Rising like a mirage from Lake Pichola, the white-marble-and-mosaic Taj Lake Palace Hotel beckons to travelers. The palace itself dates back to 1746, when it was built by Maharana Jagat Singh II. Today, guests are treated like royalty by an entourage of palace butlers who ensure that every creature comfort is provided. The Jiva Spa draws rich idioms from millennia-old Indian wellness and healing therapies, resulting in a menu of aromatherapy massages, body scrubs and wraps that are sure to rejuvenate even the weariest body. From mid-October to mid-April, the hotel’s rooftop Bhairo restaurant is open and serves contemporary European cuisine with spectacular palace lake and views.
PROS & THINGS I LIKE
Taj Lake Palace Hotel calls the city of Udaipur its home. Founded in 1553 by Maharana Udai Singh II as the new capital of the Mewar, Udaipur is regarded as the most romantic city of India. Set amidst the Aravalli Ranges, Udaipur is known for its picturesque lakes and often dubbed ‘the city of lakes’ or ‘Venice of the East’. The elevated hills and the beautiful lakes make a picture-perfect backdrop to the city’s historic buildings and narrow alleys. Udaipur is one of the most sought after tourist destinations in India, because of its lakes, forts, palaces, temples, gardens, colorful fairs and festivals. Udaipur is easily accessible by rail, road and air from all the major cities and towns of India (including New Delhi, Mumbai and Jaipur).
Taj Lake Palace is located smack in the middle of a tiny island in Lake Pichola, across from Udaipur’s larger City Palace. One of the popular sightseeing places in Udaipur, Lake Pichola is an artificial fresh water lake, built in year 1362 AD by a Banjara tribesman – Pichhu Banjara – who used to transport grain during the reign of Maharana Lakha. With its white walls and picturesque domes rising from the tranquil blue waters, Taj Lake Palace is a marble fantasy that floats magically on the lake. The hotel is only accessible via a romantic ride on a little wooden boat (offered on a complimentary basis by the hotel); the boat dock is located next to Udaipur’s most famous attraction, the City Palace.
The property is a former summer palace of the royal dynasty of Mewar, now turned into a world-famous luxury hotel. The young Prince, Maharana Jagat Singh (1709-1751) requested his father, Maharana Sangram Singh II, if he could reside in the pleasure palace Jagmandir with his ladies. The Maharana did not give permission, but taunted his son that if he was so keen to stay in an Island Palace, why doesn’t he build one for himself. It is this taunt that made him build his own pleasure palace on Lake Pichola in the year 1743. The palace continued to serve as the summer residence of the Maharanas of Udaipur until 1955, and in 1959 reconstruction work began to convert the palace into a hotel.
The hotel’s elegant decor retains much of its original palace charm. There are several marble terraces, which are lined by successions of arched galleries and traditional domed cupolas, while magnificent whitewashed courtyard are filled with tropical foliage, picturesque fountains, and water ponds. The stylish interiors are equally striking and rich in detail, with decorative plaster-relief, intricate corbels, timber grid ceilings, and delicate frescos. In contrast, the hotel furniture has been kept simple so as not to make the spaces overpowering. Traditional colorways are introduced in the wall’s panelings (finished with milk paint and distemper) and in the rich fabrics (most of which were sourced locally).
Taj Lake Palace Hotel has 65 sumptuously decorated rooms and 18 grand suites, which are spread over the several wings of the building. Druing my visit, I was upgraded to one of the hotel’s highest room categories, a grand royal suite named Mayur Mahal (or Peacock Palace). The stunning suite featured a entrance hall, a sitting area overlooking Lake Pichola, a grand bedroom with four-poster bed and salon, and a spacious bathroom equipped with double vanity, Jacuzzi, and separate shower and toilet cubicles. The suite exuded a regal ambience with marble floors, exquisite Rajasthani artwork, and walls with glass mosaic peacock motifs. The colored glass window panels changed the mood in the room with the shifting sunrays.
The gorgeous hotel features several leisure &wellness facilities, all centered close to one another in the southeastern part of the property. There’s a lovely (if a little small) outdoor courtyard pool, surrounded by lovely latticework arcades with terrific views of Udaipur’s City Palace across Lake Pichola. The pool is lined by a row of chic white sun loungers (although the courtyard is in the shade for most of the afternoon). Next to the pool is a small but well-equipped gym with with treadmills and free weights. Around the corner of the pool courtyard is a spa (called the Java Spa), which offers a blend of classic therapies that help guests to achieve inner peace and a soothing state of mind.
Along with 24-hour room service, the hotel features three chic restaurants plus a lovely bar. Amrit Sagar (aptly named ‘sea of nectar’) is a stylish bar offering a selection of vintage wines, spirits and cigars. Jharoka (located on the ground floor) is the main all-day dining restaurant and offers European, Asian, and Indian cuisine; Neel Kamal (located next to Jharoka) is open only at dinnertime and serves authentic flavors of the royal cuisine of Udaipur, as well as signature dishes from India; and Bhairo is a seasonal rooftop restaurant (operating during winter only) offering exquisite contemporary European cuisine. Romantic private dinners can be arranged on the hotel grounds or out on the hotel’s century-and-a-half-old boat, the Gangaur.
The hotel is managed by Taj Hotels & Resorts since 1971, and over the years they have truly perfected the experience. A curation of authentic living palaces, landmark hotels, resorts and safaris, Taj is one of the two leading hotel brands in India (the other one being Oberoi). The brand is recognized for its warm and intuitive service and is the undisputed leader in Indian hospitality. As of today, the company operates a total of 100 hotels and hotel-resorts, with 84 across India and 16 in other countries, including Bhutan, Malaysia, Maldives, Nepal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, UAE, UK, USA and Zambia. The Taj group has been converting royal palaces in India into luxury hotels since the 1970s.
It may sound cliché but service at the palace is Maharaja-worthy and guests are treated like royalty, as you would expect from the Taj brand. And it all starts with a royal welcome: a shower of rose petals and platter of refreshments greets guests as they get off the boat at reception area, after which they are escorted under a sequined, embroidered umbrella to a traditional welcome. Every room comes with round-the-clock butler service. The butlers ensure that every creature comfort is provided and can arrange anything, such as creating specialized dining experiences at many of the hotel’s romantic settings. The “Royal Butlers” in the hotel are descendants of the original palace retainers.
Taj Lake Palace Hotel was used as a key location in the Bond film Octopussy (1983), in which actor Roger Moore alias James Bond swims up to the ‘floating palace’, populated only by attractive women. Since its prominent feature in the Hollywood movie, the property has somewhat become an iconic attraction in India, hosting hundreds of dignitaries and celebrities over the years, from Jackie Jackie Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, and Brad Pitt, to Angelina Jolie, Beyonce and Queen Elizabeth II and practically every royal family to date. The Taj Lake Palace was also the scene of the world’s second most expensive wedding in 2018, when India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani’s daughter Isha Ambani married 33-year-old real estate giant Anand Piramal.
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
Taj Lake Palace is one of India’s most iconic hotels. A stay here will be a memory for a lifetime, but the property is not perfect and here is why:
The opulent decor and antique interiors may not be to everyone’s taste. In addition, some of the guest rooms feel ‘old’, though, of course, that is exactly the point of staying here. Still, the hotel has several areas (e.g. rooms, restaurants, spa) which could use a refurbishment, and which could be done without losing any of the palace’s authentic charms.
There are a lot of pigeons nesting in the hotel’s nooks and crannies (something I found to be a problem in the entire city of Udaipur). There are so many pigeons in fact that their droppings are problematic in certain hotel areas, although the hotel staff is addressing the problem by spanning nets over some courtyards.
Make sure to do some research prior to booking as sometimes in the dry season the water can completely disappear from Lake Pichola.
The hotel is only accessible via a short boat ride from Udaipur’s city center, which will be a huge pro for most travelers, although some may not like the feeling of being ‘trapped on an island’ (although the boats run 24/7).
The hotel’s fitness center and pool are small, since the hotel designers and architects had to work within the constraint of existing structures in the heritage building.
Value for money: 9/10
Overall experience: very good 8,8/10
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
Save money: get complimentary VIP perks when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. upgrade, daily breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, and one lunch or dinner for two).
Save money: read here my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Taj Lake Palace (and/or receive many free perks).
The best time to visit Udaipur is between October and March, when the weather is warm, sunny, and dry. Increasing temperatures in April and May can result in excellent value trips, but you can expect high humidity and thunderstorms. The monsoon season starts from July and extends till September and is best avoided.
HOW TO GET THERE
Taj Lake Palace is a 45 min drive from Udaipur’s Maharana Pratap Airport. Transfers can be arranged via the resort.