Even for those who weren't reared on Rudyard Kipling stories, the phrase "living like a maharaja" tends to conjure certain images: ornate marble palaces edged by splashing fountains and strutting peacocks; sumptuous silks, plush rugs, and piles of cushions meant for lounging; and squadrons of attendants ready to cater to the most impulsive whim. And there's truth behind these extravagant visions: Very few have embraced opulence over the centuries as India's royals have.
These days, especially in the province of Rajasthan (whose name means "land of princes"), it's more possible than ever for visitors to India to taste that storied luxury for themselves. During the past few decades, many of the country's most splendid palaces have been converted to hotels (under the auspices of groups like Oberoi and Taj); now, the lavish quarters and exquisite service once enjoyed by Indian kings are being savored by visitors.
Travel + Leisure set out to find which of these magnificent manors could truly be called the best hotels in India. The search was part of the sixth annual T+L 500 survey, which asks the magazine's readers for their opinions on hotels around the globe. 2007's survey results marked -- for the first time -- an enormous surge in the popularity of Indian properties.
Most significantly, 2007 was the first year that an Indian hotel -- Oberoi Udaivilas -- was chosen as the world's best by Travel + Leisure readers. The grand complex of craved sandstone spires and arches, set on the shore of Lake Pichola in Udaipur, drew ratings for service, location, and physical beauty that were unparalleled.
But Udaivilas wasn't alone in cracking the T+L 500 list; seven other Indian properties -- many of them in Rajasthan -- also scored high with Travel + Leisure readers, including the Oberoi Rajvilas, with its romantic luxury tents and a spa that occupies a centuries-old mansion.
As more and more people travel to -- and within -- India, it's good to know these oases of luxury stand ready to greet them. The maharajas may no longer occupy these gracious palaces, but guests who stay in them enjoy enough comforts and amenities to feel like royalty.