Jagmandir Island Palace.
Magical moments are what creates memorable vacations. Unfortunately, guidebooks don’t always help you discover the magic of a place.
Enchanting Udaipur has the feel and charm of a resort town combined with the intrigue of a city steeped in history. The old city around the City Palace is filled with handicraft and other tourist shops, a cut above the norm. Throughout the day, boats carry tourists around picturesque Lake Pichola or ferry them to and from the luxury hotels of the area.
The arrival in recent years of the Oberoi Udaivillas and the Leela Palace hotels have only enhanced what was already a very scenic town around Lake Pichola. Some travel books have referred to Udaipur as the Venice of India. The setting is actually more reminiscent of Lac Leman in Geneva, or Lake Como in Italy.
Udaipur is unique in several significant respects. As the locals claim at every opportunity, it is the only city in India which was never conquered, not by the Mughals, nor by the British. Udaipur is the proud home of the Mewar warrior clan of the Rajputs. In deference to their unbeaten rivals, the Mughals bestowed upon the king of Udaipur the title “Maharana”, a step above the “Maharajah” title of other kings, the only king to receive such an honor in all of India.
The filming of the James Bond movie Octopussy in 1983 made Udaipur and the Lake Palace Hotel famous with the result that tourism has been the mainstay of the city of 500,000 inhabitants ever since. The huge City Palace, main residence of the Maharana of Udaipur ever since the town was founded and built up progressively by a succession of monarchs, dominates the skyline of Udaipur. It is the most interesting palace we have visited so far during this trip to India.
Like all the ex-kings of India seem to have done, the maharana has transformed several of his properties into luxury hotels, and he currently owns five five-star hotels in Udaipur, notably the white marble Lake Palace Hotel, an island by itself on the northern end of the lake.
We stayed at the Shiv Niwas Palace hotel, another luxury property of the Maharana, located within the City Palace itself. It provided us with easy walking access to most of the city’s offerings. History buffs will be interested to know that the Shiv Niwas Palace hotel used to be the residence of the Maharana’s guests, and hosted Queen Elizabeth when she visited; it is also where Roger Moore stayed during the filming of Octopussy.
The highlight of our stay in Udaipur was definitely the boat ride and banquet dinner on Jagmandir Island, another luxury property of the Maharana located on the southern end of Lake Pichola, one with great historical significance. The Maharana of Udaipur, in the early seventeenth century, gave shelter to Shah Jahan, who was then accompanied by Mumtaz Mahal, as he was fleeing from the wrath of his father, the Mughal emperor. According to the locals, Shah Jahan gained his inspiration for the Taj Mahal, later built for his beloved Mumtaz Maha in Agra, from his stay at Jagmandir Island.
Jagmandir does have a selected number of hotel suites to offer, but the whole island is basically set up to host dinners, parties and weddings on a grand scale. In the evening, all of Jagmandir is enchantingly illuminated and is a truly magnificent sight.
Our fabulous Indian tour operator, GeTs Holidays, which has provided us with outstanding service and attention so far, let us in on what may be the least publicized but most delightful experience in Udaipur, a banquet dinner at Jagmandir Island Palace.
Being guests of the Shiv Niwas Palace hotel, we receive complimentary golf cart service to and from the jetty where the boat takes us to Jagmandir Island, and in doing so, gives us a fantastic sightseeing ride across Lake Pichola.
Prior to sitting down at our corner table overlooking the waters of Lake Pichola and the lights of the city, we are given a tour of Jagmandir, which includes a museum relating the history of this four-hundred year old island and the history of Shah Jahan’s stay.
What followed once we sat down was an absolutely memorable banquet of Indian food, consisting of a fixed price set menu of four courses, with the appetizer and main courses each including several different dishes. Overwhelmed by the beauty of the setting, I let go of any reservations I had about eating Indian food and I ate all of the dishes offered, well almost …
The service was extraordinary as the waiter patiently went over each dish with us, and kept refilling our plates with whatever item we had just eaten. The art of counterbalancing the spiciness of a dish with the sweetness of another, such as yoghurt, was a new skill he taught us. We ate everything and found nothing to be too spicy for my rather delicate stomach.
At the end of the meal, the boat took us back to the mainland where a hotel golf cart was waiting to take us back to our suite at the Shiv Niwas Palace Hotel.
A perfect ending to an enchanting evening at Jagmandir Island Palace, the highlight of our stay in Udaipur.
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