The beauty of the Lake Palace in Udaipur, India is remarkable. This luxury hotel is situated on a very small, rocky island in the middle of Lake Pichola known as the Jag Niwas Island. From a distance, it appears to be floating on water. This mysticism was first created under the direction of Maharana Jagat Singh II in the 1740s and at the time, it was a private vacation palace. Over time, it became abandoned until Bhagwat Singh converted it into a luxury hotel in the 1960s. A decade later, it came under the control of Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces. With just under one hundred rooms, the current purpose of this structure is to serve as a luxury hotel in seclusion. It remains situated atop four acres of rock, and the interior landscaping appears to occupy just under half of that amount. In order to get to the palace, one must take a speedboat from the mainland to get to the jetty of the island. A dream-like atmosphere seems to radiate from this structure, because it’s a gleaming mass of marble that rises from the water. The Lake Palace has a unique landscape due to the creative use of water to create an overall sublime image from the exterior and a paradise within.

A major aspect of this landscape, both beyond the limits of the palace and within the confines of the building, is water. A zoomed out view shows the Lake Palace isolated in the middle of Lake Pichola, [see fig. 9]. With water on all four sides, this landscape is immediately distinct. The bright blue waters reflecting on the pure white palace almost resembles a mirage above the water. Much like the mountains in the Udaipur area rising from the flat grounds, the Lake Palace rises from the horizon like a regal mass as well. Besides the exterior of the palace playing with the idea of water, the interior courtyard plays with the same concept and pays homage to Lake Pichola by incorporating a vast amount of water within the boundaries of the palace. Rajasthan is the hottest and driest region of India, and water is precious there. Due to the scarcity and importance of water, it is deemed to be “a sacred substance which applies its sacredness to the structures containing it.” Thus, the Lake Palace is of great importance.

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Figure 2: Drawing by architect Antoine Predock, 2006

Part of my research included sifting through TripAdvisor, and the general consensus is that this is a truly romantic and magical hotel, due to the landscape at large: the lake, the mountains and especially the landscape at the courtyard level. In this glorious courtyard, water is an important and plentiful material. In fact, the focal point of this courtyard is the lily pond [see fig. 1]. The symmetric pond commands attention because it is the destination of this courtyard and it lies at the center. A cascading fountain that sprays water out on all sides is at the center of this lily pond. The water gleams blue and green in the sunlight: sometimes teal, sometimes viridian and sometimes even sap green. The color of the water appears to change throughout the day, either reflecting the blue skies or the green trees. I imagine that it sounds quite relaxing and becomes an escape for the visitors and becomes a moment of pause, to hear the bubbling and murmur of the water. Spatially, the pond takes up approximately half of the courtyard. However, it does not seem to be overwhelming as it is balanced by the greenery as well as all of the landscape that can be physically occupied by guests. The boundary of the pond is as intricate as the palace’s latticework. The lily pond spills out of the bounds of an orthogonal geometry and becomes much more fluid and organic. The water is met on all sides by the stone pavement and the foliage [see fig. 4].

The pond gradates into land, and I think it’s really beautiful that it doesn’t just stop at four corners. It’s a lot more picturesque this way and facilitates the creation of many isolated incidents of beauty that weave in and out of the lily pond, such as a sculpture of a heron perched over a bed of flowers [see fig. 8]. Another primary component of this landscape is the stone pavement that marks the perimeter of the courtyard and becomes a multi-purpose surface for the hotel guests. It not only exists as a walking surface, but it facilitates the addition of furniture and umbrellas to shield from the sun, and it becomes a place to sit and have a meal or chat with loved ones, see fig. 3. At some parts of the walkway, the pavement has had parts removed to open up space for planters. So, the pavement has an increased importance. The cool grey stones of the pavement are outlined with white paint along the edges, pulling the purity of the whites from the palace marble [see fig. 1]. And that light grey then meets the plentiful hues of green in the foliage.

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As one enters the courtyard, the threshold being the portico of the palace, one would stroll atop the stone paved paths amid the various trees, of which one is the plumeria. Continuing along the pathway that leads up to the shaded area with a table and some chairs, one would then be able to take a seat shielded from the sunlight as they admire the lily pond and the sprinkling fountain [see fig. 4]. It’s the perfect place for a nice cup of chai. The Lake Palace has other forms of landscaping as well, in the secondary courtyard spaces. One other courtyard has similar components. There is a centered water piece, that is surrounded by the cool grey stone once again. Encompassing that is a white latticework fence that creates an additional boundary. Within that, there are some plantings, and beyond that even more plantings. This is a much smaller courtyard that becomes a place for solitude and more quiet time [see fig. 5]. The Lake Palace does a great job of creating instances of privacy and connection to the landscape while playing with one’s senses. In a quiet patio space, one can hear the bubbling of water, again, in a miniature fountain as it is surrounded by lush foliage all around [see fig. 6]. The incorporation of water is integral to the Lake Palace’s courtyard spaces because an identity of paradise is created in all of these spaces. They are meant to be experienced physically and sonically and even metaphorically as secluded paradises.

