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Udaipur, the Water Kingdom

Udaipur, the Water Kingdom
Sunset at Lake Pichola in Udaipur, Rajasthan., Photo Credit: Courtesy Wikipedia
13 Min Read

Udaipur is a popular tourist destination and is known for its history, culture and the Rajput-era palaces. Its abundance of natural beauty, mesmerising temples and breathtaking architecture makes it a must-visit destination in India

Udaipur is happy again. After many parched years, its skies are full of water and so are its lakes. The walls are a smiling cream or a radiant white, and the caparisoned elephants and horses painted next to welcoming doors sport a splash of red and indigo. The mango and rayan trees are vibrant green and muted auburn, the skies a brooding grey or a tender crimson. The abandoned ruins muster up an ochre melancholy and the lively palaces are a shower of gold. The waters provide a silvery sheen. Colours have come to life and Udaipur has become a charming, seductive miniature painting of the Mewar School, once again.

The City Palace Complex, Udaipur’s iconic landmark

ORIENTATION

The Old City is to the east of Lake Pichola. The city wall is hardly seen, but many areas are still known by the gate names of yore: Suraj Pol, Hathi Pol, etc. The City Palace sits on the east bank of Lake Pichola, with its back towards it. The tourist hub is to the north of City Palace. Fateh Sagar Lake is further north. The train station and the bus stand are just outside the Old City, to the southeast. The airport is 25km from the city centre to the east. Autos here don’t run on metre and the minimum fare is ₹50–80. An auto for the day costs ₹600–1,000. The taxi fare for a day is ₹1,500–2,200. There are numerous travel agents around the city centre. It’s best to compare rates or ask your hotel to arrange a taxi.

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

A tourist’s itinerary in Udaipur inevitably revolves around the sites of the erstwhile rulers: the palaces they lived in, the lakes they built, the gardens they frequented and the cenotaphs built for them. All these places today dutifully echo a fictional history in which the Sisodia Rajput rulers of Mewar are famous for their virtues, victories and fierce independence. However, the splendours of Udaipur’s architectural heritage belong mainly to the peaceful periods when Mewar accepted at first the sovereignty of the Mughals and later that of the British. Having done the regular tourist bit, the best thing to do in Udaipur is to amble in the chaotic maze of streets between Jagdish Temple and Suraj Pol. You will need at least three days to explore all the sights.

City Palace Complex

The City Palace is where it all began in the 16th century when Udai Singh met a sage who advised him to establish a city here. Now the complex is a conglomeration of palaces built over 400 years. It is the largest palace complex in Rajasthan and has a fascinating edifice. Twenty-two maharajas of Udaipur contributed to this structure and yet it maintains a graceful uniformity. Despite its huge size and the profusion of architectural elements – jharokhas, columns and towers – the elegant palace has an airy lightness about it. Perhaps that’s because of its creamy hue. It also gels easily with the blue waters of Lake Pichola.

Keep aside a few hours to explore the City Palace. Walk up the hill from Jagdish Temple, buy your tickets at Badi Pol, and enter the complex. After Badi Pol, the imposing Tripolia Gate welcomes you, with seven arches or toranas to its left, commemorating the seven times when the maharajas were weighed against silver and gold which was then distributed amongst the people. On the right is a wall called Agad, across which elephants were made to fight each other – a royal idea of sport. Further ahead is the entrance to the palace building and above the entrance, the Mewar crest, an image of the Sun God (from whom the Mewar royalty claim to have descended), flanked by a Rajput warrior and a Bhil.

A part of the City Palace Museum in the complex has been designated the Government Museum. Shambhu Niwas is the present home of the royal family. Further south are Fateh Prakash Palace and Shiv Niwas Palace, both luxury hotels today.

City Palace Museum

Beyond Ganesh Deori, the entrance to the City Palace Museum, is a maze of narrow passages, steep staircases, terraces, patios and apartments. Just inside the entrance, where your tickets will be checked, notice the paintings of the important Krishna deities of Mewar – Srinathji, Eklingji and Charbhujaji – all lovely examples of the Mewar School of painting. Now begins a series of mahals and chowks, with their names, dates of construction and the names of builders displayed prominently, but soon you will be lost – in a world of luxury, indulgence and comfort. Note the Rajya Aangan, the spot where Udai Singh met the sage.

