Udaipur, India – The Must See Venice Of The East
Udaipur, known as the Venice of the East and City of Lakes,
is one of the most romantic and alluring destinations in India. Travel + Leisure chose it as their favorite city in Asia in the 2018 World’s Best Awards. This picturesque Rajasthan city set amid three azure blue lakes against the backdrop of the lush green Aravalli hills and home to royal palaces, whitewashed havelis, striking ghats and windy lanes with small temples at every turn, evokes an otherworldly ambiance. It’s hard not to be swept away by the golden reflection of City Palace shimmering on the lake.
The Leela Palace Udaipur, the newest of the major hotels fronting beautiful Lake Pichola and the one with the best overall panorama of the lake and palaces offers an idyllic getaway with all the trappings of royal splendor. Guests arrive by luxury car or are picked up by the hotel boat. After a scenic glide across the water, a trio of turbaned musicians clad in colorful garb of their nearby village, chant and play melodious Sufi music as visitors depart from the launch and enter the gazebo connecting to the stunning palace. You feel as if you’ve been transported to some magical bygone era. Welcome to paradise, Udaipur style.
Spread across 7 acres with verdant gardens, this jewel of a modern day palace hotel contains 80 luxurious rooms and suites, all with spectacular views. Sumptuous interiors showcase stunning art and artisan crafts inspired by the rich cultural heritage of Rajasthan including Mewari art forms. Hand carved marble lotuses, silver elephants and paintings depicting characters from fables and historical tales adorn the rooms. Marvel at the many remarkable miniatures and royal portraits on display during a guided art tour.
Meals featuring superb International and Asian fare are served in the stylish dining room as well as outdoors on the scenic veranda. Guests are cosseted with every amenity including butler service, a large pool, ESPA Spa and evening entertainment in the Inner Courtyard where Rajasthani dance performances with music amidst 120 lamps adorning the walls, captivate one and all.
The hotel also provides a selection of excellent excursions with top guides by palace tuk tuk or car that allow guests to explore Udaipur and learn about its rich heritage. Some of my favorites: a guided tour of the Grand City Palace Complex – still home to the Royal Family – with it’s notable museum housing resplendent palace rooms with striking paintings and antiques, eye popping Crystal Gallery and the Vintage Car Museum; a visit to close by Jagdish temple known for its intricate stone carvings where you can chant with monks and locals; and outstanding retail therapy at Udaipur’s colorful bazaars and shops for fabulous textiles and clothing.
My last evening I took the palace boat for a private sunset cruise on the enchanting lake. Returning to the hotel, I dined on refined local cuisine under the stars at gorgeous open air restaurant Sheesh Mahal overlooking the dreamy water. It felt like a fairy tale.
ANOTHER LUXURIOUS STAY
Just 45 minutes by car from the city of Udaipur, lies another gem that forms part of the rich cultural heritage of Rajasthan. RAAS Devigarh, the 18th century majestic fortress palace hotel located atop a hill in the Aravalli Range, was the former royal residence. Overlooking the quaint village of Delwara and surrounded by lush green fields and mountains on three sides, the sprawling fort palace with beautiful gardens has been transformed into an arresting 5 Star all suite boutique hotel with hidden courtyards and balconies.
The décor of the hotel changed from traditional Rajasthani with vibrant colors to a more contemporary design with luxurious suites done in soothing hues of white and cream with golden flourishes when former polo player and kin of Jodhpur royal family, Nikhilendra Singh bought the heritage property a few years ago. Modern, minimalist interiors contrast the ancient, ornate exterior architecture and create a unique mélange of old and new.
Guests have a selection of culinary options using fresh ingredients from the herb and vegetable garden, ranging from an intimate exquisitely mirrored restaurant serving elevated regional fare including luscious Laal mans, (Rajasthan’s signature lamb dish) to alfresco dining paired with glorious mountain vistas. The heritage hotel features a full service spa and a scenic hilltop pool where Indian tycoon Arun Nayar famously proposed to actress Elizabeth Hurley.
RAAS Devigarh offers guests an array of top cultural excursions including ‘A Journey Through Sacred Places‘ that features guided visits to the ancient temple Eklingji, dedicated to the god Shiva, and Nagda, an archaeological marvel with exquisite stone carvings, both near the hotel.
I also loved the Delwara Heritage Walk with remarkable guide Himmat, a local who works for the hotel and gives a truly authentic experience. Strolling the small, rustic town, we entered a notable Jain temple with magnificent statues representing various deities, then visited a family of potters performing their craft that has been handed down through generations, met a tailor and his mother as they sewed on age old machinery and meandered the atmospheric streets filled with stalls and shops displaying Rajasthani wares including brightly colored textiles, meeting friendly locals along the way.
Later that evening while dining on the veranda, l heard music and was told there were weddings in the village. When the staff heard me say I wished I could see the nuptials, they called Himmat to take me. Now that’s impressive service! And what a party I beheld. Two bejeweled brides rode through the streets on horseback followed by musicians and the whole town dancing and singing, asking me to join in the celebration. That’s India – ever a fascinating feast for the senses!
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