The heart of Udaipur beats timelessly. You hear it each time you step on its sacred soil: you become yourself. At least I do. Udaipur is also an artist’s town, with ateliers and studios strewn around. Some of Udaipur’s finest objects reside at Mangalam Arts, family-owned and run by the classy Rawats. Their furniture is astonishing – I’ve acquired over the years – but on this visit, I was lattu over a paint on a cloth, pink lotuses against a steel grey backdrop; clean, dramatic, and large enough to run the length of a wall.
I spent a lot of time with the contemporary art, much of which feels shamelessly pretentious. I was staring at the real deal in Udaipur; in the pichwais and the temple art was the throb of something momentous. I discovered more lovely objects at Beyond Square, where Vinayak Bhandari and Manish Murdia have an impressively curated collection of paintings (a spanking new multi-level store is set to open next year).
I stayed at the Leela Lake Palace hotel; the best luxury property in the country. This mantle is thoroughly deserving: the property is pulse-quickeningly perfect, created with local materials (their thirki work is dazzling), a guava orchard (beloved to founder, Captain Nair), an ancient temple (devoted to Lord Shiva), and a world class spa (oh, Espa!). On a late evening, while on a boat ride, the cupola tops of the grand Leela soaked in sunset hues, and my advancing boat whipped up waves that appeared as if made from liquid gold.
Dinner at an Indian restaurant, Sheesh Mahal, was made more sumptuous as strengthening winter winds further chilled my bubbly. Briefly, I felt intensely solitary, and yet deeply in love with the moon-knowing night. Under the umbrella of Oberoi’s Udai Vilas are some of the most remarkable hotels I’ve encountered (my favourite one is tucked in Ranthambore). However, my dinner at their Udaipur dig – under a dreamy canopy by the water – was a cold disappointment; the chef was having a fantastically bad day. A restoration project to land on magazine covers is a private home of German maverick Guenther Maria Norrenberg. He’s pulled off something remarkable: he’s taken the broken heart of a haveli and fixed it, and then shipped in a lifetime of carefully-collected things from Europe to furnish it.
The result is a marvel, infused with all the unchanging glory of Udaipur with the sophistication of an 8th arrondissement sprawl. I had a delicious lunch at the restaurant Savage Garden, also owned and managed by Norrenberg, who primed me of a growing community of expats (mainly architects and artists) launching an international vibe to Lakeville. I left believing that Udaipur ought to host a world-class film festival.
Imagine, videos being projected on palace fortifications; directors’ talks in the salons of Chandpole havelis; reviewing script ideas as folks fly about in desi vaparettos.
Certainly, Udaipur itself cuts the water for a cinematic rendition!