Why he matters: The face of India’s royalty in global gilded circles, it’s thanks to Bapji’s decisive actions and respect for his heritage that Jodhpur attracts the world’s most elite tourists and celebrities.
Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur is possibly the most adulated of Indian royals. His fan club of heritage seekers and history lovers lovingly call him ‘Bapji,’ defying age, caste and gender.
Much loved for his magnanimity, sense of style and deeply ingrained regal demeanour, this maharaja ascended the throne at age four, when his tiny world came toppling down like the helicopter that crashed with his father Hanwant Singh.
Growing up under the able guidance of his mother, the late Rajmata Krishna Kumari, he learnt statecraft as well as the means to rule with heart. When the privy purse was abolished, the Jodhpur Riyasat turned to democratic politics, and Bapji served both as an ambassador of India to Trinidad and Tabago as well as a member of the Rajya Sabha.
Whatever he touches, turns into style. And what else could one expect from a king decorated with an Oxford degree in philosophy, politics and economics? The 23-year-old royal, stripped of any government support to sustain his legacy, chose to follow the example of the nobles of Europe, who converted their legacy properties into heritage hotels.
Today, his Umaid Bhawan Palace is only partially a residence.Most of it operates as a crown Taj Group property, a global aspiration for international tourists looking for thequintessential Indian palace experience. Of course, the ‘Nickyanka’ wedding put it even higher up on that metric!
For several years, Gaj Singh welcomed Europe’s finest VIP guests with British Polo Day, hosting lavish parties at Mehranghar Fort and a gala charity auction on the lawns of the spectacular Umaid Bhawan. Mehrangarh Fort also is the backdrop for many a lavish wedding and festivals supported by UNESCO, like the Jodhpur RIFF (Rajasthan International Folk Festival). Plus, as a cosy township, Jodhpur exports Rs 3,700 crore worth of handicrafts!
Today, he stands tall as a patron to many successful initiatives, be it the annual polo season that commences in December or his involvement in vintage cars, his 1927 Phantom Rolls Royce restored to its metallic sheen, winning him trophies at Pebble Beach as well as Cartier de Concourse.
Always stylishly turned out in his safa, jodhpuris and bandhgalas, Bapji is most acknowledged for his philanthropic work. His NGO for water conservation, Jal Bhagirathi Foundation, has helped keep his desert city green. His Head Injury Foundation, brought alive after the tragic accident of his handsome son Prince Shivraj Singh, makes recovery possible for devastating accident cases. Above all, what he most cherishes is the school for girls named after his mother that educates young girls from rural family backgrounds in his Jodhpur.
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