The courtyard spaces would not be the same sans plantings. The private patio space with the bubbling fountain would not have the same tropical effect if the greenery were to be removed [see fig. 6]. When we step back and zoom out, the plantings play an integral part in defining the character of the Lake Palace. It has been described as the most romantic hotel and what’s more romantic than a bed of flowers? Besides providing aesthetic beauty to their respective spaces, the plant life helps dictate and frame views as well as the courtyard spaces. The plantings are used to bring attention to the water, the most important resource. They appear in multiple rings around the lily pond. An outer layer of trees, a layer within of shrubs, and additional layers even further within of smaller shrubs [see fig. 1]. This creates an effect of zooming in to place higher importance on the water feature. The plantings, at a large scale, have also been implemented due to the desire to break up the monotony of the buildings [see fig. 7]. It gives an additional dimension of visual appeal and further enhances the play on light and touch.

Green Heaven?

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Figure 7: Watercolor drawing by artist David Goodall, 2012

Many different varieties of plant types have been used in the landscaping of the Lake Palace. The lotus and the lily pond in general are iconic in the design of the Lake Palace. The lotus is the national flower of India and not only that, but it represents devotion and purity, both of which are popular themes in Indian culture and religion. It’s not surprising then, that the lily pond is centered and made significant by being arranged the way that it is, as a focal point in the courtyard [see fig. 1]. We are reminded that the plants provide natural relief from the man-made, and become a way to bring some irregularity to the highly regular architecture of the palace. For that reason, flowers, orange and lemon groves, are introduced to bring variety and ease the monotony in a way that enriches one’s visual experience. I recognize plumeria trees in the design as well, and I know that implementing the planting of that brings pleasure to the senses as the fragrance is enchanting.In Indian culture, the sense of smell and aromas are quite important and it’s no surprise that the Lake Palace acknowledges the importance of that. The champa (synonymous with plumeria) is the sacred flowering tree of India. It appears that each of these plant types were chosen with an intent and a deliberate meaning. It wasn’t a sporadic decision. I was not aware at how selectively these plants were chosen for the landscaping. Since this is a tropical climate, palmyra is plentifully planted. The palm itself is iconic in its representation of paradise and lush tropical beauty and the placement of that scattered throughout the design of the palace’s courtyards brings benefit to all those who are able to enjoy it.

Thus, the plantings were used to enhance the visual beauty of the Lake Palace, but to also bring in the rich culture of India to the architecture.  They were also used to imply significance spatially. The same tree is able to fulfill two roles. The first role is the aesthetic one, where a plumeria tree may be planted to bring beauty to the space as well as to provide aroma to the surrounding area. This again, is culturally significant, and it’s also nationally significant, further strengthening the concepts of the design of the Lake Palace. The same tree is able to address the issue of space. Primarily, it marks the boundary of exterior and interior, because it coexists with the edge of the portico [see fig. 3].  It is also used to mark the outer layer of plantings for the courtyards. It becomes a marker, really, because of all the roles it can play.It’s also evident that the plantings actually illustrate the path you take to walk and transport yourself throughout the courtyard. So the plantings are tied with the movement throughout the space. There is nowhere you can go in this space without coming into contact with some sort of planting. That’s an incredible reminder that nature is everywhere, even within this palace of man-made marble.

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I am so surprised that the Lake Palace turned out to be so much more than just an expensive luxury escape. It’s a paradise-palace that exists, floating, above a lake in India. And now I must visit. The materials, the color palette, and the significance all contribute to the mysticism of the palace that many now get to enjoy. I think the incorporation of water to this design scheme was essential and it pays homage to some very important themes in Indian culture. I also think the layout and form was strong, because it was able to enhance the beauty. Of course the courtyards were primarily an aesthetic thing, especially for hotel guests, but I think there was a greater importance attached, and that was paying tribute to culture. The Lake Palace is simply stunning. I can’t fathom how incredible it must have been to live at a place like this for just one season of the year, summer. I would want that to be an endless summer.