Rising out of the Lake Pichola in all her sedate glory, stands the pristine Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur. An erstwhile palace built by the Maharanas of Udaipur, she continues to maintain her regal demeanor and form, even as she dons the mantle of a hotel that plays host to innumerable guests from the world over, who arrive at her pier to be pampered regally, much like the royals who resided there in the days of yore.
I had the exquisite pleasure of sojourning in her stately environs albeit for a very short duration of a day and a half.
I was a part of an event organized by Travel Unbounded, a brand that curates unique experiences for their clients and hence I did not have the time to exclusively explore the hotel.
However, my thoughts and experiences during this short stay, are narrated here for your vicarious pleasure and I hope that you will enjoy this brief tale.
About Udaipur –
Udaipur is a city in the southern part of the state of Rajasthan, India. Named after its founder Maharana Udai Singh II, this city that was founded in 1558 AD attracts tourists from the world over with the monuments from its royal past and also its scenic beauty, ensconced as it is by the Aravallis, the oldest mountain ranges in India.
Also called the city of lakes, it boasts of several large water bodies both within and around the city, some of the well known ones being Lake Pichola, Fateh Sagar, Udai Sagar etc.
Besides lakes, Udaipur’s rich heritage in the form of its many forts, palaces and museums, makes it a sought after destination for lovers of history and culture.
It is also a hub for various traditional fairs and festivals like the Mewar festival, Holi, Shilpagram Utsav, Teej and other rural art and craft fairs and one can plan their visit according to the festival schedules that are available on various websites.
A brief history of Taj Lake Palace Udaipur –
Taking form in 1743 AD and eventually being completed in 1746 AD as Jag Niwas, this majestic palace was first built by the then prince Maharana Jagat Singh II of Udaipur. Caught and reprimanded by his father during his moonlit escapades to the nearby palace of Jag Mandir with the ladies of the zenana, his bruised ego vowed not to return to Jag Mandir until he had built a palace of his own.
Thus was born the summer palace of Jag Niwas, which was subsequently enhanced by the following rulers, each of whom wanted their own brand new chambers and hence added to the construction of the existing palace.
After India’s independence from the British and formation of the Indian republic, the royal family converted the place into Udaipur’s first luxury hotel in 1963.
Eventually in 1971, the Taj group of hotels took over the management and added another 75 rooms and the hotel now occupies 4 acres within the Lake Pichola.
During the restoration, care was taken to adhere to the original architecture and retain all the earlier Indo European elements.
Renamed as Taj Lake Palace, the hotel today ranks as one of the finest and most luxurious heritage hotels not just in India but also internationally.
About the Taj Lake Palace –
The luxury hotel has 83 rooms, and its uniqueness lies in their uniqueness, so to speak, with no 2 rooms being identical. Since the palace had originally not been intended as a hotel, additions to the monument took place according to the whims of its various royal occupants who made sure that they created something different from their predecessors.
There are luxury garden facing rooms, luxury lake view rooms and several grand suites that were actually the original residences of the Maharanas.
One approaches the hotel by boat from the exclusive Taj pier just a 5 minute sail away. The entrance is via a fleet of steps from the floating pier at the Taj and guests are greeted by a shower of rose petals as they enter the large open lobby via the front ‘yard’.
Adjacent to the lobby lies the Gyaan sagar lounge. Translating to ocean of knowledge, some of the tables aptly bear chess boards and other board games.
Behind this is the Jhankar courtyard, the venue for the traditional performances of the evening.
Then lies the Amrit sagar bar that is separated from what used to be the zenana (women’s section), by jaalis (latticed partitions) that acted as shields behind which the womenfolk used to watch the proceedings without being seen themselves.
A small terrace space lies behind the zenana, where one can also watch the mountains, the lake and the sunset.
The hallmark of the wall art of this palace is the glass inlay mosaic work that adorns the interiors as well as the exteriors of the place.
