Friday, November 26, 2004

Shaken, Not Stirred

In the grand Thar Desert of Western India, hides a jewel. With a tangled knot of quaint streets, a cornucopia of rooftop vistas, and a series of lakes complete with whimsical floating palaces, Udaipur has often been called “the most romantic city on the continent of India.” This jumble of whitewashed buildings welcomes guests with a unique warmth and hospitality all its own.

Yet despite its reputation as the “Jewel of Indian Tourism,” Udaipur is perhaps best known as the primary location for the infamous James Bond movie Octopussy. Who can forget Roger Moore sneaking into the magical, floating Lake Palace in his mechanical crocodile submarine? Or the Royal Rajput Yacht powered by bikini-clad beauties patrolling the mystical waters of Lake Pachola?

Today the Lake Palace is one of the world’s most exclusive and dramatic hotels, and entrance requires only a dinner reservation. Although Bond’s black tie did not make it into our packs, we managed to make ourselves presentable, and find our way to the Lake Palace. In keeping with its reputation, we were treated like royalty. Upon arrival by boat, we were greeted by a bagpipe and drum corps, which broke into a royal song of welcome at the sight of us. Lynn was then escorted under a jewel-studded parasol up the marble staircase to a landing laced with fresh rose petals, where two Indian women in sparkling, traditional saris warmly welcomed us.

Inside the hotel we feasted upon an amazing meal of Indian and continental cuisine, and treated ourselves to the first bottle of wine we have seen in two months. Traditional Rajasthani musicians and dancers performed in one courtyard, while exotic birds crooned in another. The entire Palace smelled of fresh Jasmine, thanks to large marble bowls filled with fresh blooms. The Lake Palace Hotel absolutely lives up to its reputation, with beautiful hanging and sunken gardens, fountains, and stunning ancient architecture.

However, Udaipur has not lost sight of its traditional Indian roots. The shores of Lake Pachola are the daytime home to dozens of dobi-wallahs engaged in their ancient laundry washing traditions. Temples dot the streetscape, and traditional India spice markets add to the vibrancy of the old city. Udaipur is littered with other stunning Palaces, as well as interesting shops, bookstores, hotels, and restaurants. Despite the current drought draining Lake Pachola, Udaipur is a magical town, straight from the pages of a child’s fairytale.

Enjoy the Udaipur Photo Gallery.

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