The Big Birthday

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November 10th 2012
Published: November 10th 2012
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The Lake Palace Hotel – Udaipur

Well it’s not every day you wake up in five star luxury, in a room designed for a Maharani in arguably the most romantic and fabulous hotel in the world, and go to sleep in a mud built house with no power or running water and sharing the room with a family of 2 adults, 4 children, 5 goats and a calf! So I guess your 50th birthday is the day to do it.

Michael had arranged the hotel in Udaipur for the night before my birthday, before we headed off to start our voluntary work in Bakhel village where we expected things to be more “rustic”, so I was hoping for a bit of a treat. As we drove into Udaipur I was planning which restaurant we might go to for dinner that night and for lunch on my birthday next day. M said he’d try to get us to the Lake Palace Hotel for lunch but it wasn’t likely as they no longer allow day visitors. We’d last been there 15 years ago – and stayed there in all its sumptuous luxury, but having seen the room rate before we left this was definitely not in our budget!

As we turned into the City Palace compound I thought “crafty bugger” – he’d been going on about the City Palace hotel being a bit shabby and that was obviously his ploy to put me off the idea that we might be going there. We’d also stayed there 15 years ago and whilst not in the same league as the Lake Palace, it’s still a pretty good 5* hotel and has rooms that look onto Lake Pichola. Have to say I was feeling very spoilt and very lucky.

But then we kept on going! And the next thing we’ve pulled up in front of the Lake Palace Hotel private jetty. Completely gobsmacked! Especially when the welcome staff said we were a bit earlier than they’d expected and wished me happy birthday; we really were staying there! Sooo amazed and speechless – I just started laughing and crying at the same time! And that carried on for at least an hour – such an amazing thing for M to do. Helped by his friend Tony and his “Jeeves” Shankar.

After loads of pics, security checks, a welcome refreshing towel and drink, we got into the private launch for the trip across the lake to the hotel. And then more tears as fresh rose petals were poured on us from the roof top to welcome us. It’s fair to say, they really do know how to make you feel special.

In reception we were given a melon jhula – their signature drink, whilst the manager welcomed us and M chatted to him about our last visit and our plans for voluntary work. Inevitably conversation got to photography and the manager noted he had allocated us a sunset facing room, whereas as a keen photographer M would no doubt prefer a room on the city facing side to get the sunset reflection off the water. He suggested we go to our room and he would see if he could move us a little later depending on vacancies.

At the room was another surprise (and therefore more tears!) – A beautifully decorated chocolate cake with a Rajasthani scene and an ornate embroidered umbrella – a happy birthday gift from the hotel. Speech was still pretty much beyond me. The room was lovely, the bathroom the height of luxury (no bucket shower here!) and it was almost a shame that we needed to go across to town to meet Aditya. But at least it was a chance to go in the private boat again and wander through the City Palace grounds.

Aditya runs Lake City Tours in Lal Ghat (opposite the LPH) and we’d never met him although he’d arranged most of our India travels for us, especially the journeys while Sarah and Louise join us for Christmas. He’s a close friend of the Educate for Life charity that we were going to do our voluntary work with. And what a lovely man. He had a white chocolate Toblerone (my favourite) in the fridge for me as a birthday gift and we spent a happy half hour chatting with him before heading off to lunch at Jagat Niwas hotel which has awesome views across the lake and does pretty good food too (great kebab rolls with a nice cold – and expensive – Kngfisher).

We were tempted to spend more time mooching around until the brain cells woke up and we realised we’d have plenty of time to explore the town when we return in 6 weeks or so, but we only had 24hrs to luxuriate at the LPH. So back to the launch (more giggles) and another lovely welcome.

The assistant manager greeted us advising we had been relocated and would we like to follow him as he gave a guided tour of the hotel and its facilities (manicured gardens, pool, spa, gym, 3 restaurants, bar, lounge etc). He was explaining that the hotel had originally been a palace and rooms had been specially designed for the Maharani’s, now called the Kush Mahal (Happy Home) – and that’s where we were now going to stay! Just awesome. A swing outside, beautiful lattice windows with glass in a kaleidoscope of colours giving views onto the City Palace, another swing inside, the biggest bathroom, seating areas overlooking the lake, flower petal decorations on the floor (which were refreshed later). Just look at the pictures – too indescribably beautiful to put into words. At this point even M was speechless! We probably took about 200 pics just trying to capture it all.

So really there was nothing more to do than use every facility we could (not the gym of course), and take as many photo’s as we could.

At 6-00pm a group of local musicians and dancers arrived to provide a show which was entertaining and colourful. We were torn between watching them and taking photos of the sunset – I think some of the other guests thought we’d lost it as we raced around like kids in a candy store.

After a long soak in the bath, using every lotion I could find, we headed off to the Jharokha restaurant – this is the 24 hour facility and does really nice Indian food. The staff are incredibly attentive (we think the staff to guest ratio is at least 2:1) and every one of them seemed to know it was my birthday – and so another treat as they brought along a couple of glasses of champagne. Hey ho! We also decided to treat ourselves to a glass of Indian wine – Sula vineyards in Nasik and really very good – to go with a very lovely meat fest meal – Lal Maas, dhal Pichola, Murg ka Soole and butter naan (we don’t expect to eat meat for the next few weeks), which was followed by a nice sweet ras malai (also on the house).

And so to our very large, comfy, bed with an early start planned as we had been told that at sunrise the reflection of the sun on the rooms windows made lights dance across the room – and should not be missed. Oh – and there was a birthday to celebrate!

At 8-00am the lights were dancing across the room and I was eating Toblerone and chocolate cake in bed for my big birthday breakfast! Cards from M, Sarah & Louise were lovely and cheeky in turn.

Breakfast was taken outside in the gardens, serenaded by the flautist on the roof, watching the resident pigeon chaser fighting a losing battle trying to dissuade the birds from bathing in the fountains. They served the most delicious watermelon juice and then pretty much whatever you could fancy. I went for idli’s – my fave Indian breakfast whilst M had smoked salmon eggs benedict.

Then it was time to hit the pool, enjoy the views across to the City Palace for one last time, and get some rays before heading back to the room to pack up ready for the car to collect us to go to Bakhel village after lunch. It’s fair to say at this point we became asset strippers – all the unused bathroom toiletries, fruit basket, tea etc were packed away for the next month.

Lunch was taken in the lounge – the final slices of cake (it was so good even M was eating it) with tea, and then despite my best efforts to persuade M that we really could stay on and that all the staff wanted us to, we took the launch back to the “other side” and the waiting car to take us on to the village.

The journey to Bakhel took about two hours, much of it through very rural areas that were much greener and lusher than we had expected – lots of date palms and rivers. Arriving at the mandir at Bakhel, we were met by Ed, one of the founders of Educate for Life, Gopal and Vishnu Priya, from the Hunar Ghar School where we were to work with the kids on a photography project. They took us along a path to the house we were to stay in with the family of Kanku Devi, and so ended one amazing birthday treat and started one of the most challenging experiences of my life.

Oh to be 50 again ………………………………….!

Additional photos below
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12th November 2012

Looks amazing!!! i'm sure you'll go back another time. Love the pic of the dancing girl xx

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