The romance of Jaipur has always been expressed through its palaces and forts. The growing popularity of Jaipur Literature Festival has added more colour to the romance of the city. The annual festival, which has become a major feature in the calendar of literary events in the country, owes a share of its popularity to one such palace — The Diggi Palace Hotel — venue of the event.
The heritage hotel took shape in 1991 when Thakur Ram Pratap Singh Diggi and his wife, Thakurani Jyotika Kumari Diggi, along with their nephew Shakti Singh and his wife, Kaushika Kumari turned 25 per cent of their property in to a hotel. “This was the only way by which in today’s age and time we could maintain a property like this,” says Thakur Ram Singh.
The current portion of the palace which is the hotel was originally the janana, the ladies’ quarters of the town-house where the Diggis stayed when they visited Jaipur. (The Diggis originally belong to the Diggi estate which is about 60 km from Jaipur city.) The palace is on the outskirts, a quite haven away from the hustle and bustle of Jaipur. “This area was a jungle to begin with and we moved in to this palace only 60 years ago. There was a period when this place was so empty that it was nice to have people around, so my father would invite friends and relatives to come and live with us,” shares Thakur Ram Singh. As property prices started rising, guests refused to move out. In the past few years, the Diggis have spent considerable time reclaiming different parts of the palace from encroachers. A part of it still remains out of their control. “After that experience, we did not want to rent out the place again and that was when a friend told us about a hotel on sale and suggested we buy the furniture! This marked the start of our hotel,” he reveals.
Thakurani Jyotika oversees the operations at the hotel. Mornings are laid-back with birds chirping and peacocks rambling through the sprawling courtyard. With no clocks in the rooms and the restaurant, it is easy to lose track of time here. “It was not until recently that we introduced telephones and TVs in the rooms, because Indian guests need them to keep their children engaged” shares Thakur Ram Singh.
Save for one modern building, the rest of the structures on the premises belong to a bygone era. Thakur Ram Singh tells us that the modern building in question was actually a getaway for former chief minister of Rajasthan and vice president of India, Late Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who was a close friend of the Diggi family.
The Jaipur Literature Festival was also conceived on an evening similar to the one when the hotel was started. The Jaipur Virasat Foundation (JVF) was started in 2002 by like-minded individuals including Thakur Ram Singh, which works with and for traditional artists in Rajasthan. The literature festival was then started and incubated by JVF as a component of the Jaipur Heritage International Festival. And when everyone was wondering as to where to organise it, Singh offered his palace and promised to take care of the hospitality aspect. “For the literature festival, we do not take any assistance from the government and I do not charge a penny,” says the 52-year-old. Having seen the response from the public and children (a footfall of 1.22 lakh in 2012 edition of the festival), Singh says, “It is such a pleasure, if you can get kids to read books again.”