With the James Bond theme tune running through our heads, the railway lines brought us to Udaipur, our last stop in Rajasthan. Situated on the banks of Lake Pichola, Udaipur is a peaceful, romantic little town which was further thrust into the spotlight through exposure in the thirteenth James Bond movie ‘Octopussy’. Roger Moore and the rest of the cast used the town’s lake and islands as the backdrop for the movie when they began filming in 1982. A huge amount of the filming was conducted in Udaipur, with the Monsoon Palace serving as the exterior of Kamal Khan’s palace, the hotel which Bond himself stayed in during the movie was the Shiv Niwas Palace and the Lake Palace, now an exclusive five-star hotel and Jag Mandir were both used for scenes set at Octopussy’s palace. Hotels and restaurants throughout the tourist area on the banks of the lake still show the movie every evening thirty years later.
An eighteenth century haveli on the banks of the water’s edge, known as Bagore-Ki-Haveli serves as a museum and some of the one hundred and thirty-eight rooms surrounding the courtyard aim to portray the lives of the people from a time of great grandeur. Inside the rooms are old board games, hunting equipment and hand powered ceiling fans which servants would operate to keep the wealthy of Udaipur cool in the hot summer months. I couldn’t resist the temptation to have my photo taken in one of the very colourful Rajasthani turbans but to my dismay it didn’t have to be wrapped around my head but instead I had a ‘here’s one we made earlier’ turban plopped on my head. Another room inside the haveli was packed out with puppets and is not a place we would like to find ourselves on a dark, stormy night. The puppets are quite life-like and vary in size from quite small to almost life-size. All the puppets are dressed in typical Indian clothing and the collection even includes a few elephants and a camel, it’s really quite extraordinary, albeit, a bit freaky!
Next on the agenda was a trip to the famous Udaipur City Palace. Inside the grounds of Rajasthan’s biggest palace with a facade measuring a staggering 244 metres in length and 30.4 metres high it can’t help but impress visitors.
Within the complex are eleven palaces all built by different rulers of different eras beginning in 1559 and continuing for a period of three hundred years. Towering on the banks of the lake the City Palace is an exciting blend of medieval, European and Chinese architecture demonstrated through the various towers, domes and arches seen throughout the complex. City Palace is a wonderful collection of courtyards, pavilions, terraces, corridors and hanging gardens.
There are several gates or ‘Pols’ to the palace taking you through different areas of the grounds, the first is ‘Bara Pol’ (Great Gate) which takes you through the first courtyard, between this gate and the next is a triple-arched gate known as ‘Tripola’ and between these two gates are eight marble arches where past Kings would weigh themselves using gold and silver right next to the arena where elephant fights were held, a different time indeed!
No Indian town is complete without it’s resident Hindu temple and Udaipur is no different in this regard. In the centre of town, between the Bagore-Ki-Haveli and the City Palace is the seventy-nine feet tall Jagdish Temple. Built in 1651, it sits on a raised platform in the middle of town and is a busy place for locals. Inside the temple on the day we visited was a large group of local women sitting around singing and chanting. Brahmin priests stood at the top of the inner temple area in front of the statue of Lord Vishnu, carved out of a single piece of black stone. Two huge stone elephants guard the temples entrance but once beyond these you can spend a lifetime running your eyes over the beautifully carved pillars which make up the temple structure.
Unfortunately, the Lake Palace Hotel on Jagniwas Island in the middle of Lake Pichola is off-limits to casual visitors since the 2008 bombings of the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, as the two hotels are owned by the same company. We had hoped to visit for an expensive cup of tea but the closest we could get was on a boat out around the island made famous in the classic James Bond movie. Cruising around the lake in the boat with the rest of the tourists was more relaxing than we had thought and even though Jagniwas Island was out of reach, Jagmandir Island just 800 metres south is open to day trippers. The boat let us off at the island on which Maharana Karan Singh built a palace back in 1620, now a fancy hotel with well-kept gardens, great for a stroll around and offering some lovely views back across at Udaipur and the City Palace which dominates the lake shore. That evening we had the same view of the palaces from a little further up the lake but this time with everything lit up and the sparkling palaces reflecting in the lakes calm waters, it was a perfect setting to celebrate Noelle’s birthday with a cocktail…shaken not stirred!