Gourmet on the Gangaur

Rasheeda Bhagat March 27 | Updated on March 25, 2013 Published on March 25, 2013

Gangaur dining experience, Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur

Gangaur dining experience, Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur

Gangaur dining experience, Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur

Gangaur dining experience, Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur

Gangaur dining experience, Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur

Gangaur dining experience, Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur

Gangaur dining experience, Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur

Imagine a starlit night, shimmering, cool waters of a huge lake surrounded on all sides by historical palaces lit seductively, sending their shadows dancing in the waters of the lake and weaving a magic spell around you, seated in a 150-year-old royal barge rowed by six men.

Well, I didn’t exactly feel like Cleopatra on one of her legendry and majestic sailings in the Nile, but it was a close second.

The occasion was a special dining experience on the Gangaur, a huge colourful boat that once belonged to the Maharana of Udaipur and was used by him and his Maharani to watch the Gangaur festival. It is now used by the Taj Lake Palace, located bang in the middle of Udaipur’s Lake Pichola, to pamper its guests on special occasions. Honeymoons, wedding anniversaries, birthdays are of course celebrated on this boat when a romantic dinner is laid out for two with the finest of Rajasthani cuisine and wine or cocktail of your choice. But this boat is also very famous for proposals! Antony, a supervisor for unique dining experiences at the Taj Lake Palace tells me that during his 4-year stint organising dinners on the royal barge, he has witnessed over 150 proposals…. “all successful,” he beams.

But more of that later. Gangaur (Gauri) is an incarnation of Goddess Parvathi, consort of Lord Shiva. A popular festival in Rajasthan – this year it will be celebrated on April 13 and 14 — it is believed that during this period Parvati returned to her parental home to bless her friends with marital bliss. She is worshipped by married women, who, just as in Karva Chauth, fast and pray for the longevity of their husbands and unmarried girls for… what else… a suitable catch…err, match!

On the last day women dressed in their finery – traditional Rajasthan costumes and jewellery — take out a procession in Rajasthan’s cities. In Udaipur there is always a colourful procession on Lake Pichola, with music and dance, and it ends with fireworks on the banks of the lake. The rulers of the day watched this festival from their royal boat, as the best of delicacies were served to them.

During the two-hour cruise on the lake, guests are treated to special dance performances at Jag Niwas. As the dance is on, the Gangaur, and its rowers take a break. Feeling like royalty, I enjoyed most the peacock dance.

As Anthony and Sous Chef Rahul Kinja regale me with stories of proposals, I am served the starters… delicious Murg ke sooley that melt in the mouth, paneer tikka, delectable vegetarian sheek kebab and a spicy lamb and corn soup — Gosht Daliye ka Shorba. As the boat sails on, with the gentle wind turning a little biting, Antony brings up a shawl to the baithak, approached by a few steps where normally guests are served wine and starters, with dinner being laid out on the table below. There is only candlelight on the boat and a more romantic setting cannot be imagined.

But the duo is in a mood to indulge me and insist on serving the entire dinner at the upper level as the view of the enchanting lake and the magical surroundings is spectacular from the top. Executive chef Manish Joshi has planned a thali for me. It has the most fragrant basmati rice, a soft paratha, Mathania Lal Murg (made with Rajasthan’s famous Mathania red chillies), delicious Gatte ki Curry made with gram flour dumplings, Palak Chilgoza made with pinenuts, dhal and the piece de resistance of the evening – Purdah Raan.

A signature Rajasthan delicacy, the Purdah Raan is not on the menu at the Lake Palace but is served on special occasions. Chef Joshi explains that for this “we marinate a whole leg of lamb for 8-10 hours, place it in a metal handi, seal it, and cook it on low charcoal fire.” When the meat is almost done, the lamb is covered with a layer of maida dough —hence the purdah in its name! — and baked.

The result is extremely tender lamb that retains the original flavour and juice of the meat, and is delicious. This is actually a meal by itself and I am ready to burst by now. But how do they get it so tender, I ask Chef Kinja. The trick, of course, is in the marination, where apart from onions, yoghurt, ginger-garlic paste and red chillies kachri power is used. Kachri is a wild cucumber that grows in desert regions and resembles a small melon. It’s powder is used in Rajasthan to make the meat tender.

There is more to follow! For dessert there is Badam ka halwa made from crushed almonds that simply melts in the mouth and hot and crunchy jalebis.

The meal is as lavish as tasty, the weather perfect, the ambience most romantic, and the feeling surreal. And the proposal stories related by my two companions, Antony and Kinja, are absolutely absorbing. Many a time both have played cupid, and plotted with the suitors on the menu, the wine, the setting. “We discuss to the last detail how the man will actually propose,” says Antony.

On one occasion he suggested that the diamond ring should pop out during dessert. “So the man got the chocolate dessert, but for the woman we placed the diamond ring under a mound of red rose petals!”

But the story that took the cake was about the guy who ordered the prettiest of 100 red roses, and presented each to his lady love with a message on the qualities he admired in her. “By the time he presented the 75th rose, she said yes,” beams Antony.

One of the most special experiences that the Palace guests cherish, the Gangaur dining experience comes with a price tag of Rs 80,000, plus taxes. This includes a two hour ride and wine or cocktails. Food, by the way, is extra! If you have deeper pockets, you can plan a dinner for 5 or 6.

General Manager Shyam Kaikini says originally there were two Gangaurs belonging to the Maharana. But they were in a dilapidated state. “We were told that during the Octopussy shooting there was a British naval expert who salvaged parts from both to make one workable Gangaur.”

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Published on March 25, 2013
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