A Lily pond occupies the central courtyard of the palace, surrounded by the restaurants and some of the rooms. This is where festivals like Holi etc used to be celebrated.
A small temple shrine faces the pond and this is where the resident flautist performs his pooja before perching atop the terrace and filling the atmosphere with the melodious strains of his flute for most of the day.
The swimming pool is at the far end of the hotel, along with 2 private Jacuzzis. An ancient mango tree that has been there right from the time the palace was built, stands sentinel over the pool.
The Jiva spa with its 3 treatment rooms, pampers with its various packages and one can also have a spa boat experience on the lake, like no other, where one can indulge in a 45 minute spa session, while sipping on champagne.
There is also an in house boutique called The Bazaar near the entrance lobby, that stocks traditional jewelry, fabrics, clothes and handicrafts. One can also get clothes tailored here during their stay, which will be delivered within 24 hours.
The Taj may well be a cherished destination for grand celebrations like weddings and romantic honeymoons but it is also a sought after venue for corporate meetings and incentives, for those companies who believe in treating their employees like royalty 😀 Hence there are well equipped conference facilities and venues within the hotel.
A glimpse of my room –
I was fortunate to have an absolutely charming room perched atop the Mewar terrace and isolated from all the rest of the rooms below. A painting of a queen graced the wall above the final flight of steps, as if indicating that the room was meant for the likes of her 😀
The small, virtually private terrace space in front of my room, was a fabulous vantage point from where I could gaze out at the surrounding beauty.
This was surely an incentive to get up early in the morning despite having late nights. After all, who would want to miss the stillness of the waters and the artistic frames that it created ? And of course the sunrise does favor those who wake up to greet it !!!
My room was a luxurious little piece of Rajasthan with a mix of the quaint and the luxurious.
There was art work on the walls, mirrorwork furnishings, marble clad bathroom and even marble holders and containers for the tissues and toiletries.
The most charming feature was the little hook latch on the bathroom door 😀
There are a plethora of dining locations, right from the restaurants to terraces, alcoves and even on the lake, that offer the luxury of private dining.
The Neel Kamal restaurant separated from the lily pond by a clear glass wall, offers Indian and local Rajasthani fare cooked in rustic fashion in earthen pots over wood fires and served in Versace crockery and cutlery. How is that for luxury ? 😀
The Jharokha restaurant with its view of the lake, is an all day dining space that serves international cuisine.
The Bhairo terrace houses a rooftop restaurant which is seasonal and is open only during the tourist season of winter, due to the weather.
Amrit Sagar bar (Sea of Nectar) is a bar that apart from alcohol, also offer cigars and sheeshas.
Private dining locations are aplenty, with various romantic venues, beside the lily pond, atop the Mewar terrace or even on the Gangaur boat which is the royal craft that belonged to the kings and is now used as a luxurious dining venue for private parties of a maximum of 30 people. The dining experience also includes a view of a traditional dance performed on the shore and of course that of the grand City palace.
Another distinctive feature of the hotel is that it entertains only resident guests and does not permit walk ins (or should I say ‘Sail ins’), thus maintaining a sense of exclusivity.
My dining experience –
As I mentioned at the start, I was here on a specially curated event and hence partook of the menu that was designed for the group, mostly in the form of buffet meals at the Neel Kamal.
Of course I always make a beeline for the local on the buffet and I had the pleasure of sampling some of their fine Rajasthani dishes like the Laal maas, Palak mungodi ki sabji, Sangri dakh khada masala and the ubiquitous, creamy Dal Pichola that steadfastly accompanied every meal. Among the malai (cream) laden desserts, the rich Malai ghevar and Malai rajbhog were memorable, in more ways than one 😀 as the hips will testify.
Executive Chef Manish Joshi was kind enough to offer a golden thali graced by some of their signature Rajasthani dishes like Churma, dal Pichola, Ker sangri, Palak mungodi, Chicken curry, Laal maas, Jodhpuri pulav, Vegetable raitha, Bati and Lachha paratha, all laid out for the shooting pleasure of my camera.
