Lake Palace, Udaipur
Marketed as one of the most romantic luxury hotels in India, Lake Palace was constructed by Maharana Jagat Singh II of Mewar in the mid-18th century. The palace derives its name from its remarkable location, right in the middle of the enchanting Lake Pichola. The monument can only be reached via a speed boat that operates from a nearby jetty.
The Lake Palace was built between 1743 and 1746 under the direction of the Maharana Jagat Singh II (62nd successor to the royal dynasty of Mewar) of Udaipur, Rajasthan as a winter palace. It was initially called Jagniwas or Jan Niwas after its founder.
The palace was constructed facing east, allowing its inhabitants to pray to Surya, the Hindu sun god, at the crack of dawn. The successive rulers used this palace as their summer resort, holding their regal durbars in its courtyards lined with columns, pillared terraces, fountains and gardens.
The walls made of black and white marbles are adorned by semi-precious stones and ornamented niches. Gardens, fountains, pillared terraces and columns line its courtyards
The upper room is a perfect circle and is about 21 feet (6.4 m) in diameter. Its floor is inlaid with black and white marble, the walls are ornamented with niches and decorated with arabesques of colored stones, the dome is exquisitely beautiful in form.
During the famous Indian Sepoy Mutiny in 1857 several European families fled from Nimach and used the island as an asylum, offered to them by Maharana Swaroop Singh. To protect his guests, the Rana destroyed all the town’s boats so that the rebels could not reach the island.
Udaipur Lake Palace.jpg
By the later half of the 19th century, time and weather took their toll on the extraordinary water palaces of Udaipur. Pierre Loti, a French writer, described Jag Niwas as “slowly moldering in the damp emanations of the lake.” About the same time bicyclists Fanny Bullock Workman and her husband William Hunter Workman were distressed by the ‘cheap and tasteless style’ of the interiors of the water palaces with “an assortment of infirm European furniture, wooden clocks, colored glass ornaments, and children’s toys, all of which seems to the visitor quite out of place, where he would naturally expect a dignified display of Eastern splendor.”
The reign of Maharana Sir Bhopal Singh (1930–55) saw the addition of another pavilion, Chandra Prakash, but otherwise the Jag Niwas remained unaltered and decaying. Geoffrey Kendal, the theater personality, described the palace during his visit in the 1950s as “totally deserted, the stillness broken only by the humming of clouds of mosquitoes.”
Lily Pond at Lake Palace, Udaipur
Bhagwat Singh decided to convert the Jag Niwas Palace into Udaipur’s first luxury hotel. Didi Contractor, an American artist, became a design consultant to this hotel project. Didi’s accounts gives an insight to the life and responsibility of the new Maharana of Udaipur:
“I worked from 1961 to 1969 and what an adventure! His Highness, you know, was a real monarch – really like kings always were. So one had a sense of being one of the last people to be an artist for the king. It felt the way one imagines it was like working in the courts of the Renaissance. It was an experience of going back in time to an entirely different era, a different world. His Highness was actually working on a shoestring. He was not in dire straits, mind you, but when he came to the throne he inherited big problems like what to do with the 300 dancing girls that belonged to his predecessor [Maharana Bhopal Singh]. He tried to offer them scholarships to become nurses but they didn’t want to move out of the palace so what could he do? He had to keep them. They were old crones by this time and on state occasions I remember they would come to sing and dance with their ghunghats [veils] down and occasionally one would lift hers to show a wizened old face underneath. He had something like twelve state elephants, and he had all these properties which were deteriorating. The buildings on Jag Niwas were starting to fall down and basically the Lake Palace was turned into a hotel because it seemed the only viable way that it could be maintained … It was really a job of conservation.”
In 1971, Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces took over management of the hotel and added another 75 rooms. Jamshyd D. F. Lam of the Taj Group was one of the key people involved in the restoration, bringing it to such high standards with his work and experience. He was the first general manager there and the youngest at that time in India.
In 2000, a second restoration was undertaken.
The “Royal Butlers” in the hotel are descendants of the original palace retainers.
In modern culture
As both royal abode and luxury hotel, the Taj Lake Palace has captured the affection of the likes of Lord Curzon, Vivien Leigh, Queen Elizabeth, the Shah of Iran, the king of Nepal and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
The palace was used as shooting place for several movies:
1959: Fritz Lang’s The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb as palace of Chandra, the maharajah of the fictitious town of Eshnapur.
1983: the James Bond film Octopussy, as the home of titular character Octopussy (played by Maud Adams). It was also shot in the other palaces of Udaipur: Jag Mandir and Monsoon Palace.
1984: the British television series The Jewel in the Crown as guest house of the Nawab of Mirat.
2001: Yaadein directed by Subhash Ghai.
2006: The Fall directed by Tarsem Singh.
2013: Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani was filmed here.