I had no idea what I was getting into. After a cushy six-hour flight, the two hours I spent navigating through the Delhi Airport was something else. At a glance, getting through seemed manageable. But in real time, the degree of difficulty unfolded in painful increments. By the time I thought I was done, my connecting flight had been delayed for another two hours.
The pain was worth it. Of all that India has to offer, there are few regions more fascinating than Rajasthan itself, and Jodhpur, its second largest city, is not to be missed. While most of India is modernising a little too fast for the locals, time stands still in dusty Jodhpur. From the free-roaming cows and orange saris, to the tuk tuks and stalls packed onto the streets, there’s a story to tell from every corner. Travellers come to Jodhpur for its silver and textiles, but it is the city’s striking shade of blue that’s so alluring. They call it the Blue City, a city stained by a colour that represents social class, luxe and sacredness.
Life in Jodhpur revolves around the Mehrangarh Fort, the best preserved of all the forts in Rajasthan. Standing tall at 120m above the Jodhpur skyline, it is jam-packed with legend and history since the 17th century. The royal family still runs it, although you’ll find them only in residence at the Umaid Bhawan Palace, away from the frenetic city centre.
The palace, where extravagance and luxury knew no bounds, dates back to 1943. Styled after the art deco era, it is divided into two separate wings — one as a hotel and another as home to Gaj Singh II, the Maharaja. It is to be my home for the next three days, and sharing the same roof as the lords, ladies and the entire upper crust, I don’t quite fit in. But we are all here for the same thing — to celebrate polo and whisky.
Royal Salute had flown me in for British Polo Day 2017, a time-honoured tradition since 2009. British Polo Day is known as a leader in the luxury scene of sport, philanthropy (read: over US$2.2m have been raised) and serious partying (if only you saw the Maharaja dance). Royal Salute, already synonymous with polo, has been supporting it for five years. They both like building meaningful relationships over amazing experiences, including polo clinics and cool olfactory experiences by Barnabé Fillion, a French perfumer and the latter’s creative advisor.
Few sports and tipples have luxury in its DNA like polo and Royal Salute do, given the fact that one’s the Sport of Kings and the other, a tribute to the Queen. They are the reason why a sum of various parts is better than holding the fort alone. A blended whisky can taste better than a single malt, and polo isn’t polo if you don’t have a team.
“A blended whisky can taste better than a single malt, and polo isn’t polo if you don’t have a team.”
But why Jodhpur? The Maharajas of Jodhpur have long been patrons of polo, so where better to celebrate than in India’s premier polo city? What started out as the national sport of Persia had crawled its way to Manipur in 1859. When a curious bunch of British military officers saw the locals play, they followed suit, and from there, polo got popular, spreading from India to as far as Australia. Jodhpur was equally intrigued, and the Rathores, the city’s ruling family, fell in love. The late 19th century then saw Sir Pratap (brother of the Maharaja and Prime Minister of Jodhpur) and Colonel Stuart Beatson groom the Jodhpur Lancers, thus bringing polo to Jodhpur in its modern form.
So here I am, in a city of royals for polo and well, great spirit. But don’t let me bore you further. Royal Salute Polo Ambassador Malcolm Borwick and Patron Torquhil Ian Campbell, the 13th Duke of Argyll, will take it from here and tell you more about Jodhpur, luxury, and what makes Royal Salute and polo so great.
What do you know of the history behind Jodhpur and polo?
Duke of Argyll (DA): Jodhpur is a significant location for polo and British Polo Day in particular, examples of what can be done with good quality ingredients. What I look for is the art and luxury behind a whisky and that is the key that separates the two. One of the great accolades of Royal Salute is that while it is a blended whisky, it has probably the highest percentage of malt whisky of any aged blend. There is an incredible, crafted process that goes into making each batch of perfectly balanced blended whisky. There is a saying that goes, “making a single malt is a science, but making a blended whisky is an art.”
Whisky and polo make for an interesting combination. What is the vision behind the partnership of Royal Salute and British Polo Day?
DA: They share a longstanding connection to luxury, with polo often referred to as the Sport of Kings and Royal Salute, the King of Whisky. There are many shared values inherent in both, including honesty, integrity, and perhaps the most important one of all, skill. They are both equally complex, and together, the ambition is to continue building a platform that invites people from around the world, to enjoy the polo lifestyle with Royal Salute.
MB: For me, it is a natural fit, and they just happen to be two of my biggest passions. A major parallel for me is the complexity involved in making a perfectly balanced Royal Salute blend and a great polo team. The whole has to be better than the sum of its parts.
What do you love most about Royal Salute?
DA: The incredible heritage behind the brand, the care that goes into the craft, the sheer beauty of the liquid and the porcelain flagons it’s held in. I also love the way it brings people together so warmly — whether it is two people sharing a moment of peace together or hundreds of guests coming together at an event such as a polo match.
MB: Most single malts on the market bottled at 21 years old are marked as “special”, but for us, that’s just the start. All our blends are made with a minimum of 21 years and the entire collection of Royal Salute whiskies have a superb finish. Each time someone sips it for the first time, he or she falls in love with it.
How do you like your whisky?
DA: I enjoy whisky in a multitude of ways, whether it’s in a cocktail or on the rocks. But I tend to lean towards a 50-50 proportion of water and whisky, which is really the first step to understanding whisky. And when I enjoy a glass of Royal Salute, I will always want to share it with the people around me.
MB: I’m a wet whisky drinker — one part whisky and two parts water. No ice. The 21 Year Old is a classic that’s unbeatable.
This story has been featured in the Prestige Singapore April issue