India has been home to cultures and customs, old and new, for a very long time. The diverse
traditions span far and wide throughout the country, and every state is recognized for its unique cuisine, art forms and dialects. While each state has its fair share of well-known tourist sites, filled to the brim with the richness of its history and traditions, some magnificent sites are burrowed out of the limelight, concealing secrets of their heritage.
Nestled in the lush countryside of Mayurbhanj, Odisha, complete with glorious waterfalls and rolling hills, lies the 18th century Victorian-era styled Belgadia Palace. Constructed in 1804 on the orders of Maharani Sumitra Devi Bhanj Deo, who reigned from 1786-1810, the palace has opened its doors to guests who wish to take a trip down memory lane, and introduces the idea of purposeful travel by engaging with the local tribal community and through curated tours to truly explore the state of Odisha, the soul of incredible India. The 200 year old palace has been home to the former royal family of Mayurbhanj, and houses a rich collection of exquisite art and antiques showcasing Odisha’s and the royal family’s rich history.
With the exteriors built to be a replica of Buckingham Palace, the Belgadia Palace in unmatched in its sophistication of architecture and upholstery, and with its sprawling lawns, a serene lake, elegant verandahs and manicured walking paths, it is indeed a sight to behold. The interiors of the palace are complete with vintage vinyl records, persian carpets, old world chandeliers and century old paintings flanking the corridors, which add glorious authenticity to the royal era estate. A private section of the palace is presently occupied by the Maharaja, the present Queen mother and the Queen of Mayurbhanj who belong to the royal families of Nepal and Jaisalmer respectively.
With its recent renovation in 2016, the palace was partially converted into a boutique homestay, keeping in terms with the royal family’s interest in building sustainable communities and preserving the district’s rich heritage and legacy. The palace spearheads the idea to use tourism as a means to bring about positive social change, by employing and skilling local tribal people and helping smaller enterprises gain funding from travellers. The palace property is self reliant, and implements several means to reduce their carbon footprint. Some of the many sustainable practices followed by them include waste segregation and composting, reusing towels thereby saving water by 40%, energy efficient LED lighting, use of sabai grass and eco-friendly materials in the house, as dustbins, bags and even doormats, and using recycled and upcycled furniture and interiors. The Belgadia Palace aims to provide local craft communities direct access to market linkages with foreign travellers, thereby eliminating the middlemen and ensuring that 100% of the profits trace back to the communities.
The district of Mayurbhanj is a treasure trove of art and culture, and is home to a variety of crafts such as Dhokra (ancient wax casting art form) and Mayurbhanj Chhau (martial arts dance form). The Rath Yatra is one of the most celebrated festivals of the district, and this year marks the 444th year of its celebration by the royal family. The uniqueness of this event in Mayurbhanj, Odisha is that women are active participants and pull the goddess Subhadra’s chariot during the three day Rath Yatra - a phenomenon only unique to this region in the world. This custom began in 1975, and has been followed ever since, with huge support from the royal family given that a number of architectural splendors in Mayurbhanj were built by women rulers.
The Belgadia Palace imparts an enriching experience by providing an insight into the magnificence of the heritage of Odisha, as well as by actively creating awareness about sustainability by combining tourism with the resources available to the royal family. Through curated tours, the palace connects the visiting tourists to the local tribal communities, and seek to bridge the gap between the old world and the new.
For more details, you can check out their website.
If you enjoyed this, we suggest you read: