The Maharaja of Sydney
For two decades I’ve dreamt about an Indian palace on a peaceful lake in the desert of Rajasthan. It’s a hotel now, but when I first fell in love with it, the Lake Palace in Udaipur was home to a James Bond villainess known only as Octopussy. In the film of the same name, Octopussy reigned over the beautiful female devotees of her Octopus cult who frolicked day and night in the island’s exquisite lily pond. Like every other man who saw that film I wanted to visit the Lake Palace, to see this wonder for myself.
In reality the Lake Palace is the most luxurious of 5-star hotels owned by India’s Taj group and is not a harem at all. While this may disappoint some travellers, it has nevertheless been voted by Travel+Leisure Magazine as the ‘most romantic hotel in the world’ and staying there alone was out of the question. So I took along my wife Kass, ever the romantic, and our 2 year old daughter, who is a kind of antidote to romance but knows how to make us laugh.
For us, travel has always been a conscious embarkment into fantasy. Escapism, if done right, can become a total immersion into another culture. While many prefer to dress ‘down’ rather than ‘up’ while holidaying, getting into character is essential for us. Once, for example, while visiting Salvador Dali’s museum in Catalonia, we dressed like the artist himself, replete with fake moustaches waxed erect.
The Lake Palace was built in 1743 by Maharaja Jagat Singh II and is still owned by Maharaja His Highness Arvind Singh. Thus, going as a royal family from Australia made perfect sense. At the very least we hoped it might result in an upgrade. Question was: how easily would the Indians buy the absurd notion of a white Australian maharaja and his maharani wife and child? There was only one way of finding out.
Our busy schedule in India negated our usual practice of having clothes tailored to fit. But the country is full of wedding boutiques where fantastic bridal suits are readily available. In Udaipur city we quickly found impressive silk garments beaded with faux jewels. The final arrangement was a phone call to guest services at The Lake Palace purporting to be the personal assistant of the ‘Maharaja of Sydney and his wife and child’, informing them of our imminent arrival.
Gondolas to the palace depart from a wrought-iron pier constructed to look like a giant ornate bird cage. Here we were met by a team of courteous, almost reverential, hotel staff who guessed who we were right away.
‘The Maharaja of Sydney?’ came the turbaned in-charge, his face deadpan.
‘Welcome, your highness,’ he replied, as the rest of the party gave their ‘namaste’ with extra-low bows of the head.
The rest of this story can be readhere at On a Junket.
Published in ‘On a Junket’ 2/2/20013
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