SQueeze
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9-seater plane in Rajasthan and royal treatments at Taj palaces

Sat Mar 03, 2018 3:12 am

Background

If there is one place in North India which is considered as quintessential (other than the Taj Mahal of course), it will be the bejeweled and dazzling region of Rajasthan - Land of Princes, Forts, opulent palaces, elephants, and turbans. This would be yet another of my adventure in the region whereby I had previously written about my adventures in Jaipur here (https://www.airliners.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=979311), and Udaipur here (http://www.sqtalk.com/forum/showthread.php?t=15135)

For this particular trip, I headed to the most remote and least known corner of Rajasthan, to a town called Bikaner, at the edge of the desert, and the last stop before Pakistan. To get here, as up to the recent past, train was the only reasonably comfortable option. However, since the last 2 years or so, a little known airline (Supreme Airlines) has been plying the route on what seems to be a subsidised route with fares in the range of INR 6,000 (slightly above S$100). I have been intrigued by this airline for awhile especially since it only has a fleet of 9-seater Cessnas, something that is a rarity in the bigger hubs. When winter set in, and I started exploring the region again, I jumped at the opportunity to try this “almost private jet” experience at such an incredibly affordable fare. The route was from Bikaner to Jaipur.

Since it’s a short flight, and therefore the report would be short, I am adding spice to it by also sharing the Taj Hotel frequent guest’s exclusive benefit for its Platinum members (80 night’s required), which is a curation of bespoke experiences crafted in its hotels. For this particular trip, since I would be in Jaipur, I reserved myself the Platinum Experience called The Royal Treatment at Rambagh Palace and described as “Ornate corridors of the Rambagh Palace lead you to a beautiful Baradari overlooking the Palace Gardens and the exterior façade. Decorated with exotic flowers and candles, the Baradari gives you an exceptionally royal experience as you tuck into a delicious 3-course dinner”

Part 1:

Airline: Supreme Airlines
Flight number: 604
Seat: 2A
Type: Cessna Grand Caravan C208B
Class: Club Economy
Load: 4/9


Booking the flight was extremely easy on their website http://www.supremeairlines.com . All purchase was online with live availability shown and e-ticket was issued instantly. Seat selection is also available online prior to to e-ticketing. They publish 2 fares: Economy and Premium. Economy is for the first and last rows of the plane while Club Economy which is about S$10 more expensive is in 1-1 configuration facing each other. Interesting configuration.

My journey started in remote dusty Bikaner which has an airport that is somewhat quite a white elephant. Since the past 2 years or so, only Supreme Airlines flies a 9-seater once a day from here to the state capital, Jaipur, which means that the airport is used only by a maximum of 9 people a day and I believe the actual load will be at most 50% of that on average. Recently, Air India had also commenced flights from Delhi using an ATR42 which potentially quadruples the number of passengers per day.

Bikaner Airport is on a Long dusty state highway where cars share space with camels.

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The turn into the airport is quite well signposted although the road leading from it seems to lead to nowhere!

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And considering the airport is hardly used by civilian passengers, it is a gated compound. and guards countercheck passengers’ names against their manifest before even allowing vehicles to enter. Not difficult considering there are less than 5 passengers :tongue:

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Terminal building seems "in the works" and rather makeshift and is definitely oversized to serve 9 passengers, and today there would only be 4: me, my friend, and 2 other passengers.

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There is only a simple checking-in system with baggage handled manually. The Hall seems makeshift.

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Boarding pass is handprinted! and is really nice and colourful and will make a good postcard.

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Looking around, the airport is very lonely. Security was manned by more personnel than passengers. And they were very thorough with each and every bag opened. I Guess they try to make their time really fruitful.

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Looking out of the waiting lounge. Baggage handling system is a trolley pushed by staff!

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Not too long after, our tiny bird finally arrived. It parked quite a distance from the terminal.

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SQueeze
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Re: 9-seater plane in Rajasthan and royal treatments at Taj palaces

Sat Mar 03, 2018 3:14 am

As expected, there would be no elaborate services, one just has walk to the tarmac.

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Coming close up with VT-SAI. And it was my first time on a 9-seater and I was really excited.

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Coming onboard, I was wowed by the comfort provided. This could be a private jet! The seat is business-class style arranged in 1-1 configuration facing each other and is in leather (or faux leather). and it swivels! like SQ New Suite? :)

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The first row is just behind the pilot and is sold as ‘economy’. There is no cockpit door on this tiny plane and everything is in full view and makes an interesting experience.

I felt like a pilot!

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Back to my seat and I started exploring. The ‘premium’ class faces each other and makes a good couple seat.

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Huge table is folded out from the side and will make a good meeting desk as well.

