An exclusive peek into the private residence of the Nawab of Janjira.
I had my real life Princess Diaries moment when I stayed at the Palace of Janjira for a weekend. My mom is from the city of Indore in Madhya Pradesh. And when she got married to my dad, a businessman, she moved to an apartment in South Bombay. Her best friend, on the other hand, married the Nawab of Janjira and moved to ummm… the PALACE of Janjira!
Janjira Palace and the fort in the Arabian Sea
Twenty years later my family of five got on a ferry at the Gateway of India and we were on our way to visit my mom’s best friend, the Begum of Janjira and her husband, Nawab Siddi at their not so humble abode.
Entrance of the palace
After a two-hour drive from Alibaug, we reached the port town of Murud in Maharashtra, where the palace is located. It is the private residence of the Nawab of Janjira, Nawab Siddi. India officially abolished aristocracy during Independence in 1947. However, honorary royal families still exist. Most Indian palaces, especially the ones in Rajasthan, have been converted to hotels. So it was refreshing to visit one that remains very much a family residence. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the stunning cliff-top palace is a mix of Mughal and Gothic architecture with gorgeous views of the Murud-Janjira village and the Arabian Sea. It was an ornate vision in the midst of the quaint fisherman town of Murud.
View from my guest room of the palace
Here’s the 101 I got about the place while we were enroute. Also known as the Ahmedganj Palace, it was built by the Siddi Dynasty in 1885. The Siddis, who were mercenaries and traders from the east coast of Africa ruled Janjira for nearly 500 years. Treaties and wars helped them remain in power for numerous decades. And under them, Janjira was a vassal state for numerous Empires, including the Mughal Emperor.
We were welcomed into the palace grounds with a huge sign that said, “Nawab Saheb’s Private Residence – Trespasser will be prosecuted” and loud barks from the family pets - two huge canines that were ready to pounce on us. The vicious dogs were so scary that none of us dare open the car doors till the Nawab personally came to meet us and calm them down.
Since we reached the palace around 4pm, we began our stay with high tea, which was served in the grand dinning room. It was a well-lit room with a large rectangular dining table and cutlery designed specifically for the place. While sipping my fancy tea, my eyes darted all over taking in every detail. Post this we set out for a quick tour of the town of Murud, the surrounding hills and the Janjira Fort before sunset.
Posing inside The Palace of Janjira
The Janjira Fort in the middle of the Arabian Sea was also built by the Nawab’s ancestors. It is often called the unconquerable or impregnable fort because it evaded conquest for over 500 years. It’s designed in a way that reservoirs of fresh water stayed inside the fort enabling the Siddi army of nearly 2500 soldiers to live there for months. After Independence, the Government of India took ownership of the Fort. Unfortunately, they failed to preserve it and all that remains is a ruin. No surprises there!
Palace Janjira on my mind
After sunset, the beautiful palace lights came on, making the place look like something out of a fairytale. As we sat down for drinks, the Nawab regaled us with anecdotes about the palace and a little history. 110 laborers built the place, with raw materials brought in from Mumbai on horses and bullock carts.
Princess for the day!
For dinner, the Nawab (who I discovered is a great cook) made Khichda, a meat-based variant of the Indian rice dish – Khichdi. It was prepared by cooking the ingredients on an open fire for 8 hours. Coupled with vegetables, dal and roti, it was a meal fit for a king…literally!
Khichda being cooked
The next morning, after a hearty breakfast of omelets, (masala!) toast, chai and fruits, we began our tour of the palace grounds. Amrita, the Begum’s daughter, was our guide for the day.
The palace grounds, spread over an area of 45 acres has over 50 rooms, multiple banquet halls, dining rooms, a museum showcasing the history of the Siddi family, extensive well-groomed gardens, an outdoor dinning area overlooking the Arabian Sea, a mosque, the tombs of the Nawab’s ancestors, the remains of a lavish Turkish bath, stables that once housed hundreds of horses, servant’s quarters, an outdoor kitchen area, walking paths, a hospital and a huge library. Phew!
Tombs of the Nawab’s ancestors
What struck me was that each room had its own character, every detail was thoughtfully chosen, making each room unique. The living area of the Nawab’s grandparents is preserved in its original form. Walking around the grounds, I got a feel of their luxurious life. But what struck me more is the modesty and generosity of the Siddi Family. A special note of thanks to the Nawab of Janjira, Nawab Siddi and his family for being the perfect hosts and opening their home to us!
Antique bed in one of the guest rooms
101 Janjira Palace
1. The Palace of Janjira is a two-hour drive from Alibaug or 120kms from Mumbai.
2. It’s the private residence of the Nawab and not open to the public.
3. The Begum of Janjira loves her Persian cats; they are the only animals allowed in the Nawab and Begum's bedroom.
4. The Nawab, on the other hand, has two huge dogs that are more than just family pets. The Nawab’s canines are so protective of him, that if anyone makes any sudden moves towards him, the dogs attack that person.
5. Stuffed tiger in the palace
6. The Begum’s shoes from the 1950’s
7. Antiques in the Begum’s apartment
8. Begum’s bathroom
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com
By Pallavi Mehra
Photographs by: Pallavi Mehra