Twin Palaces in a City of Dreams
Udaipur has a profusion of palaces, temples, and cenotaphs, ranging from the modest to the extravagant. But nowhere are the power, pride, and wealth of the local maharanas (outside Udaipur called maharajas) more evident than at the immense City Palace.
Onetime residence of Udaipur’s princely ruler and the largest palace complex in Rajasthan, this is a conglomeration of elaborately decorated buildings and private apartments with additions by subsequent maharanas. Sitting high on the banks of artificial, mountain-ringed Lake Pichola, the palace’s balconies, towers, and cupolas offer excellent views. There is a small museum, but it is the rambling, honey-colored palace itself that is worth seeing; the present maharana still resides in a private corner, but you can live royally in what once was the guesthouse, now the deluxe Shiv Niwas Hotel.
Spacious accommodations with views of the lake once welcomed the Shah of Iran, the King of Nepal, and Roger Moore, who lived here for several months while filming the James Bond movie Octopussy in 1982. The antique fixtures and furnishings in the imperial suites are from the maharana’s private collection, and the enormous beds match their scale within the pampering walls of this magical hotel.
The maharana of Udaipur’s summer residence, the white marble Lake Palace, is now entirely leased out as a hotel, having been converted (so rumors say) at the suggestion of Jacqueline Kennedy. Other hotels may be grander and have flashier accoutrements, but none moves the spirit like this one.
Built in the 18th century on a small island in the middle of Lake Pichola, it’s one of the world’s most romantic escapes, decorated with multicolor mosaics, mirror work, and inlaid tiles, and embellished with gardens, lily ponds, courtyards, and fountains. The most romantic rooms are those facing the City Palace across the lake.
The location weaves its spell, whether at breakfast on an open veranda or while having a nightcap while the moon illuminates the water. A sunset cruise on one of the hotel’s private launches glides past another palace, the Jag Mandir. Built in 1624 for a young Shah Jahan, future emperor and creator of the Taj Mahal, it now sits uninhabited, hinting of past splendors and royal ghosts.