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Bottled water was provided. On the side, the seatmap of the aircraft.

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Their inflight magazine has some articles on local destinations. And a map of Madhya Pradesh routes. These are somewhat not sold online. Only Rajasthan routes are bookable online.

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Quite a detailed description of how to buckle in. And yes, there is shoulder strap.

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And detailed exit route.

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Looking out of the window.

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And then we were on our hour Long journey to Jaipur.
Over the military section of the airport.

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And soon at cruising altitude above the semi desert region.

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I then checked the other seats. The rear seats, sold as Economy, seem very comfortable emergency exit seat.

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With very generous legroom.

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Door with the foldable steps tucked in.

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Windows of the Cessna are impressively huge.

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The journey was relatively slow and leisurely until we descended towards the city of Jaipur.

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Whereby the landing was some of the smoothest landing I had ever experienced. It was special because it was also a cockpit view from seat although I had to turn my head as I was occupying the rear-facing seat. [url="https://youtu.be/WLJ31BURzVU"]Video of the incredibly beautiful landing is here[/url]

Full runway view head on ....

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The plane then taxied to a remote Bay, and we disembarked by stairs. And fetched by a van.

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One Last look at VT-SAI and that’s also the end of this rare experience.

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SQueeze
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Re: 9-seater plane in Rajasthan and royal treatments at Taj palaces

Sat Mar 03, 2018 3:16 am

Part 2: Taj Platinum Experiences

The Taj Platinum Experience is one of those that I feel truly worth of the benefit of its Platinum status. This is my 2nd year and the curated experiences are what I look for the most. To me, this is what makes First Class is First Class and the Taj has gone to provide its most loyal guests with such First Class treatment. There are 15 of them and in each membership year, the Guest has the privilege to reserve for three. The experiences range from Private Dining specially set up for members, Luxurious massages on private boat for Two, Diving, etc. Everything is complimentary and based on the 5 I had experienced so far, 4 of them was a private experience, making it a truly bespoke experience and indeed very special.

The Platinum Experience in Jaipur is called The Royal Treatment at Rambagh Palace and described as “Ornate corridors of the Rambagh Palace lead you to a beautiful Baradari overlooking the Palace Gardens and the exterior façade. Decorated with exotic flowers and candles, the Baradari gives you an exceptionally royal experience as you tuck into a delicious 3-course dinner”

Since some friends were also planning to be in town, I had also asked what would be the surcharge for additional guests and I was informed that it would be US$300 Per head - a very steep price but probably reasonable considering this is a private experience whereby an entire pavilion is reserved for your own use overlooking the lavish private garden of the kings, and served by a private butler and an entourage of servers and with a menu that is crafted specially for you.

The experience started with a walk along the ornate corridors of the Rambagh Palace.

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Passed opulent rooms and restaurants.

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Towards our specially-set up pavilion (called a Baradari), graced with candle lamps and flowers. A truly stunning sight.

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We were then seated and entertained by our butler with complimentary wine and champagne. They actually gave me a wine menu with prices and only at the end of the meal, it was informed that it would be on the house. It was not exactly pleasant this way but I think they would like to see if I picked something too premium or not.

I had brought with me a turban and the butler helped me put it up. Boy, it was really tall and royal. This was my extra request. There is no turban as part of the Platinum experience in the Rambagh. I have the turban from another Hotel from another Platinum experience the year before (read more below)

Dinner then started with an amouse bouche and a barrage of dishes served in a traditional thali. Unfortunately, this time I didn’t bring my SLR and the phone camera really struggled with the Low intimate lighting condition. It ended with a pleasant note.

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However, this experience did not come close to what I had the previous year at another opulent palace, the Umaid Bhawan in Jodhpur. That was a truly spectacular experience with a curation of experience that I would never forget. The Platinum Experience in Jodhpur is titled Sunset Pavilion at Umaid Bhawan and described as “Soak in the magnificent gold vignettes of Mehrangarh Fort against crimson skies as you dine on the Sunset Terrace of Umaid Bhawan Palace, the highest dining point in the city. Survey the vast Rajputana heritage as you partake of the lavish Rajasthani Thali from this vantage view. An experience fit for a king!”

The Umaid Bhawan is a much larger and grander palace.

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First, we were seated in an immense lobby. Served with champagne, I had a turban fixed on my head (a sweet surprise) while my lady had veil donned on her.

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From here, the butler brought us around the palace giving us candid stories and histories. It was a sprawling compound and very impressive.

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After that, we were led up to the rooftop, where we found a private dining set up, with its own makeshift kitchen just for this purpose just behind one of the domes.

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And the view was memorable for lifetimes ahead.

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Dinner again was served Royal-thali style and it was exquisite.