Chandra Mahal, with its elegant columns and beautiful windows, is a great palace with stunning views of Lake Pichola, its islands and the surrounding hills. Badi Mahal, or Amar Vilas, was built on a rock formation and ingeniously incorporated into the complex with an enclosed garden. The Kaanch Ki Burj is a chamber with its walls inlaid with red and silver glass. The Krishna Niwas has some remarkable miniature Mewar paintings. A room is dedicated to James Tod, displaying a manuscript of his Annals and his portrait. The Mor Chowk, originally built in 1620, was decked with brilliantly coloured mosaics of three dancing peacocks in the 19th century. The Zenana Mahal has princesses’ apartments.

Location 150m south of Jagdish Mandir Entry Adults ₹250; Children ₹100 Timings 9.30am–4.30pm Cameras ₹250 Sound & Light show fee Adults ₹250–500; Children ₹100–200 Timings 7.00–8.00pm (English)

The pool deck at Shiv Niwas Palace

Government Museum

The Government Museum is also accessed from the Ganesh Deori. They have splendid acquisitions but lacklustre display and shoddy maintenance have all but killed them. There are stone inscriptions from the Mewar region, dating from the 2nd century BCE to the 19th century, as well as sculptures. One gallery depicts the Mewar tradition of miniature art and includes a series on Krishna-Rukmini. The museum also houses eclectic exhibits including a turban belonging to Khurram (Shahjahan), who took refuge in Udaipur during a rebellion against Jehangir.

Location Within the City Palace complex Entry ₹10 Timings 10.00am–5.00pm Closed Monday

Crystal Gallery

The Crystal Gallery has a profligate display of wealth. In a shopping binge, Rana Sajjan Singh ordered an assortment of crystal objects from F&C Osler & Co in England in 1877. He died before the crystal chairs, beds, sofas, glasses and dinner sets arrived in Udaipur. Successors thought this was a bad omen and the extraordinary bequest stayed packed in boxes for 110 years before somebody thought of making money from this misadventure. The rather over-priced admission fee includes the entry charges to the grand Durbar Hall of the Fateh Prakash Palace and a drink in the Gallery Restaurant.

Location Fateh Prakash Palace Entry Adults ₹550; Children ₹350 (including entry fee to palace premises and a beverage) Timings 10.00am– 6.00pm Cameras Not allowed

Vintage Car Museum

About 2km away from the City Palace complex is the Vintage and Classic Car Collection, where about two dozen vehicles are on display in garages. There’s a 1934 Rolls Royce Phantom II and also a 1939 Cadillac convertible, which transported Jackie Kennedy during her visit to Udaipur.

Entry Adults ₹250; Children ₹150 (includes a lunch/ dinner coupon) Timings 9.30am–8.00pm

Vintage and Classic Car Collection: a bevy of automobile beauties

Jagdish Temple

Built in 1651 in the Indo-Aryan style, the temple is located high above the streets, on a crossroad. The outer walls have carvings typical of Mewar temples. Vishnu, as Jagannath, is the chief deity.

Sanctum timings 5.00am– 2.00pm & 4.00–11.00pm

Bagore ki Haveli

The residence of a former prime minister of the state, Amarchand Badwa, the haveli sits right on Lake Pichola. This 18th-century residence has been diligently restored. The 138 rooms around courtyards evoke the past and exhibit the traditional arts and crafts of the region. Impressive dance performances in the Mewari and Rajasthani traditions are held here every evening at 7.00pm.

The Bharatiya Lok Kala Museum, about 2km away, has interesting dresses, paintings and puppets on display.

Location Panchvati Entry Indians ₹75; Foreigners ₹150 Bharatiya Museum entry ₹40 Museum tim-ings 10.00am–8.00pm

Ahar

Now famous as the cremation site of the royal family of Mewar, Ahar has an array of cenotaphs of 19 Mewar rulers built over four centuries. The first and the most striking cenotaph is that of Maharana Amar Singh, who after abdicating his throne, spent his last days in a haveli here. Ahar is also an ancient site with a history going back to 2000 BCE.

Location 2km east of city centre Museum timings 10.00am–5.00pm Closed Monday

Monsoon Palace

Originally called Sajjan Garh and built by Sajjan Singh of the ‘crystal collection’ fame, the 19th-century palace was supposed to be an astronomical centre, but became a hunting lodge. Perched atop Banswara Hill, this neglected building has a fairy-tale quality about it. The views, particularly at sunset, are spectacular.

