Udaipur

Being in a state best known for its incredible, magnificent desert in northern India, you would imagine that its landlocked cities have noting at all to do with waterbodies of any shape or size. You would be wrong. Udaipur, a city in Rajasthan, is patently known as the city of lakes.

It’s perfectly located, like nature hand-painted her dream destination and presented it to us mortals. Amidst the Aravalli range and surrounded by deep-blue lakes. In fact, this watery wonderland has even been christened as the ‘Venice of the East’.

The capital of Mewar for centuries together, Udaipur may have been dethroned by Jaipur which flexed more political muscle in the modern age, but it still rules as a favoured tourist destination.  While the lakes here are the prime attraction, Udaipur is as rich in historical monuments, palaces and forts, as its counterpart Jaipur. The Lake Palace of Udaipur, in fact, has even earned the honour of being hailed as one of the most romantic places all across the globe. The massive forts of Udaipur enthrall with the sheer splendour of structure and architecture. The temples are a place of abiding spirituality that spills out and envelopes visitor in a calm, soothing embrace. And the festivals, a constant occurrence allure with the power of their colour and resounding cheer.

Sights to See

Palaces
Kingdoms may have come and gone and royal palaces relics of the past, but what splendid relics they are! A visit to the palaces here and you know why royals were reluctant to give up their crowns.

City Palace
Towering over the Pichola Lake, City Palace was started by Maharana Uday Singh, but succeeding Maharanas added several palaces and structures to the complex. Despite the subsequent additions, there is a beautiful, albeit surprising uniformity to the design, as though each king who passed on was guiding the hand of the current king. The entry to the Palace is from the Hati Pol, the Elephant Gate. The Bari Pol or the Big Gate brings you to the Tripolia, the Triple Gate. It was once a custom that the Maharana would weigh under this gate in gold and silver, which was distributed to the populace. It is now the main ticket office.

The main part of the museum is now a museum and from here you can go out onto the courtyard or the Rajya Angan, the very spot where Maharana Uday Singh met the sage who told him to found a city here. The rooms of the palace include the Manak Mahal, which has a lovely collection of glass and mirror work; Krishna Vilas displaying a rich collection of miniature paintings; Moti Mahal with its beautiful mirror work; and the Chini Mahal decorated with ornamental tiles. The Surya Chopar or the sun square depicts a huge ornamental sun symbolising the sun dynasty to which the Mewar dynasty belongs. The Bari Mahal is a central garden with a view of the city. Some more beautiful paintings can be seen in the Zenana Mahal or the ladies’ chamber, which leads to Lakshmi Chowk a beautiful white pavilion.

Fateh Prakash Palace
It’s like being cocooned in authentic royal luxury at the Fateh Prakash Palace, the grand heritage palace of the HRH group. The royal air is palpable, in the corridors lined with large paintings of the Mewar school that flourished from the 17th to the 19th centuries. The lake-facing suites in the turrets have period furniture, festooned with maroon velvet curtains and delicate silk tassels. It’s a legacy kept alive since the early 20th century, when Maharana Fateh Singh used to be the royal occupant of this palace. Till date the formality of royal occasions are maintained. Royally cool!

The Lake Palace
The Lake Palace is located on the Jag Niwas Island and covers the entire 1.5 hectare island in the middle of the Pichola Lake. Built by Maharana Jagat Singh in 1743, it was meant as a royal summer palace and is now a five-star palace hotel.

What a royal treat to us commoners! A palace right in the middle of a lake, crafted with intricate craftsmanship using the textiles and handicrafts highlight the beauty that is simply beyond compare the lake around. Mersmerising, breathtaking and it will render you speechless.

Sajjan Garh
Dominating the city’s skyline is this monsoon palace offering a panoramic overview of the city’s lakes, palaces and the surrounding countryside.

Monuments and Historic Sites
History comes alive in these places that transports visitors to a world wholly removed from present reality.

Bagore-Ki-Haveli
This very old building built right on the waterfront of Lake Pichola at Gangori Ghat has over 100 rooms and some very interesting display of costumes and modern art. The glass and mirror in the interiors of the Haveli delicate work and well preserved too. It also preserves a fine example of Mewar Painting on the walls of Queen’s Chamber. The two peacocks made from small pieces of colored glasses are fine examples of glasswork. The haveli now stages delightful evening’s entertainment; the pleasurable performance of Rajasthani traditional dance and music in the moody surroundings of the haveli. It is an ideal place for an evening entertainment while enjoying the view of Lake Pichola.

Maharana Pratap Memorial
Atop the Moti Magri or prarl hill, overlooking the Fateh Sagar lake is the memorial of the Rajput hero Maharana Pratap with a bronze statue of the Maharana.

Chittourgarh Fort
Chittorgarh is a must-visit for history junkies, but the main reason is its massive hilltop fort, which is a depiction of Rajput culture and values, which stands on 240-hectares Chittorgarh Fort is a massive structure with a 1-kilometre zigzag accent to it. Visit this place to soak up the courage and bravery of Rajputs, echoing around this historic sight.

Kumbalgarh Fort
Located 64 km north of Udaipur in the wilderness, Kumbhalgarh is the second most important citadel after Chittorgarh in the Mewar region. Cradled in the Aravalli Ranges the fort was built in the 15th century by Rana Kumbha. Because of its inaccessibility and hostile topography the fort had remained un-conquered and served as a refuge for many rulers of Mewar in times of strife.

Jagdish Temple
Built in 1651 AD by Maharana Jagat Singh, this Indoarmy temple is the largest and the most beautiful temple if Udaipur with noteworthy sculpted images.