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We chatted for hours with the massive fort in the distance. We couldnt feel more than being king and queen that night.

At yet another palace in Hyderabad, the Falaknuma, the Platinum Experience is called A Walk in the Sky at Falaknuma Palace and described as “Join the Palace historian for a private tour of the iconic bastion of rich Nizami heritage. Indulge in the Nizam’s beloved ritual Afternoon Tea, served in the Jade Room. Savour the Nizam’s special tea blend accompanied with a high tea platter of a delectable mélange of English and Indian hors d’oeuvres, chocolates, and champagne.”

This was a high tea experience. Unlike in the other 2 hotels, we had the privilege to stay here too.

We arrived royally, and ceremoniously on a horsedrawn carriage.

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The façade of the palace is imposing and monumental.

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Unlike the previous two palaces, this palace is 100% European-style with no single Indian element (at least that's what the palace historian told us). The first ante room is exquisite.

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As is the main Reception Hall with its grand staircase.

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The Ballroom is stunning. One can imagine what took place here 100 years ago.

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Adjacent to it is a special dining hall, with a banquet dining table, which is said to be the longest in the world.

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From here, we were brought to the exquisitely opulent Jade Room.

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On the veranda of which, we had our private table set up.

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This was a High Tea Experience, set up for royals, and now accessible to commoners like me.

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The palace grounds are very pleasant with plenty of greenery.

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Rooms are of understated classic elegance.

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Other than dinner experiences, there was also a very unique Platinum Experience which has been removed from the 2017 catalogue. It was a complimentary 2 hour private Spa Boat experience on Lake Pichola with the famous and iconic Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur.

I had the privilege of staying on the floating palace last year and in that stay, I booked myself the private boat spa experience.

The hotel was stunningly sited in the middle of a lake, accessible only by boat. This hotel is most famous as setting to one of the James Bond movie.

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Rooms are small compared to the other Taj Palaces which is natural considering the tight space of the property. And it is decorated in local Rajasthani style. Very beautiful despite its size.

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It is a serene place, and one of the most romantic in India. Far from the hustle, bustle, and hassle so typical of India cities.

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And sunset is stunningly beautiful.

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The spa boat was anchored off the main palace building and to access it, one had to be transferred by an even smaller boat.

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The spa boat has an outdoor jacuzzi where One and one’s company could enjoy the beautiful Udaipur winter weather sipping champagne and dipping in the jacuzzi sprinklered with flowers. How more romantic could it get!

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Wine and cashew nuts served by the jacuzzi by the private butler.

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And tea after that

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Inside the spa was a private couple massage room with 2 treatment beds and shower facilities.

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I didn’t take as many photos as this was a truly private experience. But I Guess readers could imagine how special this experience could be. It started with a footbath, followed by a good 90min long massage.
 
SQueeze
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Re: 9-seater plane in Rajasthan and royal treatments at Taj palaces

Sat Mar 03, 2018 3:17 am

Part 3: Bikaner

Last but not least, I thought I would share some pics of relatively less known Bikaner, a hidden gem of Rajasthan and having visited most of Rajasthan’s main sights, I thought this is one of the best considering the relatively Low number of visitors.

The main attraction is the imposing fort in the centre of town.

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It is a well-restored monument as it is cleaner, more massive, and in very good condition, compared to Jaisalmer’s (just as remote but more famous).

Entrance is through such layered gates bringing oneself in a journey from the chaotic outside to the peaceful inside.

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Red sandstone is the predominant colour. and the level of architectural detailing and craftmanship is outstanding,

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But white also predominates elsewhere on the inside.

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Up a small discreet staircase....

And one will find oneself in a little universe of its own - richly decorated, opulent, and of such high artistic value.

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As in most Rajasthani architectural wonders, light play and shadows are integral components of buildings and what a sight they are.

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For aviation enthusiast, there is also a vintage aircraft in display as prized possession of the maharajah.

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In Bikaner, I stayed in Laxmi Niwas Palace - another converted hotel with very beautiful architecture but without the polished restoration and service of the Taj Group of hotels

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These are all meticulously arved of stone!

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The room however needs some serious updating.

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Elsewhere in the city, a very typical Indian scene can be seen and experienced. A timeless scene that little has changed over centuries

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Street scenes are chaotic with animals, people, 2-wheelers, the occasional 4-wheelers navigate the organic mess of the urban centre.

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Rajasthani colour is truly a sight to behold.

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One of my favourite pic is this simple portrait I simply titled as ‘Woman’.

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She is so simple, yet that smile won me over. It was genuine, not expecting anything in return. A gaze between two strangers, who knew none of each other’s names, Nor our origins, or backgrounds. Yet, there was a human connection, an acknowledgement that is pure, genuine, and beautiful. She smiled for me. I smiled back. That simple.



