The City Palace of Udaipur was no exception.
Built some 400 years ago by the still-present royal family of Udaipur, whose ancestors were so great they are referred to as maharanas instead of just plain old maharajas, it's a gargantuan opus set on the shore of a placid lake, crowned with pleasure gardens and studded with monochrome rooms decorated with imported tiles and glass. There's the pink room, the blue suite, the yellow hallway.
And the use of mirrors! There's the mirrored courtyard where coy colored-glass peacocks shine your reflection back to you. There's the mirrored hallway, where one side overlooks the white and blue houses of the Old Town and the other flashes you back at yourself. There's the mirrored dining room, that looks more like a modern disco than a royal mess hall.
Only a part of the complex is devoted to the museum. Some members of the royal family still live in the north wing. In a nearby building, a son of the current maharana keeps his classic car collection and his experimental solar-powered vehicles. Another wing has a giant collection of crystal furniture and accessories imported from Europe. Other parts are high-class restaurants and shops.
But the pearl of the maharanas' palaces has got to be the Lake Palace.
Made famous in the west by the James Bond flick Octopussy, the Lake Palace sits on a small island facing the City Palace. In the movie, it's the hideout of the Octopussy herself and her retinue of femme fatale bodyguards. The original island is completely built over, so the palace looks like its floating on the glassy lake.
Like the City Palace, it's still a residence, but for paying guests. People with the funds to fork out a thousand or so dollars a night can stay there, swim in the pool, eat in the famous restaurant and feel a little like 007. We had planned for the last month to ransom several days' budget on a single meal there to celebrate Dan's birthday. Unfortunately, since the terrorist attacks on Mumbai in 2008, the palace only accepts diners who are also staying at the hotel. We didn't have the cash for the room and the meal, so it will have to wait until we're filthy, stinking rich. Or get hired by the British Secret Service, whichever happens first.
We settled for a boat ride that passed by the Lake Palace and headed to Jagmandir Palace, another island retreat of the maharanas. Also a boutique hotel, it's slightly more reasonable at only several hundred dollars per night. We passed that one up too, and confined our lake excursion activities to taking pictures and trying to figure out where Bond's sidekick went fishing in the film.
Click here to see photos of Udaipur