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Published on: May 2, 2022, 8:30 p.m.
Leela Palace Udaipur: Revisiting luxury
  • The Leela Palace Udaipur night facade

By Arzoo Dina

Set on the banks of the tranquil Lake Pichola commanding sweeping views of the Aravalli mountains, it’s hard not to be mesmerised when you arrive at this modern palace in Udaipur. You’re welcomed with a shower of rose petals as you walk off the jetty from your private boat, coupled with the rustic crooning of folk singers.

Making your way under the canopy of a colourful umbrella, you’re given a warm welcome by the members of the staff -- a prelude to what’s in store for you when you stay at the hotel resort. This is Rajasthani hospitality at its best. It’s also why properties like these have been frequented by foreign tourists for the longest time. But that’s slowly changing. And we have the pandemic to thank for that. 

Up till recently, hotel resorts like The Leela Palace Udaipur or Taj Lake Palace and The Oberoi Udaivilas for that matter (located within close proximity of each other), were considered exclusively the preserve of well-heeled foreign tourists. The pandemic changed that. Since the past two years, discerning Indian travellers have been flocking to these upscale resort destinations, looking for superlative experiences within the domestic market. 

Personalised luxury

For the three days that I stayed at the property, I experienced just why. The 80-key hotel is divided into two wings – the palace wing that overlooks a tranquil lily pond and the lake wing with views of Lake Pichola. The property itself is expansive, housing an alfresco dining restaurant, Sheesh Mahal, offering bespoke dining with lakeside views, a plush library bar, nooks and corners that are a nod to traditional Rajasthani art and architecture, and food and beverage experiences that can be customised and tailored to your liking.

Add to that an outdoor swimming pool with cabanas, and a spa offering soothing treatments surrounded by lush greens and landscaped gardens. The hotel’s latticed terraces, domes and gilded artwork only add to the charm. 

  • Sheesh Mahal offers alfresco dining in a serene setting

If you’re residing in one of the many luxury suites, your private butler will ensure you’re well taken care of -- from small gestures like leaving out healthy treats each evening, that will aid in sleep or digestion, to prompt turn-down service, and leaving you personalised notes. The rooms and suites are spacious and a fitting ode to the royalty that the Mewar region is known for. Each is unique, dotted with local artwork, knick knacks, opulent drapes and furnishings and enough amenities that are reminiscent of old-school luxury. 

If you like, you can have experiences customised to your preferences. High tea overlooking the lake at sunset? Your own champagne breakfast set-up? A private sunset boat ride on the lake? Or perhaps, you would want to book the terrace at Sheesh Mahal for a candlelit dinner, with the glimmering city lights for company. In addition, with wellness experiences becoming key, you can enjoy a farm-to-table meal with fresh greens plucked by you, or, tailored to your dietary preferences. For instance, as part of its larger wellness programme, Aujasya, launched across Leela properties in the country, the hotel chain has collaborated with nutritionists and wellness experts to curate mindful, sustainable menus.

So, you can expect dishes such as millet pancakes, sorghum and rava idlis and sattu parathas on your breakfast table for a wholesome start to the day. If you’re looking for a light lunch, ask the chefs to curate a healthy meal featuring salads, whole grain pastas, and sugar-free desserts. And for a taste of local cuisine, treat yourself to a traditional Rajasthani thali with laal maas, dal baatichurma and moong dal halwa, among other specialties. 

 Changing the rules

The discerning Indian traveller as we know it, has undergone a change, I’m told, when I meet the general manager of the hotel, Nishant Agarwal. “As hoteliers we always thought that while Indians do have the propensity to spend, they usually only do so when they go abroad. But the pandemic changed that perspective for us,” he says. 

“Over the last two years, we were in fact able to increase our rates and it was accepted by guests without much fuss.” He adds that one of the reasons they were able to do so, is because Rajasthan was one of the first states to lift Covid-19 restrictions and it was also one of the only holiday opportunities available to people at the time. “We saw an overall increase in revenues compared to pre-pandemic levels.” 

  • Dusk at Lake Pichola

He admits that inbound tourism did hit them, with no foreign travellers coming to the country. Markets like the UK and the US would typically make up a big chunk of their guests. Another benefit that worked in their favour is the big fat Indian wedding. Weddings which would often take place in destinations such as Thailand, Dubai, Turkey or Morocco, were now being reconsidered domestically, with Rajasthan topping the list in India. 

Currently, the biggest source markets for the hotel include cities like Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Delhi. They are also seeing traction from cities like Indore, and from within Rajasthan itself. 

How does he see this trend shaping up, given that it might be some time before foreign tourists start frequenting the country for leisure? “People didn’t take hotels like this seriously in the past and didn’t realise these destinations are quite accessible.” For instance, cities like Ahmedabad are within driving distance from Udaipur. We’re seeing that people have the confidence to come and holiday here. We’re trying to innovate and improvise with our offerings and also strengthen ties with our local partners as we can’t rely on just inbound tourists, he points out, adding that this was something they never felt the need to do earlier. “The kind of Indian traveller we’re seeing today is someone who is well-read, well-travelled and enjoys bespoke offerings. We’re quite confident in the domestic market.”

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