Thank you for reading such lengthy report. I hope it has been enjoyable, and also an eye-opener to a region rarely visited and reviewed on this site. Thank you all. Namaste.
 
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AirAfreak
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Re: 9-seater plane in Rajasthan and royal treatments at Taj palaces

Sat Mar 03, 2018 7:31 am

Such a lovely report to read this evening. I especially loved the architecture! Thank you for sharing with us your experience on Sunpreme Airways and the beautiful happenings on the subcontinent. It is especially a pleasure to see the local food on offer. Namaste.
Economy Class. You vision of loveliness; Prince Charles called and he wants you to fill in for him next week.
 
richcandy
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Re: 9-seater plane in Rajasthan and royal treatments at Taj palaces

Sat Mar 03, 2018 7:33 pm

Thanks for posting this. Amazing photos.
 
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sudenmorsian
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Re: 9-seater plane in Rajasthan and royal treatments at Taj palaces

Sat Mar 03, 2018 8:40 pm

Absolutely stunning images – I especially loved your pictures of Junagarh Fort in Bikaner! Thank you for posting such a beautiful trip report!
HPN · NYC
 
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readytotaxi
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Re: 9-seater plane in Rajasthan and royal treatments at Taj palaces

Fri Mar 09, 2018 5:00 pm

Wonderful report, told lots of people to read it. The architecture is stunning, so glad they look after it, your pictures are great. Some of the interiors are mind blowing, so beautiful. Great trip report. :bouncy:
you don't get a second chance to make a first impression!
Growing older, but not up.
 
lychemsa
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Re: 9-seater plane in Rajasthan and royal treatments at Taj palaces

Fri Mar 09, 2018 10:08 pm

Beautiful. I want to go. Is Hyderabad worth it though to visit just because of the hotel?
 
jetwet1
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Re: 9-seater plane in Rajasthan and royal treatments at Taj palaces

Sat Mar 10, 2018 8:54 am

Thank you for taking the time to post such an amazing report.

As someone who takes a couple of 208 rides a year, the difference between Supreme and Sansa is stark to say the least.

The hotels, I knew Taj were nice, but wow, spectacular.
 
abrelosojos
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Re: 9-seater plane in Rajasthan and royal treatments at Taj palaces

Sun Mar 11, 2018 8:49 pm

No one does genuine luxury consistently as India. Great report. I feel like I know much about the country, but had never heard of this airline! Thanks for writing this.

Saludos,
Alex
Live, and let live.
 
jns13
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Re: 9-seater plane in Rajasthan and royal treatments at Taj palaces

Wed Mar 14, 2018 6:46 pm

Wow, great report! Loved the stories and narration behind the photos, and really enjoyed experiencing these unique places from your point of view. I've been to Udaipur and immensely enjoyed it; this makes me want to go back to Rajasthan to see the rest!
 
AI
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Re: 9-seater plane in Rajasthan and royal treatments at Taj palaces

Sat Mar 17, 2018 9:51 pm

Lovely report, lovely pictures.
Would love to fly Supreme airlines. Great view from tje economy 1st row just behind the pilots.
 
directorguy
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Re: 9-seater plane in Rajasthan and royal treatments at Taj palaces

Sun Mar 18, 2018 8:49 am

Great report, thanks for sharing.
I absolutely loved the pictures of Rambagh Palace-I finished reading the autobiography by Gayatri Devi, the Maharani of Jaipur a while ago and just loved her descriptions of how Indian royalty lived. Only spent a few days in Rajasthan last year, and can't wait to eventually go back. Will definitely using your TR to plan when the time comes!
The Supreme Airlines option was a nice bonus, especially as it's subsidized.
 
klakzky123
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Re: 9-seater plane in Rajasthan and royal treatments at Taj palaces

Wed Mar 21, 2018 1:58 pm

readytotaxi wrote:
Wonderful report, told lots of people to read it. The architecture is stunning, so glad they look after it, your pictures are great. Some of the interiors are mind blowing, so beautiful. Great trip report. :bouncy:


The Rajasthan palaces are pretty unique in that while the rulers in Rajastan lost their royal privileges (and a lot of their money since they couldn't tax local citizens anymore) when India became independent, they came up with high end tourism as a plan B. So the royal families continue to live in the palaces and are able to maintain their standard of living off of tourism and hotel stays.

Most other rulers of princely states in India who lost their income didn't figure out that they needed a plan B. You can go to a place like Hyderabad which was one of the wealthiest princely states and you'll find no trace of the royal family. All that's left are museums and tours of the old palaces but its managed by the government now instead of by the royal family.

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