Museums
A place where the past comes to home to root – or ret and serve as a reminder to successive generations of the rich heritage of a bygone era, the museums of Udaipur are a tribute to the kings of a world – and an era – gone by.

Shilpgram Museum
A living ethnographic museum, Shilpgram comprises 26 huts set in 70 acres of natural surroundings at the foot of the Aravalli range. It depicts the diversities in craft, art and culture between various Indian states. It is, however, the exquisite terracotta work mainly in dark red and dark brown sand material along with the wooden carvings are the forte of this ethnic village.

Bharatiya Lok Kala Museum
The interesting collection exhibited by this Indian folk arts museum includes folk dresses ornaments puppets masks dolls folk musical instruments folk deities and paintings.

Ahar
The ancient capital of the Sisodias, 3 km from Udaipur, Ahar a rare collection of antiquities including earthen pots, iron objects and other art items excavated in the region are displayed in a small Govt. museum.

Gardens
Verdant green gardens that were once inhabited by princes and princesses are peopled with the memories of the past, when these lush shelters were the refuge for royalty looking for peace and quiet.

Saheliyon Ki Bari (Garden of the maids of Honor)
This small ornamental garden was a popular relaxing sport where royal ladies came for a stroll and hence the name. The garden has many fountains in its four delightful pools chiseled kiosks and marble elephants.

Gulab Bagh
A spectacular rose Garden laid out by Maharana Sanjjan Singh. A library in the garden has a rare collection of ancient handwritten manuscripts and books.

Lakes
The City of Lakes merits going into some detail about the reason why it got its moniker.

Pichola Lake
Named after the village which was submerged to make it, Pichola Lake was later enlarged by  Maharana Uday Singh after he founded the city. He built a masonry dam known as Badipol and lake is now 4 km long and 3 km wide. This picturesque lake encloses the Jag Niwas Island and the Jag Mandir. And, the City Palace extends along its eastern banks.

Fateh Sagar Lake
Bordered by hills and woodland, this watery wonderland was constructed by Maharana Jai Singh to the north of Lake Pichola. The beautiful Nehru Island as well as an islet bearing a solar observatory rises from the lake.

Jaismund Lake
Another one credited to Maharana Jai Sigh, this picturesque artificial lake is the second largest lake in Asia. An elegant step leads to the water  and on either side are the palaces built for the king’s favourite queens.

Rajasmund Lake
A royal lake with a magnificent dam and offering spectacular views – there are entirely too many superlatives associated with Rajasmund Lake and it deserves each word describing its glory. Truly, a spectacle that should be seen to be believed.

Getting There

Udaipur is easily accessible from all the major cities and is well-connected by rail, road and air.

By air
Udaipur Airport, the Maharana Pratap Airport is located near Dabok, 22 km from the city. Many domestic airlines connect the city to all the major cities of India including Jaipur, Mumbai, Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. Regular air services are available for Delhi and Mumbai.

By rail
Udaipur Railway Station is located conveniently close to the city. Rajasthan Railways connects Udaipur station with all the other cities of the state and around the country. There are frequent trains which run to and from Udaipur connecting Jaipur, Mumbai and Delhi. It also falls on the route of the luxurious Palace on Wheels.

By road
A brilliant road network ensures a relaxed journey to and from Udaipur. This mode of commuting is quite easy and economical. The Udaipur Bus Stand has regular bus services, connecting Udaipur with neighbouring cities – Delhi, Jaipur, Chittorgarh, Indore, Kota, Ajmer, Ahmedabad and Mount Abu. There are also deluxe buses and AC coaches for the convenience of passengers. Hiring taxis and cars is also a viable option.

Getting Around
Hire a taxi to tour the city. You have a choice of luxurious comfort or no-frills convenience, depending on your budget. Taxis can be booked for more than a day as well and are convenient options if you plan to go on excursions.

For a more local taste, take a tonga, auto rickshaw or three-wheeler to move around in  the city. The tonga is the cheapest mode to travel. If you take an auto rickshaw, you can settle the price before you hop in. Unmetred taxis are also available in the city, but you have to bargain really hard with their drivers.

Three-wheelers charge nominal fare to reach predefined destinations. These autos run on a sharing basis and move from one point to another adding more passengers till they are full to bursting. Udaipur also offers a reasonably good bus service and city buses are the most common means of transport used by people. Usually, they don’t have any fixed time schedule but run on a regular basis.

You can eschew all the above and opt for a two-wheeler that requires some effort on your part – the bicycle. Udaipur is a small city and not crowded with vehicles, so one can get around the city on a bicycle. You can hire bicycles that are available all over the city.

Shopping
Exquisite handicrafts? Check. Exotic pottery? Check. Brassware and terracotta sculptures? Check. Traditional clothes with batik and handprints? Check.
If it’s exotic you want, it’s exotic you get. Handicrafts range from the stereotypical –
wall hangings – to the useful – pen stands, handmade papers, painted wooden box, greeting cards – to the quirky – cloth lanterns, puppets and toys. Pottery covers all kings of pots, plates, vessels and different kinds of containers.

If glitter sends you into throe of happiness, then the local jeweler is delightfully kitsch, ranging from precious stones and mundane to silver jewellery. While touring around the City Palace, pick up ethnic miniature paintings, made in the creative style of the Mewar School of Art. Or if the Mewar culture has charmed you, carry back a memento – a Pichwai painting, almost-perfect manifestation of the taste of Mewar rulers. These paintings are available on silk, wood, marble, paper and ivory.

Coming to the shopping places, Hathi Pol, Bada Bazaar, Chetak Circle, Bada Bazaar and Palace Road are some of the popular shopping arcades of Udaipur. While shopping in these markets, don’t forget to bargain with the shopkeepers to get the value of your money.