INDIA – Udaipur, The Taj Lake Palace // Octopussy (1983)
The Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur is an Oriental tale come to life: Once a Maharaja palace, the nowadays luxury hotel treats its guests like royals … and then there is this original rowboat for a true Bond experience!
It sounds like Lake Pichola gently squelches, as the wooden oars dip into its surface. Two heavy flags in silver and red flutter in the breeze, the rest is silence. Candles shiver in cadence, but no other lights illuminate the deck. We are on board the Royal Gangaur, an old wooden rowboat once owned by the Maharaja of Udaipur, then featured in the Bond movie Octopussy and now used by the deluxe hotel Taj Lake Palace for special occasions. “I wouldn’t call it a hotel”, says Dilip Nair as he looks up to the golden illuminated Taj on its small island. He is the restaurant manager of the Taj and our host on the Royal Gangaur. “I would call it a palace”, Nair whispers.Why Bond was here
The Taj is indeed more of a palace than a hotel – from mid 18th century it was the summer residence of the Maharajan family of Udaipur, before it was turned into a hotel in 1963. Thus, it was a perfect movie location for the 1983’s India-based Octopussy.
James Bond (Roger Moore) goes after a smuggling enterprise, the wealthy Afghan prince Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan) had built up in the Rajasthani city Udaipur. He covers up his actions with the help of a mysterious occultist named Octopussy (Maud Adams). The lady resides on an island populated exclusively by women – sure, Bond has to pay a visit.
On Lake Pichola, an artificial lake west of Udaipur, there are actually two islands. Both had been combined into one for the movie: Jag Mandir island in the south of the lake helped out with exteriors, whereas the regal buildings on centered Jag Niwas island – that are now the Taj Lake Palace – made up the interior of Octopussy’s cult lair. How you gonna get there
Udaipur is a small city in the heart of the northern Indian state Rajasthan. Though mainly relying on metal mining, Udaipur benefits from its rich history as capital of the Mewar kingdom. The Mewar Maharajas had a keen interest in the fine arts and filled Udaipur with gorgeous palaces and temples. With its artificial Lake Pichola the city earned the status as “Venice of the East” – and many romantic hotels do their best to welcome tourists to the romantic laguna.
The airport of Udaipur is in the Northeast, a half-hour drive from the city center. Regular flights arrive from Mumbai, Delhi or Dubai. Trains to Udaipur come from various Rajasthani cities like Jodphur or Jaipur or from Delhi and Mumbai (check out trainman.in for routes). The train station is just five minutes east of the old city.
The Taj Lake Palace itself sits enthroned on Jag Niwas island, that is in the middle of Lake Pichola. Like a gem it’s visible from most houses of Udaipurs old city and vis-a-vis to the City Palace, the main residence of the Maharaja family. Due to its exclusive status, visitors are not allowed on Jag Niwas island – only paying hotel guests can enter. Double rooms including breakfast start at 33,000 Indian Rupees (around 500 US-Dollar).
The one frugal option to get a glimpse on the Taj is to book a lake tour from the City Palace area. Tourist boats circle the hotel and its Royal Gangaur rowboat before heading south to the Jag Mandir island. A ride is 400 Rupees prior to 3 pm and 700 Rupees after, additional are 50 Rupees for entering the City Palace complex. The boats leave on the jetty south of the Shiv Niwas Palace – the actual hotel, Bond stays at in the movie.
Good to know
As the Taj Lake Palace doubled for Octopussy’s female only occult lair, the film crew had handpicked the most exotic spots on the palace island. Most famous is the lily pond, a picturesque pool in the center of the palace. In Octopussy, all the Amazon warriors linger around it in lingerie. Additional scenes had been filmed in the corridors around the pond. The second major location is a terrace on the upper floor at the northeast corner of the palace. It faces the old city and the City Palace complex of Udaipur and can be booked for private candle-light dinners.
But that the Taj can offer this high-class trip is thanks to the Bond crew from 1982. When they arrived in Udaipur for filming, there were originally two boats, but both pretty derelict. Octopussy set designers took on the job and restored one boat with the help of local carpenters. Till today, the rescued boat is painted in the same colors used in the movie and till today, there is no electricity on the boat: It is operated by oarsmen only and illuminated just by candles. Food and beverages are prepared at the islands kitchen and brought to the Royal Gangaur with a little motorized dinghy. On deck, a fiddler plays Vivaldi and Rajasthani-inspired compositions on the violin. Listening to him at candle light, it feels just like in the movies – or in One Thousand and One Nights.
When you have the chance to stay at the Taj Lake Palace, don’t miss to hang out in the beautiful bar area. The hotel offers a big selection of cigars and whiskeys – and its own signature martini called “Octopussy”. It has quite the Oriental taste: Vodka mixed with jasmine tea.
Sponsor Note: Taj Hotels invited us onto the Gangaur. This did not influence our coverage.
© 2015 Huntingbond (1), © 1983 Danjaq, LLC and United Artists Corporation (2)