Odisha royalty open gates to tourists

Palaces and hunting lodges to become platform for promoting culture, cuisine and arts

By Bibhuti Barik
  • Published 24.05.15
Rajkanika palace. Telegraph picture

Bhubaneswar, May 23: Following in the steps of their counterparts in Rajasthan, the erstwhile royals of Odisha are opening up their palaces to tourists, especially foreigners fascinated with the lifestyle of Indian royalty.

Palaces and hunting lodges welcoming visitors have also provided an international platform for promoting indigenous culture, cuisines and arts and crafts.

The royals of Dhenkanal were the first to open their palace gates to tourists over a decade ago. Now the scions of Aul, Parikud and Kalahandi royal families are following the trend, refurbishing their inner chambers to host tourists.

The Dhenkanal palace now has 12 well-furnished air-conditioned rooms for tourists while the palaces at Aul, Parikud and Kahalandi have set aside two rooms each in their bid to cash on the trend. The stays at all these places come as packages with complimentary breakfast, lunch and dinner.

J.P. Singh Deo, who owns the Gajalaxmi Palace in Dhenkanal, has been getting a number of foreign tourists. "During the last two years our palace has hosted 16 tourist couples from Europe who were in India for the first time. They flew straight to Odisha. Some made return visits and took the opportunity also to visit Jorandha, the seat of the famous Mahima cult," said Rajkumar.

Some have gone back to their countries and penned rave reviews.

"Staying at Gajalaxmi Palace was a truly memorable experience, not just for the unique location, but for the warm atmosphere," wrote Monika M from Sydney on the popular travel site Tripadvisor. She stayed at the palace in February this year.

Like Gajalaxmi, Dalijoda Palace near Choudwar, an old hunting lodge of Debjit Prasad Singh Deo, scion of the princely state of Purulia Bengal, has also been attracting foreigners for whom it has set aside four suites and a coffee room, all for just Rs 5,000 a night. The palace has received 60 foreign guests since 2012.

These royal houses have fascinating tales associated with them, including the Dalijoda palace.

"My great grandfather J.P. Singh Deo was an avid hunter who used to visit the princely state of Deogarh to indulge in his passion. He was, however, put off when the British political agent sent him a message that he would be arrested if he undertook another hunting trip to Deogarh since the prince of the estate was a minor. Hurt, my great grandfather, with the help of the Talcher maharaja, purchased the Dalijoda Reserve Forest and built this palace in 1931," said Debjit.

The Purulia rulers being coal mine owners, had good relations with the Talcher royals. "The palace is near the Kapilas Elephant Reserve and I invite the guests here since apart from the experience of staying in the palace, they can go trekking and enjoy trips to the tribal villages in the area famous for docra art," said Debjit.

"Dhenkanal, Gajalaxmi, Dalijoda and Aul palaces are in the forefront of palace tourism now. There could be more in the near future. The Puri royal palace is going to refurbish two of its rooms shortly to host tourists who might be interested in having a look at the Nabakalebar festival due in July. The Rajkanika palace in Kendrapara has also converted one of its floors into a beautiful museum that displays royal memorabilia," said Sarat Acharya of Discover Tours.

Patrons of these palaces, however, rue the lack of government support.

"I am developing roads near my palace on my own. But power supply is so bad that I am unable to operate the air-conditioners. The Rajasthan government contributes substantially to develop palace tourism," said the owner of Gajalaxmi Palace.

A senior tourism official said: "The government is currently spending a lot on creating tourism infrastructure only to hand them over to private entrepreneurs. It should also spend a little on renovating the heritage structures across the state."

Tour operators cited the case of some beautiful royal structures crumbling for want of care and funds. While the Jeypore palace is now in ruins, the Nilgiri palace and Ranapur palace have also suffered damages over the past two years.

"The state government should do something about this, especially at a time when the royals are evincing interest in hosting tourists. The royals of Nilgiri and Mayurbhanj have also shown interest in opening their palaces to welcome tourists," said a tour operator.