The Jai Vilas Palace is one of India’s most grandiose and eccentric nineteenth-century relics, although the lack of labelling and information make it an unsatisfactory experience.
The palace was built in 1875 during the reign of Maharaja Jayaji Rao Scindia. He dispatched his friend Colonel Michael Filose on a grand tour of Europe to seek inspiration; Filose returned with a vast shipment of furniture, fabric, paintings, tapestries and cut glass, together with the blueprints for a building that borrowed heavily from Buckingham Palace, Versailles, Greek ruins and Italian-Baroque stately homes. The result is a shamelessly over-the-top blend of Doric, Tuscan and Corinthian architecture.
The Scindias, who still occupy part of the palace, have opened two wings to the public. The first wing, a museum, includes countless Mughal paintings, Persian rugs, gold and silver ornaments and antique furniture that belonged to the estate of Louis XVI before the French Revolution.
A still more extravagant wing lies across the courtyard from the museum. The durbar hall was where the maharaja entertained important visitors. A sweeping Belgian glass staircase leads from the lobby upstairs to the gargantuan assembly hall, which has the world’s biggest chandeliers. At over three and a half tonnes apiece, they could not be installed until the strength of the roof had been tested with eight elephants. The rug lining the floor of the hall, woven by inmates of Gwalior jail, took twelve years to complete and, at over 40m in length, is the largest handmade carpet in Asia.