After my eventful flight over from New Delhi, where I was asked to delete pictures of the dated cabin or risk being taken off the plane, we finally made it to Udaipur, Rajasthan. The not so great experience on Air India really made me think about whether it was worth it to come to Udaipur for just one night.
The Taj Lake Palace is one of the most sought after hotels in the world and is representative of what it is like to live in another time, the age of the Maharajah in India. The hotel is famous for being the home of the James Bond super villain Octopussy in the 1983 film of the very same name. And so any stay in a Bond hotel is a special one already whether it be the price charged or the experience 🙂
People rave about luxury hotel chains like the Ritz Carlton, St. Regis, and Four Seasons, but they dull in comparison to the experiences at one of the “Big 3” Indian hotel chains: Taj, Leela, and Oberoi. If you look at any ranking, you will find at least one hotel from each of these chains among the top hotels in the world. Everything from the ambiance to the service screams royalty. That is the kind of treatment I would expect if I were paying the big bucks to stay at a hotel like the Four Seasons. The Taj Lake Palace is no exception to this rule and is among the best hotels on paper. My question was would it live up to the fanfare? To answer the question let me just say that I have never broken a hotel review into two parts. The hotel itself is a destination in itself and should not be missed!
We had originally planned to spend 2 nights in Udaipur, but those plans went out the window when a snow storm in Denver delayed flights and we arrived a day late into New Delhi. The hotel was nice enough to refund us back the money for one of the nights because of our late arrival, but the other one was up in the air. Since we would still get a little more than a day in Udaipur, we decided to go for it and have a taste of the royal treatment. In retrospect this was a good move considering that we maximized the usage of the American Express FHR benefits and brought down the nightly cost to a certain extent. The nightly rates at this hotel go for over $600 during Christmas time, if you are lucky enough to book early and over $1200 if you book closer in. I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND booking through American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts (benefit of the AMEX PLATINUM CARD) because you get the following benefits:
Arrival/Drive to the Port
Our driver from the hotel was already waiting for us in arrivals and quickly helped roll our bags over to a Toyota Innova waiting for us at the curb. In the car were some cold towels and water bottles for our enjoyment while we drove over to the ferry port. The Udaipur Airport is actually located quite a bit away from the city centre (25 km to be exact) and so the drive takes a little more than half an hour depending on traffic.
The Taj Lake Palace is actually located in the midst of Lake Pichola, which is the major lake in the centre of town. The only access to the palace hotel is via a ferry, which runs 24/7 (based on guest arrivals) from the ferry port to the hotel. From the get go you can tell just how special this stay would be as soon as you pull up to the dock. The entrance itself has two gigantic elephants and hotel staff with traditional turbans bow to you as you approach the red carpet. I guess this is what being powerful feels like? lol
I was just taking pictures of the ferry port after getting out of the car when one of the insisted that I take a picture next to one of the Maharana’s vintage cars parked at the ferry terminal. It’s said that the he owns close to 22 vintage or antique cars, which includes the Rolls Royce Phantom used in the James Bond movie: Octopussy. I guess they thought I was admiring the car even though I was just taking pictures for the blog. It isn’t a Rolls Royce Phantom, but you still got to love antique cars.
We were escorted to a seating area while our bags were loaded onto our own private ferry to the hotel. All in this took about 15 minutes, during which I kept snapping pictures. What a city?!
We were given life jackets and were soon on our way to the floating palace. The ride itself takes 10-15 minutes, but the scenes are right out of history with many of the city’s landmarks visible on the ride over. The City Palace of course being the most prominent one.
Upon our arrival, we were given a rose petal shower before entering the hotel. I was so eager to see what was inside that they started pouring the petals a bit too soon. You know me, the international business man, always in a rush.
We were asked to kindly sit in the reception seating area and enjoy some freshly made mango and guava elixir while they completed the paperwork for our rooms. Just sitting there I was overwhelmed with the ornate nature of the palace and just how well maintained and renovated it was. I’ve stayed in a few palace hotels (eg. Hotel Alfonso) in Europe, and this was very much comparable if not better than all of them.
