Heritage Hotels: Dungarpur Edition

 The stunning One-Pillared Palace inside the courtyard of the Udai Bilas heritage hotel in Dungarpur, India

The stunning One-Pillared Palace inside the courtyard of the Udai Bilas heritage hotel in Dungarpur, India

At Udai Bilas Palace, you can literally live like a king — or Hercule Poirot.

 

After a rocky start, we arrived at the historic Udai Bilas Palace, a 19th century summer palace-turned-heritage hotel and were greeted by its manager, Kalvendra Singh.

As we went to gather our luggage, he stopped us and told us that the porter would take it to our suite — which, incidentally, was amazing. The time-weathered hand-carved wooden doors opened into a spacious, high-ceilinged room with a sitting area near an open window, where a panoramic view of the royal family’s private temple seemed to float serenely upon a small isle in the waters of Gep Sagar Lake.

 Wally with the impressive backdrop of the family temple on a small island at Hotel Udai Bilas Palace

Wally with the impressive backdrop of the family temple on a small island at Hotel Udai Bilas Palace

When you first turn the corner into the dining room, you honestly cannot help but gasp.

Best of all, we got to stay in this luxury for what equated to about $75 a night.

The interior courtyard contains a magnificent mini-palace pavilion know as the Ek Thambia Mahal or the One-Pillared Palace — so named as it is built around a single pillar.

 The gorgeous pool at Udai Bilas

The gorgeous pool at Udai Bilas

The grounds were amazing. You can enjoy refreshments by the infinity pool or take a walk through the gardens, which have a menagerie of exotic fowl, including a pair of emus.

 Keep your distance from the emu, part of the menagerie at Udai Bilas Palace

Keep your distance from the emu, part of the menagerie at Udai Bilas Palace

As I was passing through the courtyard to return to our room, Mr. Singh asked if I wanted to meet the maharajah. I'll admit I was a bit star-struck. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I certainly was a bit surprised to see that the maharajah was wearing a burgundy nylon tracksuit and sitting behind the manager’s desk, reviewing a ledger.

I shook his hand and told him what an impressive place the palace was. He told me he was not the maharajah of Dungarpur but was instead from Sirohoi, Rajasthan. He owns the Bikaner House located on Mount Abu, Rajasthan's lone hill station.

He asked if the accommodations were suitable and if I was having a pleasant stay.

Of course the answer was yes.

 

Murder Most Foul

Wally is a bit (OK, completely) obsessed with the BBC Agatha Christie series. So it was no surprise when he suggested that Udai Bilas was exactly the sort of place Hercule Poirot would stay — and end up solving the mystery of the corpse found floating in the dining room’s water feature.

I agreed: The palace was like stepping into the exotic setting of an Agatha Christie novel. Many rooms contained taxidermied animals, the prized trophies from various royal hunting expeditions.

While we were staying at Udai Bilas, I imagined a plot out of a Christie novel.

 

Cast of Characters

(In order of appearance)

 

Daphne Beaumont, an aging and fading actress and central character

Gemma Marsh

Emily Grey

Julia Woolgar

Margaret Trout, a dowdy American tourist on holiday

Nathan Grey

Dr. Trevor Marsh

Jasper Tennant, ornithologist

Patrick Cook

Cecil Hawthorne, ethnologist

 

The players include a group of wealthy elderly tourists. This was inspired by real life: Sharing the palace with us was a small group of tourists from Oregon on a tour of Rajasthan. The local attraction, the Juna Mahal, happened to be on their guide’s list of must-see sights. George affectionately referred to them as “the raisin ranch.”

In my murder mystery, which I’ve titled Birds of Paradise, the group of tourists is led by Jasper Tennant, an ornithologist who promises this group a glimpse of the rare bird species, the great Indian bustard, which has been hunted nearly to extinction.

I never got around to penning a plot, though. Suffice it to say, the weapon most definitely would have been the small bronze statuette that stood at the end of the dining table holding a votive.

After the sun had set, we enjoyed pre-dinner cocktails inside the Mews, the old stables, which have been converted into a museum for the maharajah’s classic car collection and a small airplane with a motorized propeller.

 George and Duke enjoy the hydraulic lift, part of the fun of pre-dinner cocktails at the Mews at Udai Bilas

George and Duke enjoy the hydraulic lift, part of the fun of pre-dinner cocktails at the Mews at Udai Bilas

There's a bar at the end that features a hydraulic lift. After some of the raisin ranchers had cleared out, we were able to have a seat on the platform, which raised up for a bit.

When you first turn the corner into the dining room, you honestly cannot help but gasp.

 The epic open-air dining room at Hotel Udai Bilas Palace. A quick swim before supper, anyone?

The epic open-air dining room at Hotel Udai Bilas Palace. A quick swim before supper, anyone?

Dinner is served at a monolithic white marble table inlaid with pietra dura and a water feature that could double as a lap pool running along the center. Our roof was the expansive, star-filled sky. –Duke