June 01, 2006

By the Lake of the Lotus-eaters [Hotel review]

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Our limo doesn’t whisk us to the hotel’s driveway; instead, we glide to a stop on the opposite bank of Lake Pichola, leave our bags in the vehicle, descend to a private floating jetty, and are ushered into a canopied motorboat.

A smiling, liveried helmsman takes the long way across the lake, pointing out the sprawling City Palace, and, mid-lake, the palaces where a Bollywood actress had her wedding reception, and where Octopussy was shot, and the city in general. He tells us that the drive around the lake that our bags are taking is a long one, through crowded streets. The soothing putputput of the motor conspires with the gentle breeze over the calm waters lapping against the hull to soothe nerves that are still a-jangle from a hideously early flight and the drive through the bustle of the city. By the time our boat bumps gently into the landing stage at the other end, we’re mellow and ready to be pampered.

A wee vehicle – sort of like a golf-cart with a trailer – waits to ferry us up the driveway to the hotel. We, being perverse, wave it away and stroll up instead. Worried driver speaks softly into a walkie-talkie. Evidently, we’re disrupting the choreography a bit, because as we amble up, admiring the flowers in our best minor-potentate-returning-to-the-beloved-manse style, we see that our vehicle is rounding the bend, having made it around the long way in just about the same time as we have. We realise that the boat-ride is a little psychological game, and we grin as we admit to ourself that we fell for it.

And we remember we’re here to review the place, and, reluctantly, we abandon the ’tude and the Royal Pronoun, and get down to work.

From the outside, Udaivilas sure looks like a palace. Vast arrays of fat, pink onion-shaped domes and cupolas crown the rambling building, chhatris and arches abound, a large version of the bronze, mustachioed sun god symbol of the princes of this neck of the desert adorns the driveway. But it is a modern building a few years old, merely styled to look like a palace of the Mewari persuasion. Great care has been taken to further the illusion in the interiors, but not at the cost of function. Room ceilings, for instance, are high, but not so absurdly so that it takes hours for the airconditioning to cool the room down; the room refrigerator is hidden in a dark wood cabinet, as are TV and electronic safe. Unique little touches abound, but alas, space dictates that I not list all of them. (But you’ll find most of that on their site, oberoiudaivilas.com)

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For Them That Must Stay Connected, the lobby is a wi-fi hotspot, and each room has a LAN connection. (Connectivity, though, is ridiculously over-priced for a day and age where free wi-fi in public spaces is common and broadband access costs less than dial-up did not too long ago.)

Standard (or Deluxe, in hotelspeak) rooms feature a small private sit-out, the Superior Deluxe have access to a semi-private infinity pool, and the suites have their own pools. In addition there are two other pools, the larger one’s black-and-white-tiled walls are an acquired taste, the smaller Spa pool is a kid-free zone.

The spa, run by Banyan Tree, is a house of delight. A wide range of massages and treatments are enough to keep any sybarite supple and relaxed.

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Food: Excellent. Aside from a range of local specialities like the fiery Laal Maas (toned down on request), the range covers a nice assortment of Indian and international cuisine. Special note for the bakery: they gave me the best croissant I’ve ever wolfed down.

Complaints? A few. The service is a tad too attentive for my taste: I don’t want my pillows rearranged and bed cover put back on when I’ve taken great trouble to arrange them the way I like it; and if I put my toothbrush in a glass next to the washbasin, that’s where I want to find it when I reach for it blearily the next morning, dammit. And I hope there’s a special corner of hell for hotels in India that think toilet paper is the only necessary ablutionary aid in the loo.

I’m a bathtub addict, but the “Victorian-style” claw-foot bathtub pissed me off. It’s just a hip-bath, really, and if I want a good soak, I want to be immersed, not have half of me sticking out shivering. On the plus side, it’s kinda nice to soak next to a picture window.

Standard tariffs (valid up to 30 September 2006): 63 Deluxe rooms Rs 22,500; 19 Superior Deluxe rooms, Rs 26,750; 4 Luxury Suites Rs 105,000; Kohinoor Suite Rs 127,000. (Rates are for India nationals and foreign nationals with a Certificate of Registration. Rates for foreign nationals and NRIs are a little higher.)
The Oberoi Unforgettable Experiences Summer 2006 package, valid until September 20, 2006: for 2 persons in a Deluxe room, includes breakfast, round transfers from the nearest airport or railway station, a 20% rebate on spa treatments, food and non-alcoholic beverages and local transport (via Avis). 2 nights Rs 27,000; 3 nights Rs 38,000.
All rates are subject to 5% State Tax.

Note: These were the pictures used in the article. More, also by me, here.

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