Ever since 1983, when a certain British secret agent who resembles Roger Moore came to Udaipur and stayed at the Shiv Niwas Palace hotel in order to spy on one Octopussy, the mysterious femme who had made the Lake Palace Hotel her home, the two hotels have eyed each other across Lake Pichola with mutual distrust. Though both are owned by Arvind Singh, the 76th Maharana of Mewar, the Lake Palace has been run by the Taj hotel group since the 1960s, while the Shiv was turned into a hostelry by the Maharana's Historic Resort Hotels group. They've been duking it out for the luxury-suite market since. The rift widened when Taj signed a long-term lease on the Lake Palace. This means, according to general manager Anil Mohan, two summers of exacting renovations "without affecting guest services."
Nevertheless, the refurbishing leaves the Shiv the most serene game in town. The two prime rooms are Suite 19, where Queen Elizabeth once slept, and number 17, with its spectacular round bedchamber, complete with lotus-shaped fountain. Suites 12 through 16 offer lake views, opulent furnishings, and generous balconies. Which room did that dashing English spy stay in? "Actually," says Shiv general manager M. Pestonji, "Roger kept changing rooms. He wanted to experience all of them." Smart. Very smart. Lake Palace, $230-$600; Box 5, Pichola Lake, Udaipur 313001, Rajasthan; 91-294-528800. Shiv Newas, $125-$600; City Palace, Udaipur 313001, Rajasthan; 91-294-528016.