A few years ago, the idea of a newly built ‘palace hotel’ in Udaipur would have seemed presumptuous. Because in a city where a surfeit of history and grandeur almost render them common, surely POP cornices couldn’t compete? And what about the Lake Palace, that floating vision of prime real estate? Bona fide heritage-hotel royalty. Who would dare dethrone such a thing?
But as the Oberoi Udaivilas and more recently the Leela Palace have proved, well-calculated, beautifully curated risks can pay off. I suspect it’s on the back of such convictions that the Sheraton Udaipur Palace Resort & Spa — which changed guard from Radisson to Sheraton a couple of years ago — has been playing up its acquired charms.
At first, though, I had had two serious reservations. One, that it was not on Lake Pichola — Udaipur’s cultural and visual anchor. And two that it was not on Lake Pichola — for what hotel in this city could afford such locational hara-kiri? The moment I stepped into my room at the Sheraton Udaipur and parted the curtains, though, I knew that this was not such a bad thing after all. The blues of the Fateh Sagar Lake — Pichola’s quieter, less touristy country cousin — flooded into my room. An enduring image, it coloured my experience at the hotel so deeply that I still struggle to remember, say, the tint of the curtains or the shape of the headboard in what was certainly a well-appointed suite.
Higher up in the hospitality caste system, my corner suite had a generous living area, a walk-in closet and a marble bathroom with a sliver of a window to let more of the lake in. This apart from a bedroom framed by views of the Fateh Sagar Lake on two sides and by the Monsoon Palace perched on a hill to the west. In short: a suite primed for a summer afternoon siesta to recover from or prepare for the many perambulations of the city.
In fact, all the rooms at the Sheraton Udaipur — including the brand-new Club Rooms — were studies in modern comfort (read: air-conditioned bubbles) in stark contrast to the arches and jharokhas on its stately yellow façade.
Comfortably distant from the din of the old city, the Sheraton was, however, closer than I imagined to the quainter quarters of Udaipur. As it sits a short drive from the City Palace, the bazaars and the temples, cars went back and forth all day for guests. I took one too. And back from my ramblings in the centre of town and a day trip to the temple town of Nathdwara, I promptly plonked myself on a chair on the hotel’s sprawling open terrace. Armed with a book, I watched the copra-scented evening stretch out for as long as it possibly could, over a very chequered floor and on to the darkening lake yonder. Soon the floating Nehru Park (reminiscent of the Jag Mandir on Pichola) twinkled in the distance and the fire crackled and licked the meat on the Lebanese grills at Aangan.
Aangan and the wallpapered Club Rooms mark the beginning of what will eventually be a full-fledged overhaul. A step up from the Superior and Deluxe rooms, the Club rooms, for instance, wear their contemporary aesthetic with a lot more ease and confidence. And the shift is apparent even before you swipe the room key. The dark, dramatic corridor which threads them together is a visual prelude to the warm, refined décor of the rooms. Access to the Club lounge and upgraded service are some of the other tangibles aimed at the more ‘discerning’ customer.
With a three-month deadline (from April) and a brand new rota of staff, when I was there, the hotel was gearing up for several other major aesthetic and structural changes, including a massive dome over the lobby, inlaid with Rajasthani-style mirror work. But what I hope to return for are the planned lounges and banquets on the rooftop. With sweeping prospects of the lake and of the Aravalis, and even without the projected cabanas and deckchairs, anyone would be glad to room here with the stars.
The challenge is to pull off this grand facelift discreetly and quietly. Because with a large inventory of rooms — among the largest in town — often pressed into service for weddings and MICE tours, driving a single nail into a wall here can be like operating on an athlete mid-marathon. But if the hotel’s discreet service is anything to go by, the dome might magically appear one morning without as much as a purr.
Besides, if this great revamp is half as good as the laal maas at Antara — an all-day dining room, which, along with Aangan and Rudra (a vegetarian fine dining venue aimed at the all-season, travelling Gujarati), forms the small pool of restaurants here — this Udaipur hotel’s pedigree will never again be suspect.
Location On Fateh Sagar lake, Ambamata, 40min drive from Udaipur airport
Accommodation 240 rooms; 111 superior rooms (garden- or pool-view); 48 deluxe (lake-view); 68 club; 4 club suites; 8 suites; 1 disabled access room. (For the last four categories, the rooms could be facing the lake/pool/garden/hills.)
Tariff Rs 15,000–15,500 (superior); Rs 16,000–16,500 (deluxe); Rs 20,000–20,500 (club); Rs 30,000 (club suites); Rs 25,000–27,000 (suites). Summer packages from Rs 9,999 (doubles for 2N)