Sights and serenity in two Indian cities

The hotel gardens and Lake Pichola from The Leela Palace Hotel in Udaipur, Rajasthan, India.

The hotel gardens and Lake Pichola from The Leela Palace Hotel in Udaipur, Rajasthan, India.

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Aside from the sound of our boat gently gliding through the water, the peaceful lake is completely still.

The glimmering water is a mirror to the rolling hills, stone-carved temples and grand palaces glowing beneath a beautiful sunset.

Nestled among plump, comfy cushions on the bow of our little boat, I nibble canapes and sip iced tea.

I am in the middle of Lake Pichola in Udaipur on a serene sunset boat ride, watching the pelicans and cormorants fly back to their nests.

Roger Moore found his way to this captivating city 30 years ago when playing James Bond in Octopussy. But this evening there are no blazing guns or MI6 agents to disturb the peace.

It’s hard to believe I’m a world away from the bustling chaos, noise and pollution that characterizes India.

I arrived in Udaipur a few days ago expecting to find some of the old-world allure that seems to be fast disappearing from India’s urban cities. And I must say, I am not disappointed.

I’ve only seen glimpses of this picturesque city on cinema screens – most recently in soul-searching comedy flick The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – but am already charmed .

Located in western Rajasthan, Udaipur is also known as the ‘City of Lakes’ and the ‘Venice of the East’, thanks to its seven large lakes sprawled across the city.

The City Palace complex, home to the present king of Udaipur, Arvind Singh Mewar, overlooks Lake Pichola.

Our tour guide Rohan tells us the architectural grandeur of the palace is the result of ‘a harmonious blend of local Rajasthani and Afghan-inspired Mughal styles’, symbolic of the co-existing cultures in Udaipur.

Built on a hilltop in the 16th century, the royal complex offers stunning panoramic views of the city.

Rohan explains that unlike Delhi and other neighbouring cities, Udaipur never fell into the hands of the Mughals and other foreign invaders.

‘Our king remains unconquered, and hence he is a Maharana (title of the highest of hereditary monarchs) and not a Maharaja, like the rulers in other cities,’ says Rohan proudly.

After a busy day, I unwind at the luxurious Leela Palace hotel in Udaipur, opting for a soothing ayurvedic massage at the hotel’s spa, where my therapist uses aromatic oils to stimulate the body, mind and spirit.

But soon it’s time to brave the bustling streets of Delhi – namely on a rickshaw ride through Chandni Chowk, one of the country’s oldest and busiest markets.

Set up in the 17th century by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (who also built the Taj Mahal), Chandni Chowk bazaar is known for its vibrant and colourful wedding wear, ornate jewellery, silverware and bespoke furniture.

Asia’s largest spice market, Khari Baoli, can also be found here, along with a Baptist church, a Sikh temple and two mosques.

We head towards nearby Red Fort, or the Lal Quila, which takes its name from its burnt-red sandstone walls. The fort’s grandeur reflects the power and pomp of the Mughal emperors.

The busy markets and crowded monuments seem like a very different India to the spas and peaceful lakes of Udaipur.

But in one way or another, both cities stimulate the senses.

Nilima Marshall was a guest of Leela Palace Hotels (theleela.com; 0800 026 1111). Rooms at Leela Palace New Delhi start from £202 per night, including breakfast. The Spa and Spiritual Journeys programme at Leela Palace Udaipur starts from £1,087 per person, for three nights with breakfast.

British Airways (ba.com; 08444 930 787) flies from London Heathrow to Delhi from £620 return.

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