Location 8km west of city centre Entry Indians ₹30; Foreigners ₹300 Timings 8.00am–6.00pm Forest jeep ₹90 per head Photography ₹80

Monsoon Palace

Udaipur’s seven sisters

Udaipur’s rulers understood the importance of water, built dams and created reservoirs. You can see some of the most amazing and artistic engineering feats in Udaipur’s lakes: Pichola, Dudh Talai, Govardhan Sagar, Kumaria Talav, Rangsagar, Swaroop Sagar and Fateh Sagar. Collectively, they are called the seven sisters of Udaipur (and there are more).

These water bodies have been Udaipur’s lifeline over centuries. All these lakes are inter-connected and the surplus water from one flows into the next.

WHERE TO STAY

The most scenic, and expensive, stay options are around Lake Pichola. However, there are scores of budget and mid-range hotels close to Lake Pichola and Fateh Sagar Lake.

The 18th-century summer palace of the erstwhile rulers, Taj Lake Palace (Tel: 0294-2528800; Tariff: ₹60,000–8,50,000) on the Jagniwas Island in Lake Pichola, is the traditional, dream stay option. You can expect all imaginable luxuries and more here. Shiv Niwas Palace (Tel: 2528016-19; Tariff: ₹15,000–1,00,000) and Fateh Prakash Palace (Tel: 2528016-19; Tariff: ₹12,000–42,000) are famously part of the City Palace complex. Jagat Niwas Palace (Tel: 2422860; Tariff: ₹1,850–7,000), located in the Lal Ghat area in two renovated 17th-century havelis, is also a good stay option.

Amet Haveli (Tel: 2431085; Tariff: ₹4,000–8,700), another restored haveli, has an enchanting location on Hanuman Ghat.

WHERE TO EAT

Udaipur is bursting with rooftop cafés, lake-view eateries and restaurants on the lake, but is deficient in good food. Most serve strictly passable Indian and Continental food.

Ambrai, the open-air restaurant in Amet Haveli, has a unique location at water level and is a beautiful place to sit. It offers a few Rajasthani specialities, including mutton soweta – a dish that uses corn. If you want basic vegetarian Rajasthani fare, head to Santosh Daal Baati Bhojanalaya at Suraj Pol, where you can have dal-baati-choorma. The rooftop terrace at Udai Kothi is set around a pool and has good enough food including dal makhani and tandoori chicken and fish. Café Edelweis on Gangaur Ghat is popular for its coffee and Continental snacks. The kadhi and seasonal vegetable dishes at Sunrise are tasty. Savage Garden near Chand Pol can be found only after much looking around but is worth the effort for its location and décor if not for its pizzas and pastas. For a cheap thali, go to Garden Hotel Restaurant on Lake Palace Road. For an expensive meal, head for Udaivilas or take the boat to Taj Lake Palace hotel.

Many café owners here earnestly believe that the essence of the place is to be found in watching the Bond flick Octopussy, which features Udaipur, and towards this end they have been screening the film every evening for over 20 years now!

FAST FACTS

When to go Visit from October to February, though July to August, when it rains, is also pleasant. Avoid summer

Tourist offices

Rajasthan Tourism Office

Fateh Memorial, Suraj Pol

Udaipur

Tel: 0294-2411535

RTDC Tourist Reception Centre

Dabok Airport, Udaipur. Tel: 2655433

STD code 0294

GETTING THERE

Air Udaipur’s Maharana Pratap (Dabok) Airport (25km/ 45mins) is connected to Jaipur, Jodhpur, Aurangabad, Delhi and Mumbai. Taxi costs approx ₹500 to the centre of town

Rail Udaipur Station has speedier connections with Delhi now and excellent options from Jaipur. It has good connections from Ahmedabad as well as Mumbai

Road Udaipur is on NH48 which links Delhi to Mumbai via Ahmedabad and Jaipur. It is a 9-hr drive from Jaipur, a 14-hr drive from Delhi and a 17-hr drive from Mumbai. Halt for the night at Ajmer on NH58 if driving down from Delhi, and at Ahmedabad if coming from Mumbai

Read more in the new Outlook Traveller Getaways Heritage Holidays in India

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