As my husband and I motor across Udaipur’s Lake Pichola towards the Taj Lake Palace, the floating marble mirage that we’ve spent the past three days ogling from our less salubrious digs on dry land, I can’t help feeling a little like a Bond girl.
The feeling only increases as I’m helped off the boat by a mysterious mustachioed and turbaned gentleman who shades me with a bejewelled parasol as we walk to the entrance of the 18th-century palace, pulling it away just in time to let a cascade of fresh pink rose petals fall all around me.
Ten minutes later we “ooh” and “aah” our way past a sweep of manicured courtyard gardens, fountains and an enormous lily pond to the pool pavilion, the walls of which are inlaid with mirrored mosaics, before reclining on deck chairs beneath the shade of an old mango tree.
As the waters of Lake Pichola lap all around us and a pool boy offers us cool face towels and iced cucumber slices for our eyes, the decadence of the moment grips me and I can’t help but share my Bond-girl observation with the pool boy. He looks at me knowingly and tells me my feelings haven’t been unwarranted – parts of 1983 Bond flick Octopussy were filmed here.
Later in the afternoon, deep-purple monsoon clouds roll over the sun and we retire to our room, one of just 83 in the floating palace.
It’s low season and we’re here celebrating our second wedding anniversary, so we’ve been upgraded to a historic, opulent Grand Royal Suite. It’s fitted with intricately carved wooden furniture and rich silk upholstery, and decorated with original artisan work, including inlaid glass and ornate marble.
A delicious mud cake hand-painted with the figures of Layla and Majnun – the famous star-crossed lovers who sought refuge in Rajasthan – awaits us, as do views of the lake and the surrounding mountains, palaces and havelis from the almost floor-to-ceiling windows.
We decide we can’t possibly tear ourselves away, so opt to skip the daily sunset cruise of the lake in favour of a bubble bath and bottle of Bolly. By the time the bubbles arrive the clouds have parted and we sip while staring at the golden sun as it dips below the horizon.
Before dinner we head down to the Jhankar Courtyard to watch Rajasthani musicians and dancers dripping in jewels and bells perform for us, just as they did for the maharanas for centuries.
The entertainment continues in the Neel Kamal Indian specialty restaurant: a sitar player sits cross-legged in the corner, sending out sweet melodies while I pucker up to a delectable martini version of masala chai infused with cinnamon, cardamom and ginger.
Dinner is a feast of wood-fired Rajasthani specialties including spicy tender lamb called laal maas, and machhli jaisamandi, a delectably aromatic fish dish.
The next morning I manage to drag myself out of bed and salute the rising sun on the rooftop Mewar Terrace, where complimentary yoga classes are held each morning.
And after a sumptuous breakfast in the palace’s less-formal, all-day-dining restaurant Jharokha, we head straight back to the pool, where we loll about in luxury until those pesky purple clouds roll back in like clockwork in the afternoon. This time, however, they’re not just a threat – they burst open with fury and we’re left to ponder, as we gawk at the boatmen battling inside-out brollies and wayward boats being beaten by wild waves, if this means we’ll (hopefully) be stranded.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case, and soon we’re scrambling back onto the boat. “The gods don’t want you to leave!” says a saried staff member as we bump along the choppy lake, the almost horizontal rain leaving us feeling less like Bond characters and more like Survivor contestants.
But then, just as we’re leaping off the boat onto the pier, the ring my husband bought a few days before at an Udaipur market slips from his finger and sinks into the depths. Suddenly we’re back in Bond territory again, vowing to return for the lost jewel.
The writer stayed at her own expense.
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Taj Lake Palace, Lake Pichola, Udaipur, Rajasthan.
Rooms from $440 a night.
The Taj Jiva spa boat, moored off the hotel’s jetty, is a stroke of genius. Who doesn’t love the novelty and decadence of a floating pampering session?
Lake Pichola is often low during May and June, making for the least spectacular views of the year.