A special mention has to be made of the Haldi Adrak martini, which is their signature cocktail made with the local flavors of turmeric and ginger.
Experiences within the hotel –
The island palace hotel lies encircled by history and geography, which form a ring of palaces, old buildings and the Aravalli mountain ranges.
The indulgent views are accessible from most of the rooms and suites as well as the common verandahs, courtyards and terraces of the hotel. One can spend hours just gazing out at the placid waters, the fishermen in their little boats, the golden shimmer as the sun sets behind the Aravallis, the countless bats that swoop down on the waters every evening and the illuminated palaces at night.
A daily 45 minute heritage walk in the evenings is a complimentary part of the stay where guests are taken on a hotel tour by a historian who imparts a wealth of information beginning with the history of Udaipur and goes on reveal the secrets hidden in the jaalis and jharokas of the palace. A glass of champagne or mocktail ends the session.
Post the walk, there are cultural performances in the Jhankar courtyard (or the front yard), where guests are treated to absolutely delightful folk music and dances by highly skilled artistes who keep them enthralled with their fluid movements, gyrating and pirouetting as they glide across the floor in their traditional costumes. A rendering that is so endearing, it always leaves people thirsting for more.
There is also a shadow dance that is performed at the Spa area at the same time but that goes on for a bit longer, so guests can also have a glimpse of that after the Jhankar activity.
Apart from these, there are also personalized experiences that are curated for guests, like the sunset cruise to Jag Mandir palace.
The hotel also arranges for sightseeing trips within the city, in a vintage car no less !!!
Things to do in Udaipur –
Udaipur has its own set of attractions, the biggest one being the City Palace that is a mere 5 minute walk from the Taj jetty.
Apart from this there are various lakes like the Badi lake also called Jiyan sagar, a vintage car museum showcasing the cars owned by the royals, the lake Pichola cruise to visit Jag Mandir, the Monsoon palace atop a hill, Saheliyon ki bari – a popular garden, Gangaur ghat, Bagore ki haveli – a museum which also has live programs in the evenings, Karni maata temple, Fateh sagar lake, Crystal gallery, Elkingji temple, Nagda temple etc. There are many shopping areas too, the popular one being Haathi Pol.
In the limited time I had, I was taken to the City Palace and Fateh Sagar dam where the attraction is also a street with several shops selling chaat 😀
The City palace is absolutely gigantic and runs along a length of 1.5 km. A portion of it houses the residence of the current king Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar who is also the chairman of the HRH group of Hotels, 2 of which are also within the palace, namely the Shiw Nivas Palace and the Fateh Prakash Palace. The old portion of the palace is a museum that is open to the public and the various courtyards within it, serve as high profile wedding and performance venues.
From certain vantage points within the palace, one is also treated to expansive views of the white city of Udaipur on one side and the Lake Pichola and the mountains on the other side.
Best time to visit –
The climate of Udaipur is distinctly tropical with harsh, merciless summers dominating the months of April to June, humid monsoons that last from July to end September and finally the welcome winter that occupies the months of October to March.
While the cold season is the best time to enjoy the entire city with its myriad sights, any time of the year is good if the intention is to stay cocooned within the cool, air conditioned environs of the Taj Lake Palace hotel. Besides, evenings are pleasant even during summers with relatively cool breeze blowing across the lake.
Getting there –
Udaipur is well connected to major cities of India via air, rail and road. The Maharana Pratap domestic airport connects a few major Indian cities which in turn connect to international destinations.
The railway station is situated within the city and the airport is at Dabok around 25 km from the city center and it takes about 45 min to get to the Taj Lake Palace from there.
Booking and contact –
Please Note – This trip was made in collaboration with Travel Unbounded, a travel and tour planning company that curates bespoke experiences at both personal and corporate level. This event was organized for Randstad India, a leading recruitment firm. More about the event in the next post.
The narrative is based on the inputs that I received from various sources as well as my own experiences.
Apr 25th-27th, 2019