We were checked in within minutes, our dinner reservations were made, and we were promptly escorted to our rooms where the bags were already waiting.
Since the hotel was completely booked for our stay, we weren’t able to get a upgrade based on American Express FHR this time. We didn’t really mind this given that we would only be spending a short time in the room itself. The room wasn’t over the top grand or large as the one in the Taj Rambagh Palace – Jaipur or even our ridiculous Paris suite, but featured some moderately ornate accommodations with lake views. In retrospect, looking at the accommodations on the hotel site itself seems to indicate that the rooms are on the smaller side compared to the other palaces. Our welcome amenity included some sweets, pastries, and some fruit. You can imagine why the fruits were the only part of the amenity pictured 🙂
Sunset Cruise on Lake Pichola
The hotel offers a free courtesy cruise or tour around the lake everyday and requires reservations especially if one wants to go during sunset. Lucky for us, most hotel guests just seemed to want to drink and watch the traditional dancing in the lobby rather than enjoy the scenery. So yet again we pretty much had the entire boat to ourselves. I will talk more about the cruise in a focal point post, but it pretty much just makes a loop around the lake with a stop at the Jag Mandir (a temple) and a garden.
Lounge Area of the Taj Lake Palace
After we got back from the lake cruise, we walked around the palace grounds. I especially loved that they had carom boards and chess sets everywhere in the lounge area behind the lobby. It’s definitely a nice way to pass time while taking in the ambiance and grandeur of the Lake Palace and the surrounding area.
Before dinner service began in the palace restaurants, the lounge area was center stage for some Rajasthani dining. This video and the following pictures are courtesy of my sister:
While we were enjoying the evening entertainment, drinks and snacks were brought out along with a cocktail menu if chose to partake in it. There was no charge for water, and soft drinks as far as I could tell. Service was phenomenal because glasses were topped off almost instantaneously without it seeming like anyone was being served.
I stepped away from the dances to take some pictures of the beautiful city palace and the lanterns adorning the Lake Palace’s front facade. Oh yeah I forgot to mention that there was a large Christmas tree right at the entrance to the lobby.
At around 8 pm we headed to Neel Kamal for our dinner reservation. We were just getting seated when yours truly got kicked out of the restaurant because he was wearing shorts at a fine dining restaurant. Mind you it was a very polite request to go wear some dress pants along with a continuous apology for a good 5 minutes for the policy. Yes I’m very offended by the rule 🙂
Anyway I came back to just in time for the first round of food. The menu at the restaurant is one of the simplest you can think of since it is essentially a Thali service or set menu where they serve you an array of daily specials. Of course all of it is tailored to your spice tolerance, dietary requirements, and food allergies. I especially love this sort of arrangement because I personally hate choosing food at a new restaurant. This way the chef pretty much tells you what the best dishes are.
As you can see the decor of the restaurant is extremely classy with some of the cutlery even being coated in gold. Dinner was too good to be true and featured 5 courses, which meant I lost track of the descriptions of the food the waiter made as soon as the food came out. I would rank the meal as perhaps the best I’ve ever had. And portion size wasn’t a problem like the meal I had in Geneva. In the end the food got to be a bit much and we were going to skip dessert when the chef came out and insisted that we couldn’t leave until we had dessert:
I must admit that I was in such a tired, jet lagged, and food coma (whatever you call it) state so I don’t know what transpired after the chef left. Though for some reason I had sense enough to take a picture of the Rabri (a Rajasthani dessert). I’m a bit upset not having dessert now though because my mom raves about the dessert.
Anyway I do not know how I made it to my room after the food coma and fatigue that kicked in. Maybe the service was so good that they carried me to my room on a pile of feathers. I slept like a baby that night 🙂
What do you think of the Taj Lake Palace so far? Have you ever been to the Indian state of Rajasthan?
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Focal Point: Incredible India in 8 Pictures
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