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An ode to Udaipur

Udaipur city viewUdaipur, call it the City of Romance or the Venice of India or the City of Lakes – the breath-taking beauty that Udaipur offers simply goes to your soul. I prefer calling Udaipur gorgeous, for it captures you completely as soon as you step in this city that’s a stunning mixture of romance, royalty and supreme valour. You can’t take your eyes off its charm, once you take a walk alongside the mesmerizing lakes, stunning bazaars, marvellous architecture and soak in the tranquil air. Welcome to Udaipur – the land of dawn, named after its erstwhile ruler Maharana Udai Singhji.

Located 408 kms south-west of the state capital Jaipur; Udaipur is the erstwhile capital of historical Mewar region of Rajasthan. Mewar, a region that has never been conquered in its history either by the Mughals or by the British, and proud locals never forget to mention how Akbar sent numerous Army Contingents to defeat Maharana Pratap, but never succeeded. Yes, Akbar could never conquer Mewar and Maharana Pratap never called him Badshah! Even the British lived there as friendly administrators and they were not allowed to rule. The ruling clan of Mewar at Udaipur trace back their lineage to Lord Rama, claiming that they are the direct descendants of Kush, the son of Lord Rama.

Udaipur city viewMoving beyond the history, the enchanting royalty that’s steeped into the very heart of Udaipur can be experienced by visiting the City Palace and its Museum, a portion of the Palace which is open for tourists throughout the year. Inside the palace, you can see Mardana Mahal (the area reserved for males), Zenana Mahal (the area reserved for females) and other fabulous arenas. Stunning architecture, glassworks, visionary planning and striking designs take you altogether to a different era. Everything from the olden days has been kept intact and you will surely be surprised at their opulence and luxury.

Then there is Lake Pichola, a beautiful lake with numerous Ghats alongside it, the finest one is the Ghat beside Bagore ki Haveli – a former Royal Guest House. This Haveli also organizes enthralling Folk music and dance shows, daily in the evening. The Ghat has a place where you can feed pigeons; while the Cows laze around and dogs bark as usual. It gives a picturesque view of The Lake Palace as well, also known as Jag Niwas. There are some other minor ghats also from where you can take a boat ride and get a close view of The Lake Palace. It has now been turned into a heritage hotel and tourists are not allowed to visit it, until you have booked a room. However, you can take a round of the palace on a boat and go to the Jag Mandir which is quite close to the Lake Palace, where one can stroll around and relish sumptuous meals in the restaurant. Legend has it that when Shah Jehan revolted against his father Jahangir, he escaped to this place and was so much inspired by the Jag Mandir that he built Taj Mahal on the architectural and design patterns of Jag Mandir.

Later on, you can walk to Doodh Talai adjoining Lake Pichola, a small artificial lake which makes for a beautiful place. Close to it is Ropeway, which takes you from one mountain to another in the Aravali Mountain Ranges. The other end of rope-way has a stunning sunset point, a fort and a temple. All make for wonderful spots, worth visiting.

Very close to Doodh Talai lies Gulab Bagh, a sprawling lush green garden with a library that has ancient original handwritten books, a Rose Garden, a small Zoo and an inspiring ambience. A good place to visit if kids are travelling with you. Just opposite the Gulab Bagh, there is Vintage Car Museum – which also has Jeeps and Trucks – boasting of cars as old as 100 years. Chevrolet, Ford, Cadillac – it’s there standing in all its glory! These cars belong to the royal dynasty of Udaipur, now a part of the museum open for public. The museum was earlier used to Park Royal Cars, and the surrounding quarters were drivers’ rooms. There’s also a restaurant in the vicinity where traditional food is served in Thali where you can have a sumptuous meal for lunch.

Udaipur's Lake Palace by night

Udaipur's Lake Palace by night

Next comes Fateh Sagar, the largest lake of Udaipur where one can just walk around and have a great time! Yes, it’s brimming with people, life and activities. Even then if you wish to visit some places around Fateh Sagar, head straight to Maharana Pratap Smarak, again a beautiful place on the top of a hill ensconced in Japanese style gardens and lawns. There are two ways you can reach the top, one by road if you have a vehicle and if you wish to walk, take a short cut amid Japanese styled gardens. I bet it would be more satisfying!

Another 10 minute walk takes you to Saheliyon ki Badi, or Gardens of the Maids of Honour (Maharani’s Maids), which is situated below the embankment of the Fateh Sagar Lake. The garden contains finely sculptured ornamental lotus pools. Cenotaphs of Soft Black Stone surrounded on all sides by fountains, and another guarded by four huge elephants, each one sculptured of a single piece of stone, which naturally and out of lake’s pressure spout water from their trunks.

A half an hour walk will take you to Shilpgram, an artificial village, which was created as a living ethnographic museum to provide visitors with an understanding of the tribal people of Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan. Shilpgram is open throughout the year with one or other activity going on and a huge 10-day festival takes place annually.

When you are done with all these places in the city, don’t forget to walk in the city for a day amidst the most beautifully decorated bazaars that sell handicrafts from all over India. Here, you can find items that include Pashmina Shawls from Kashmir, Wooden and Stone Artworks from Rajasthan, leather items from all over India etc. When you walk by the street, you will also come across many art studios that sell miniature art as well as teach you its intricacies and niceties. Miniature art was originated in Udaipur and then spread throughout the world. Interestingly, I also came across a studio of modern art run by a young guy, Shahid Pervez, whose paintings contain quirky figures and unique design patterns. He has a huge studio spread out in 2000 feet with really awesome paintings.

I would suggest that you stay at Ganguar Ghat, as staying there would give you an awesome view of The Lake Palace, constructed just in the middle of the lake Pichola. There are many cheap to medium roof top hotels with good food and comfortable stay. Also, because of the huge number of foreign tourists, once can find there Spanish, Italian, Korean, Chinese and German food, though with a desi touch. For travelling within the city, a cycle can be rented just for Rs. 50 per day, and other two wheelers between Rs. 250 to 650. Udaipur is a small city that can completely be covered by walking! What better deal than that?

The best season to visit Udaipur is winter when the lakes are full and the streets brim with life. The city is well-connected to all the important places of India and there’s an international Airport soon coming up.

If you are a solo visitor, make sure that you communicate with the locals and get a grasp of the city. They are more than friendly and will go extra mile to help you. I made some really good friends there and promised to visit again. So there’s another trip on the cards!

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