Living like a king today would call for some rebellion from what royal lifestyles are supposed to encompass-for instance, say, a wedding party for a favourite dog or silk-lined travel trunks for bejewelled shoes. While opulence and excesses are half the fun in the retelling of royal ways, the lifestyle how-tos that have made their way into this book are presented with the idea that the keys to regal living can be turned even by those of us who live and entertain in a city flat and travel with carry-on luggage.
Here you will see how a bandgala waistcoat with a secret cut can do the talking for you at a dinner party. A hostess with the mostest shares just where and how to break the rules of a conventional table setting, and the ingredients are revealed of a home-made beauty scrub given to a princess the day before her wedding. If you are looking for intrigue in this book there is that too. A lime pickle with a closely guarded recipe is mixed when no one watches and an avowed non-vegetarian who drops into a princely home usually known for its meat unwittingly polishes off a plate of lauki kebabs. I hope you will have a bit of fun trying out these royal household secrets. 1, for one, have immediately put to use tips from an interior decorator to royal houses who offers ideas on how to make a small room look big or, if you want it, formal.
Royal Reservation started as a travel show taking us to palaces, many of which, for me, were first-time discoveries. Let me share with you just one chapter from the adventure, luck and anecdotes that made the series. This is the story of our visit to one such palace and the memories I brought home from there.
A ROYAL HIGH
My first appointment with Raja Jigmed Namgyal of Ladakh is in Delhi, over coffee at Cafe Coffee Day. He graciously offers me a cappuccino and says I must also have something to eat. I settle in with a coffee and cake while he takes calls on his mobile phone. From how loudly he needs to speak, I assume he's talking to someone stranded in a snowstorm in Nubhra Valley.
I imagine camps with small fires, and a wrinkly tea vendor heating yak milk in a metal pot. The call gets disconnected and I snap out of my daydream. Back to business. This is my chance to get some interview dates from Raja Jigmed. A lot can happen over coffee, promises a poster. Not for a travel journalist trying to fix shoot dates with the distinguished 62nd Chogyal descendant of warrior lineage.
'Can we shoot with you this summer?' I ask.
'We can see,' he replies.
'Can we fix the dates for early August?' I ask again.
He asks, 'Another biscuit?'
'Thank you. Sir, can we fix dates for the end of August?'
'Let me return to Ladakh. We can see.'
I left that meeting with caffeine-fuelled fantasies of Ladakh and no real clarity.
Phone calls and emails back and forth didn't change much. He is a busy man. There is only one way out that I can see.
I'll just have to ambush the warrior king on his home ground.
A few weeks later, an all-girl crew of Mandakini, Ananya and I are boarding the short propeller flight to Leh. I hate flights, hate high altitudes and hate the cold. Fortunately, Mandakini is in her element when in the mountains, so she cheered me up.
In the little family-owned bed-and-breakfast somewhere in Leh town, our crew has a compulsory day of rest. I concentrate on conserving energy, moving as little as possible. I move only for the essentials-toothbrush, fork, ketchup, edge of duvet. The next day comes early and a Himalayan room without heating needs no wake-up call. We pack our gear into a jeep and drive for an hour to Stok Palace, the Namgyal residence.
I like talking about Stok Palace because most people have never heard of it. It sounds distant, exotic and makes me look like I am familiar with unusual places. Talking about Stok is one thing. Turning up there, unsure if you are expected, is quite another. High on a hill, Stok Palace seems straight out of a childhood fable. At certain angles it appears to be suspended on a cloud or magically perched on leafless willows.
We stop where the earth road ends at the palace gates. Sorneoru finally peers through the grille. Together, the three of us head out of the car; holler 'press', 'Delhi', 'Raja', 'shooting', a jumbl: of keywords that miraculously throws open the palace gate. The main structure looms thick and white but for a few insanel: colourful windows.
We walk up the mossy stone stairs, taking deep breaths of the fresh thin air. Finally, we enter a courtyard guarded by two men whos: glares are an excellent security enforcer. They say not a word, kee] their arms folded, lips pursed and eyes fixed on us. These are no people you ask directions from, or even the way to the loo.
Perhaps I should text Raja Jigmed and say we are inside hi: home. Then he might send a message to the guards saying we car: be allowed to pass. But as I fumble for my phone, I am stopped International immigration would've been less uncomfortable. Suddenly the guards speak.
'Do you have the white scarf?'
'Sorry? The what?'
'The silk scarf for the Raja.'
'No, no. I'm not a scarf-seller. You see we have this long-overdue appointment for a shoot.'
'You need a white scarf to meet the Raja.'
Oh. I have no such thing.
But a scarf appears. 1, clearly, am not the first visitor to be so hopelessly unprepared. We soon find ourselves seated on a neat row of comfortable floor cushions in a beautiful audience room replete with Chinese frescos, wood-and-enamel panels painted with clouds, birds and fables. In front of us is a long, low table with pyramids of dried apricots and milk candy heaped so high that they obstruct our view. Ananya is the first to take a piece of candy. Finding that she can neither suck on it nor bite through it, she ends up doing something in between, unable to speak for the rest of the morning. Just as well, because what happens next leaves us all rather tongue-tied.
An attendant walks in and says the Raja is here. We stand up as a procession walks in, in the middle of which is the person I had had coffee with a few weeks ago. Here he is, draped in a serious silk robe, walking right past me to take his place on an elevated throne. A throne covered in silks sits at the far end of the room at a height of several feet above us. Of course, I had seen it when I walked in but had assumed it was, as they say, just for show. Raja Jigmed is now quite literally on a different plane from the rest of us in the room. Even rooms have rarefied altitudes in Ladakh.
I am nudged to present the scarf, which I then place on the Raja's shoulders. Next comes an elaborate tea ceremony where the pourer bows many times to the Raja before pouring tea into his gilt cup. He then turns to me and, with no bows of course, tips some into my porcelain cup. The Raja takes a sip, I take a sip. What do I say? Nice seeing you again? Small talk sounds hollow in the audience room. So I stick to rehearsed questions.
THE ROYAL WARDROBE
PERSONAL LIVING SPACES
YOUR HOME, YOURCASTLE
A MOVABLE FEAST
OF BEAUTY AND BRAWN
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