The magnificent Hindu temple
at Udai Bilas Palace
Endowed with natural beauty and an exotic history, Rajasthan, the
largest state in India, is a hotbed of tourism. But in the tours of
the larger cities, most travelers miss the peaceful city of
Dungarpur and the main attraction that puts it on the map: Udai
Bilas Palace Hotel.
Though not phonetically pleasing, Dungarpur’s translation, “City
of Hills,” is an apt description of its austere, rolling farmland.
The open space provides a mental respite for travelers who come
from Delhi or Mumbai, while the picturesque image of farmers
tending their fields provides a glimpse into their lifestyle.
Easily accessible from Udaipur Airport, which is serviced by
India’s main domestic airlines (Jet Airways, Indian Airlines,
Kingfisher and Air Deccan), Dungarpur is a 75-mile drive (about one
hour and 45 minutes) on a well-paved highway. Tour operators in
Udaipur, such as Heritage Journey, can arrange for airport pickups
and drop-offs in a range of vehicles from taxis to passenger
I arrived to Udai Bilas Palace in the evening, which is perhaps
the most opportune time to first experience its splendid
peculiarity. Greeting me in the lobby, behind a large desk on which
sat a leather-bound book in place of a computer, was Kelly the
manager. Next to him hung a six-foot-tall portrait of a maharaja,
flanked on either side by stuffed tiger heads. Several maharajas’
portraits adorn the palace, which was built in the mid-19th century
and converted to a hotel in 1940. The property sits on the shore of
the narrow Gaibsagar Lake, a natural barrier between it and the
The pool at Udai Bilas Palace
tempts guests to lounge all day.
I was shown to my room, which, interestingly, did not come equipped
with a lock until I asked for one, at which time Kelly was happy to
oblige. There are 20 air-conditioned, comfortable guestrooms that
range in size (singles, doubles and suites). Every night, cocktails
are served in a garden facing the lake and, as I approached, my
eyes adjusted to an ethereal scene. The magnificent Hindu temple
that served the palace is situated in the lake, 50 feet from the
shore. Glowing like a beacon against the night sky, it was the
backdrop for a circle of guests sitting around a bonfire enjoying
cocktails. Guests can request a visit to the temple, which is
accessible by rowboat and open only in the morning from 9-10 a.m.
Dinner is an equally otherworldly experience. The centerpiece of
the dining room is a long marble table with an inlaid mosaic table
and a pool of water down the center. Two-story walls are adorned
with river-stone mosaics, which lead upwards to an open, starry
ceiling. Every night, the staff at Udai Bilas Palace serves a
buffet-style Indian dinner that is toned down in spice to appease a
Western tongue; in the entire city of Dungarpur, this is the best
Guests wake in the morning to the sound of several species of
birds that, according to the management, take a migratory path
right over the property. Breakfast is served either in the main
dining room or a secondary dining room that is akin to a British
hunting lodge with more African animal heads mounted on the walls
and a mild, yet forgivable, odor of formaldehyde.
A sitting room at the hotel is reminiscent
a classic British hunting lodge.
There are a few cultural sights to see in Dungarpur, though most
guests choose to spend their day relaxing on the property. The
palace boasts a spectacular and peaceful pool that has every
variety of poolside lounger including hammocks and swings. Tennis
on the grass court, bird watching and boating are other options.
Lunch is served poolside or by picnic off the property if one so
Venturing off the property is easy with the help of Kelly and
his staff. They can arrange for a taxi and the $2.50 entrance
ticket to the Juna Mahal, an ancient palace that is a worthwhile
excursion and located about three miles down a bumpy road. This
13th-century, seven-story palace has impressive frescoes and
intricate mirrored mosaics. The maharaja’s private suite boasts a
closet that features 50 painted scenes from the Kama Sutra hidden
A most intriguing excursion, however, is a simple drive through
the farmland where the open, hilly landscape radiates vibrant
colors and undulating patterns of crops. The villages of Charwada
and Annpura typify the rural beauty of this region.
Visitors to Rajasthan will appreciate the charming oddities and
unhurried serenity that Udai Bilas Palace can provide and two to
three days is ample time to relish in it. What may at first seem
like a side trip from Udaipur just may become the highlight of the
whole Rajasthan experience.