I t's just like Bahawalpur," declares Lady Nadira Naipaul, the Mombasa-born, Lahore-raised wife of the celebrated Trinidad-born, England-raised writer, Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul. We-Gilon Aitken, Naipaul's literary agent, and his publisher, George Andreou, are also with us-have flown into Udaipur from Mumbai on the tiny five-seater propeller-driven private plane of Arvind Singh, the Maharana of Mewar, to attend the two-day awards ceremony of the Maharana Mewar Foundation which he heads. The air is dry and clean, a welcome change from Mumbai's polluted humidity. "But watch out for the desert sun in the daytime," warns Nadira, "it can be quite treacherous." As it transpires, it is a warning Vidia Naipaul disregards to his own detriment.
From the airport we're driven straight to the Lake Palace Hotel in Pichola Lake-surely one of the most picturesque, romantic settings for a hotel anywhere. It has just turned dark. The sky is a striking dark blue. A silver of the moon and the evening star, Venus, hangs just above the hotel as the ferry takes us across the lake. Two other palaces, the Jagmandir, also within the lake, and the Monsoon Palace, atop a nearby hill are lit up. With the brooding backdrop of the Aravalli hills, it's an unforgettable, magical sight.