The Lady Of The Lake *
Restored by designer David Edwards and architect Garth Sheldon, the Taj Lake Palace shines again upon the waters of Udaipur, India.
Anubha Charan -- Interior Design, 7/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
The magical voyage begins where modern air travel leaves off. At the airport in Udaipur, India, a driver dressed in white garb typical of a maharana's court awaits by his red 1947 Buick Super Eight Convertible, ready to conduct guests through the colorfully chaotic streets of this Rajasthani city of lakes. On the shore of Lake Pichola, visitors board a speedboat for the final phase of their voyage, a five-minute crossing that terminates at a 4-acre island—and the realm of 18th-century royalty.
This lost world lives on at the Taj Lake Palace, completed in 1746 as the summer residence of Maharana Jagat Singh II. Over the course of three centuries and several unsympathetic renovations, the building became the Lake Palace Hotel in 1963. Generously scaled rooms with cool breezes and mountain views were chopped up into small, virtually windowless air-conditioned boxes. After Taj Hotels, Resorts, and Palaces leased the hotel, the company hired Architectural Restoration Consultants principal Garth Sheldon to restore the grandeur of the 79,000-square-foot structure and James Park Associates principal David Edwards to furnish the 83 guest rooms and assorted public spaces in a suitably regal manner.
Sheldon began what became a four-year process by removing the concrete jalis, or carved screens, that were blocking archways in the lobby. "This made the space dramatically brighter and more spacious-feeling in addition to restoring the open-plan arrangement and airflow of the palace," he explains. With the jalis removed, the lobby, reading room, and bar now remain cool without air-conditioning, even in the height of summer. "The original layout had been carefully planned to take advantage of lake breezes and cross ventilation," adds Edwards. (Guest rooms and the two restaurants retain their air-conditioning.)
Next to go after the jalis were the lobby's heavy timber entry doors, replaced by glass 'panels. This reinstated the "views within views" paradigm that, says Sheldon, is an "essential statement of Rajput palace architecture." Italian marble flooring—in an intricate chevron pattern typical of Rajasthan—replaced foot-worn slate, and Sheldon uncovered and restored the spectacular marble elephant-head column capitals, carved in the 18th century but later hidden by a secondary wall of marble. Edwards replicated the columns in the lobby to create an interior arrival court, extending the entry sequence.
On the upper floor, the uncomfortably small guest rooms lacked any true character, so Sheldon essentially gutted the space to double room size and enhance lake views. Edwards focused on furnishings that would accentuate spaciousness. "The furniture is simple, not overwhelming, while luxurious appointments create a sense of stately living," he says. Indeed, the hand-embroidered silk-covered bolsters, coffered timber ceilings with cast-brass bezels, and delicate murals could make anyone feel like royalty. Amenities are state-of-the-art yet unobtrusive, with colonial-style armoires hiding TVs and mini-bars, plaster friezes concealing air-conditioning grilles.
Of the six "grand royal suites," the most elaborate was formerly a conference room. Now called Chandra Prakash, meaning light of the moon in Hindi, it's characterized by a medley of exquisite furnishings: French crockery, gilt-framed mirrors, teak tables inlaid with bone. "The furnishings reflect the typically eclectic tastes of the maharanas—a legacy of their broad exposure to international culture and fashion," explains Edwards. The coffered ceiling displays paintings of cherubs and mythological scenes. A freestanding marble jali, measuring 8 feet tall by 12 feet wide, hides a carved four-poster bed.
The remaining five grand royal suites feature similar four-posters, some with silk canopies, as well as velvet-upholstered chaise longues, generous daybeds with oversize bolsters, brocade paneling, inlaid marble floors, 'and stained glass set into stone jalis. And all afford panoramic views of the lake and, beyond it, the mountains and the city.
Building codes prohibited exterior alterations or additions to the historic palace, but Sheldon was able to transform a previously unused part of the hotel into a spa. In a courtyard right outside, he planted palms, frangipani, hibiscus, jasmine, and gardenia shrubs, among which Edwards arranged informal seating groups. A small swimming pool replaces what was once the queen's bathing tank.
The lily-pond courtyard, a symmetrical paradise in the center of the palace, is used for alfresco dining. Sheldon carefully restored the pool's ornate surround and replaced the flagstone paving. Edwards set up arrangements of tables and chairs around the water, surrounded by an abundance of fragrant plantings.
A much smaller courtyard is enclosed by pillars, arches, and domes in Makrana marble. One wall displays a trio of glass-inlaid murals created according to the lost art of araish, in which plaster is mixed with marble dust, allowed to dry, then polished. It was here, surrounded by delicate splendor, that members of the maharana's court would entertain guests with folk music and dancers. Their movements were lit by braziers to cast shadows on the surrounding walls, magnifying the visual spectacle. Today, you're more likely to find the world's moneyed elite in quiet contemplation, basking in the glow of the sun setting over the lake.
At the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur, India, pillars, arches, and domes of Makrana marble surround a courtyard, epitomizing the Rajput style of architecture. The hotel building, a royal summer palace completed in 1746, was recently renovated by Architectural Restoration Consultants and James Park Associates.
The Khush Mahal, one of six grand royal suites, retains such original architectural details as a stone jali, or carved screen, with insets of stained glass.
In the lobby, architect Garth Sheldon installed glass doors and Italian marble flooring.
On the mainland, a vintage Buick transfers guests to the airport. Drivers dress in attire typical of a maharana's court.
David Edwards designed the mirror in the lobby and commissioned the teak tables with bone inlay. Cotton chenille covers the seat cushions, silk jacquard the bolsters.
Symmetry is the core of formal Rajput design, as witnessed by the 18th-century lily-pond courtyard, now used for dining.
A small swimming pool replaces the queen's bathing tank on the spa terrace, ringed by an original colonnade.
In the lily-pond courtyard, the figures of Lord Krishna and Radha—from Indian mythology—appear in murals created by embedding fragments of mirror and colored glass in wet plaster and marble dust.
Sheldon reconfigured the 83 guest rooms to take advantage of lake views.
The stained glass of two jalis filters sunlight in the Udai Mahal suite.
A carved marble colonnade and gilded pediment define the Chandra Prakash suite, formerly the hotel's conference room. Edwards covered the cushions in hand-embroidered cotton, the pillows and bolsters in dupioni silk.