Leela Raas

If you happen to travel to Udaipur, chances are you’ll be staying in or around the Pichola Lake (which is really the key reason you’d be there in the first place). There are several hotels, ranging from authentic Royal fare to India Modern. And then there’s the Leela.

The Leela Group is India’s creator of modern royal experiences in hospitality, and though, this aspect of India is celebrated in different forms ranging from elegant to trying-too-hard by a few of the other leading hotel chains of India, none has managed to present the grandeur, detail and luxury levels that the Leela has achieved. Interestingly enough though, I’ve often heard two opinions about the Leela properties, some consider it a bit nouveau and loud…and others swear by its exquisite detailing and the luxurious  experiences. Personally, I believe that the Leela lays it out like none other… and my stay there was a joyous testimony to all that I’ve believed in about the ethos of the brand. Sure it can seem overwhelming to some, but were not our palaces the most intimidating of all? It may also seem busy to some, but we must not forget that India is intrinsically a land of maximalists: Look at everything around us…Our food; Complex flavours and a multitude of spices….Our temples: years spent in carving the toughest rocks into masterpieces… Our miniatures: Painstakingly worked on with even the finest detail not escaping the artist’s fine brush…. Our festivals: veering between loud and colourful and celebrated with a manic frenzy… Our clothes: exotic weaves, rich embroideries and lush silks!… I could go on and on… What part of India is minimalist? I feel that what the Leela essentially (and very generously) manages is do is celebrate the real India, albeit in a new, modern  and unapologetic way, whilst also respectfully honouring its craftspersons, its artists, its colours and its very spirit (you won’t find cheap knock-offs of any Indian craft here!).

A visit to all their properties is highly recomended, and the Leela Udaipur, whilst being another wonderful example of the levels of luxury one can dare to venture into amidst the minimalist (pun intended) laments of the modern times we live in, is also a veritable tribute to a great city and its mystical & rich past.

I do hope you enjoy the images that I have made and someday, the property itself.

Indulge!

Copyright: JJ Valaya/ All rights reserved. All images are the sole property of JJ Valaya. No part of this post/publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval systems, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of JJ Valaya. This applies to all acts of use, in particular such as the reproduction of pictures and text, their performance and demonstration, translation, filming, microfilming, broadcasting, storage and processing in electronic media

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The Vilas on the Lake

Yes, it has been a hiatus of sorts… 2 weeks actually. And its not because i ceased to find beauty in the world or was not inspired enough by anything; it was simply because i was partially lazy and somewhat also busy in travel and other matters. Excuses aside, on a recent visit to magical Udaipur in Rajasthan, I happened to encounter two jewels… the first, The Leela Hotel where i stayed and the second, The Oberoi Udaivilas which I visited. Both are modern poetry in motion… both reflect a new Indian luxury… yet both are different. I’m going to start with sharing my visual journey of the latter, the beautiful Udaivilas and keep my next post reserved for the Leela.

Before I begin, I’d like to get something out of the way. All my travel photography is generally the end result of what i call ‘Phoneography’, broadly implying that the images were made on a smartphone. For my fine art Shows, I use a high end DSLR, so between the two mediums, I pretty much find my angst of creating images ably addressed. On seeing my smartphone imagery, I’ve almost always been asked by everyone about which ‘App’ i use. So time to set the record straight…’Apps’ don’t make images…. individuals do! If a large number of people were made to stand in a group and asked to look at something together from the same spot, they would all obviously see exactly the same view, and if they all then took a photo, they could all well be, not surprisingly and deceptively similar, with some exceptions. Therefore, creating images is not about what is seen at all, it’s about what is assimilated … it’s about what is absorbed…it’s about shunning the seen to be able to discover the unseen, its about having what is commonly known as ‘having an eye’, and herein lies the core difference. A good camera is a boon…A good App is a tool,  but both are not absolute essentials for great images. To create enduring images, we must learn to look beyond the obvious and allow the spirit, not the eyes, to sense the extraordinary. And then, eventually, it all comes down to composing that perfect frame. And yes, ‘Apps’ are modern photography aids that are meant to be used to make pictures come alive… they are the garnish that is often required to give that perfect recipe that one extra flourish… but always be aware that there is a thin line that divides effective imagery and gimmickry. Personally, for my smartphone photography (and as some of you know, I publish travel books based on such photography), I make and edit the images on the phone itself; they are then moved to a computer for layout and packed off straight to the printer for immortalisation in the guise of books.

Back to Udaipur and Udaivilas. I’m convinced that Udaipur, as a city, is Rajasthan’s finest destination. Pichola lake is the jewel in the crown and most of Udaipur’s luxuries are found either in this lake or around it. Add that to the basic topography of the city itself with its undulating hills and several ‘jheels’ and we have a sumptuous city retreat to scamper off to.

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Udaivilas, from what I could gather from my few hours there, is your typical Oberoi fare which essentially means that it is brilliant. The Oberoi chain has undoubtedly set several benchmarks of stylish perfection in the hospitality industry in India (and overseas) and this hotel seemed no different. I suppose, I’ll have more to write about this when and if i do stay there in the near future, but till then, i hope you get a sampler of that elegance from the images that I have posted above.

PS* If anyone from the Oberoi is reading this: Can anyone please explain the rationale behind the ‘NO PORCH’ approach being adopted across your hotels since the last few years? I somewhat understand the charm of a liveried gentleman escorting a guest to the lobby holding an umbrella over him/her, but i suspect that India’s climatic conditions (Heat, Dust, Rain) and your posh guest’s rather immodest expectations of a pampered reception may not essentially be in sync.

Just saying…

Copyright: JJ Valaya/ All rights reserved. All images are the sole property of JJ Valaya. No part of this post/publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval systems, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of JJ Valaya. This applies to all acts of use, in particular such as the reproduction of pictures and text, their performance and demonstration, translation, filming, microfilming, broadcasting, storage and processing in electronic media

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