the original in the abode of kings’ has been widely appreciated. “We are often called the pioneers of heritage tourism. Since luxury travellers are searching for experiences, we provide the ‘living heritage’ of Mewar through the experiences in our palace-hotels, island-palaces and heritage venues across Rajasthan,” he adds.
“Growing up in palace was a dream and every festival and every season was special. My memories are full of the colours of gaiety and happiness,” remembers Lakshyaraj Singh. “Today, our private residence is the Shambhu Niwas Palace. I work from different palaces within the City Palace, though my Secretariat is located near the Tripoliya.”
Palaces into hotels
When asked his opinion about transforming palaces transforming into beautiful hotels, Lakshyaraj says, “By transforming palaces into hotels we are preserving them for the present and the future. There is no other way, we can maintain such large properties, however deep the pockets may be. Moreover, we believe that, by opening our palace-hotels, the history of Mewar and Udaipur has become an intrinsic part of the lives of thousands of people. Nothing can be better than this.”
Lessons in hospitality
Lakshyaraj studied at the prestigious Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School in Australia. “Hospitality does come naturally to people from my background, so at Blue Mountains, I honed my hospitality skills with the best-in-class teachers and deans. I learnt to be abreast of all changes in F&B technology, management and service standards. Australia is a great land, and I feel there is a free-wheeling Aussie inside me.”
Lakshyaraj worked with some of the toughest bosses, both in Australia and in India. “The tough bosses were the most inspiring ones,” he recollects. “I learnt a lot from them, their creativity, their amazing energy and their focus on 'giving their guests the best'. Some nights were absolutely gruelling, but then it was a wonderful experience. The people I met, my teachers and the friends I made were for a lifetime.”
Lakshyaraj is the third-generation in the House of Mewar whose professional life has been devoted to heritage hospitality. “I think, modesty aside, we have pioneered trends that have made a significant difference,” he says.
When he went back in Australia in 2018, he was immensely happy to hear that the government was going to nominate him as a Victorian Business Ambassador to boost trade ties between India and Victoria.
Weekends are for sports
Lakshyaraj loves music, the company of friends and biking across the country in that order. But his all-time passion is cricket. “No, not as a player anymore,” he says ruefully. “Today I am more of a patron. I am also the president of the Udaipur District Cricket Association. I believe in doing our best for the young and talented cricketers of today.”
According to Lakshyaraj, sports is the oxygen of life. “You need it at every moment and every stage of your life. My fitness regime is in the hands of experienced dieticians and spa therapists who ensure I can do more and pack more into my day.”
As for the future …
“Our palace-hotels will grow, there is no doubt about that. I believe in ‘growing through life’ not just going through life! Yes, there is tremendous excitement about the future,” he says.
And, the secret of success in the hospitality industry, lies in following three principles, says Lakshyaraj as he lists them out for us. “Surpass guest expectations, travel to know latest trends and think long-term to build long-lasting relationships.”