Photo Credit Taj Hotels/Columbia HillenTeaching bar-staff how to make innovative cocktails can be a most dangerous pursuit – not because of reckless, mid-process imbibing – but due to the temperamental and artistic natures of some proud cocktail makers. My delight during a recent stay at the exquisite, and I use that adjective in the rarest of cases, Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur, India, was made all the greater when the bar staff reacted so enthusiastically to my offer to add yet another drink to their already comprehensive list. Teaching bar staff to make innovative cocktails can be a dangerous pursuit, not because of reckless, mid-process imbibing, but because of the temperamental natures of some proud cocktail makers. This particular Taj property in northwest India is the most luxurious at which I have ever stayed, and my joy in their openness to the making of broccoli daiquiris made my stay all the more special.
Not only did the bar-staff master the art of my drink recipe and present me with aforesaid esoteric drink in double-quick time, but the next day, with beaming smiles, they presented their own unique version of the broccoli martini. Now that’s what I call customer service. It’s easy to run out of superlatives when describing Taj Lake Palace. Tremendous attention to detail has been invested to make this one of the world’s greatest luxury hotels, from the personal butler on call 24-hours a day who deals with your every whim and notion throughout your entire stay (our helpful butler was Sreekanth Ravindran), to one of the most romantic UDIs atop a floating wooden pontoon.
You sense you’re about to experience something quite different when you gaze across a placid lake at an island image that seems plucked straight out of the world of Disney—the hotel’s lighted, fairy-tale like structure are reflected in the evening waters. You know for sure you’re about to experience something different when a private boat glides silently to shore to bring you to your room. A backdrop, presented by the Aravalli Mountains and city palaces, simply enhances that feeling.
When describing the accommodations ‘fabulous’ seems to be an inadequate word of choice. Ours, the 1,200 square feet Khush Mahal Suite, was tucked away in the rear of the palace. The Khush Mahal Suite was once the queen’s chamber and you certainly have a strong sense of royalty as you enter. Its elegant interiors and cusped arches are simply breathtaking. An antique swing suspended by decorative gleaming brass chains invites you to sit back and enjoy the utter charm. Intricate glass panels transform sunrays into a kaleidoscope of colors, infusing the room with sheer fantasy.
Your automatic response is to remain in the room, bathe in its soothing ambience while gazing over nearby Jagmandir Island, and only reluctantly leave when your vacation is over. The seductive Cypress bathrobes and embroidered slippers make this notion more plausible. An oversized Jacuzzi bathtub makes it more than probable. If you manage to dislodge yourself from your room, your reward is a multifaceted itinerary – including yoga classes, sunset cruises on the lake, vintage car rides, tours of the city and delicious meals.
General Manager Parveen Chander Kumar, with his years of top-level experience at other Taj properties, has certainly marshaled his troops into an efficient hospitality force, with both discretion and client privacy at a premium. If we needed anything there was always someone available; if we wanted to be alone, staff seemed to fade away as if through walls.
But how did this ‘floating vision in marble,’ as the hotel’s brochure describes it, come about? History, with a hint of naughtiness, sets the context. Legend has it that youthful prince, Maharana Jagat Singh II, liked to indulge in moonlight picnics with the ladies on the island palace of Jag Mandir. A pleasurable pastime, no doubt, until his father found out. With that option closed, there was only one solution, and that was to build his own pleasure palace on the island of Lake Pichola.
Construction began in 1743 and the palace was inaugurated in 1746. The new palace was named Jag Niwas after his Highness Maharana Jagat Singh II, 62nd successor to the royal dynasty of Mewar. What may have begun as a prince’s rebellious gesture was turned into a luxury hotel by Maharana Bhagwat Singhji in 1963. Then, in 1971, with its legacy of hospitality, Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces took over. The Taj Palace’s reputation for decadence was cemented when the James Bond film Octopussy was shot here, and with it, representing the secluded lair of the film’s eponymous Bond girl.
Like the rich architecture of Rajasthan kings, the food is infused with complexity and character. The highlight for us was a romantic, candle-lit dinner, which we ate while aboard a pontoon, with dishes brought individually to us by boat. And what dishes they were. We enjoyed gosht dekchi ke sole (piccata of lamb in a marinade of kacchri, cloves, red mathania chillies and yogurt, smoked and slow braised in an earthen pot), tandoori bater (quail marinated in mathania chili paste, basted with roasted garlic, prepared in a tandoor), and hara dana methi bail gatta curry (gram flour and fenugreek seed dumplings steeped in an aromatic gravy of yogurt).
Aside from our delight in the cuisine, the Taj hosts daily on-site cultural shows in the Jhankar Courtyard. We enjoyed a most sensual performance of traditional music and movement (while sipping on our freshly-made broccoli daiquiris) followed by an intriguing shadow dance. Astrology being a strong belief in India, you can indulge in a reading at the Mewar Terrace every afternoon. The Palace Heritage Walk is a must-do, offering an insider’s perspective on this enduring symbol of elegance. An accompanying glass of sparkling wine grants free rein to the imagination. Guests can also learn the ancient Rajasthani art of miniature painting or take cooking lessons.
Our most memorable trip outside the palace was a jaunt in the hotel’s open-top, vintage coupe into Udaipur to browse for jewelry and textiles such as Kashmiri shawls and bed sheets embellished with beautiful Zardozi work. Chauffeured along, we felt like classic characters out of The Great Gatsby, and we felt that way even more so when we returned and were promptly presented, once again, with our unique broccoli martinis.
For more information about staying at the Taj Lake Palace, visit TajHotels.com
Refreshing cool swim under a hot Indian sun.
Magnificent open lobby welcomes guests.
General manager, Parveen Chander Kumar, and marketing colleague speak about their success.
A floating marble palace.
Broccoli martini served with a smile.
Traditional dances take place daily in the open courtyard.
A kaleidoscope of color lights up the Khush Mahal suite.
Swinging the night away, in silence.
Where to, Madam?