How Taj Lake Palace (Udaipur, Rajasthan) redefined the meaning of hospitality for us

Hospitality is so intertwined with the Rajasthani culture that once you visit the state, you always want to go back and relive the memories. The same desire got me back to Udaipur, Rajasthan and this time it was during the week of my birthday. I chose to stay at the hotel which represents this facet of the culture in its truest sense and our journey at the Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan thus began.

Lake Palace was built in the 18th century and used to serve as the winter palace for the Royals of Mewar Dynasty. The Taj group of hotels took over the management in 1971 and has been running it since then. True to its name, the Lake Palace is situated in the heart of Lake Pichola in Udaipur. In order to reach the palace, one has to board a motorboat that ferries passenger from the jetty which is a part of the City Palace. The moment we got out of our cab and set foot on the jetty, the staff members welcomed us, took over the luggage and offered us a truly refreshing drink considering the warm weather. The staff member who was to pilot our motorboat saw me clicking the palace which was our destination and very thoughtfully asked us if we would like to have our picture taken, to which we happily agreed and thanked him. After a ride of 4-5 minutes, we deboarded and began of what was to be a fascinating experience.

The moment we got down the motorboat, we were greeted by the palace guard who got along a traditional umbrella and next thing we saw was a downpour of rose petals which truly befitted a royal welcome. The check-in process was a breeze as we were made to sit in the lobby which gave a sense that we were in a palace and not a hotel in the literal sense. By now we were welcomed by the hotel staff that took care of our check-in formalities and at the same time gave us a brief overview of the palace. Post the check-in, as we were walked to the room, our friendly escort explained the layout of the palace and how it came about being the structure it is today. This is where our experience with Taj began. We opened the door of our room and immediately noticed a cake and some ladoos waiting for us. And our kind escort also gave me a birthday gift which was a handcrafted Rajasthani umbrella. She also clicked photographs and said that the photographs would be emailed to us. Still in awe of the palace and the hospitality, we tried to unwind and then I realized that I was famished and decided to go for lunch. Taj offers a wide choice of fine-dining restaurants with varying ambiences that will appeal to most travelers. As we thoroughly enjoy North Indian cuisine, we decided to go and dine at Jharokha. It is essentially an overhanging balcony that overlooks the calm Lake Pichola. We quickly ordered food and needless to say, the staff members were extremely courteous. They also knew that it was a special day for us and went out of their way to make us feel special and pampered. They also asked us to come back for dinner and assured that they will make the evening memorable. Post lunch, we went for a quick stroll and explored the palace in the hope that I might get a few good clicks. After managing a few snaps, we decided to go back to the room and relax.

At the time of check-in, we were informed that there would be a guided tour, ride around the Lake Pichola to watch a few other places and the mesmerizing sunset in the lap of Aravallis followed by folk dance performances.

So we woke up and headed towards the lobby area where the guide and other guests also had assembled to begin our tour. The guide was highly knowledgeable of the region’s landscape and history. He took us around and detailed out how its history has shaped the palace. Post the tour, we had a small refresher and the hotel kindly spread out some assorted nuts and sparkling wine. Since we had opted to take the sunset ride, we went ahead and took our seats on the boat.

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Assorted nuts and Sparkling wine

While boarding we were asked to wear life jackets as we would be riding on the Lake Pichola that has a depth of up to 28 feet. As we started our ride, the guide highlighted the details of the lake and its history. We could see a whole marketplace and a historic temple along the bank side of City Palace. The guide asked for our attention to a 150-year old historic boat, Gangaur, which also serves as a dining option for the guests at Taj. We had a stopover at another integral part of the lake – Jag Mandir, which according to some references was the inspiration behind the Wonder of the World – Taj Mahal. Post clicking some snaps at the Jag Mandir, our boat headed towards the hotel and we witnessed the sunset.

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It was 7 PM by the time we reached the hotel and we could see guests gathering in the central courtyard for the performances by the local artists. The artists performed on traditional Rajasthani folk dances such as Bhavai, where the dancer balances multiple glasses of water on her head while dancing, and the Shadow dance. The staff members also offered us a few appetizers.

It was, then, time for another important part of my day as I was very much looking forward to the dinner at Jharokha and the assurance of the staff was something that added to the curiosity. After around an hour, we once again stepped into the beautiful Jharokha restaurant which came into a life of its own, under the glowing light of the chandeliers. We settled down on the table and just ordered food, when the team at the restaurant surprised me with yet another cake which was truly an emotional gesture. After soaking in the experience of the delectable meal with a gorgeous view of the lake, we then called it a day.

We slept wonderfully well but were feeling a little gloomy as we had to check-out and get back home to our routine grind. We had breakfast, packed our stuff and an escort came to help us with the check-out. The final surprise came in the form of a box of chocolates and a customized photo frame with a picture that they had clicked when we entered our room for the first time.

On our ride back to the jetty, I reflected upon the last 24 hours and how the staff members literally redefine “Customer Service” and what it means to love what you do. Visiting the palace might get you spoilt and wish for finer things in life, but it is an experience one should indulge to understand the warmth of Rajasthani hospitality.

 

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