There are a few places which need no introduction and Udaipur has long secured a place on the list. Located in Rajasthan, Udaipur is known to the world by several names owing to its beauty. This ‘City of Lakes’ is located on hills with narrow roads going uphill and down all throughout the city. In spite of that, it boasts a rich history of Mewar kingdom, which had made Udaipur its home several generations ago. They were the ones who glorified Udaipur and the several lakes seen in the city are a gift given by them.
I reached Udaipur early in the morning and was taken right in the middle of the city by a tuk-tuk driver who ‘promised’ to take me to the ‘best hotel in town’. However, that turned out to be lower than my expectation, much to his disappointment. I left him brooding at his ‘best hotel in town’ and started searching for an accommodation that would suit the needs of a solo backpacker. Luckily, I saw the familiar Zostel board along with a huge wall art and I felt relieved.
Overlooking Swaroop Sagar Lake, Zostel Udaipur is a haven for travelers like me who come looking for a taste of Rajasthani luxury in the town along with the ‘feel’ of a hostel. After resting for a couple of hours, I was ready to start my adventures in the city!
View from the room at Zostel Udaipur
As soon as I left the hostel I came across a man, sitting outside a small shop, lost in his world of paints. All around him, there were paintings but not on canvas. Upon talking to him, Lokesh told me he has been collecting old postcards, painting on them anything that fancies him and selling them for more than two decades. I marveled at his collection of postcards as well as the illustrations he so effortlessly drew on them. On top of this, the prices on which he was willing to sell them for were unbelievable! So excited I was by his art and collection that I bought 5 of them on the spot and moved on to experience the rest of the amazing city.
Lokesh with his collection of illustrated postcards
According to me, the most obvious place to start exploring any city is one describing its history. So, my first stop was the City Palace. City Palace is situated on the banks of Lake Pichola. Built by several Maharajas, the construction of the palace went on for centuries. Every king had several new chambers added to it and this is what made this palace the second largest in India, next only to the Mysore Palace. The current Maharaja, a descendant of the long line of the kings of Mewar kingdom, too has a residence within the palace complex, although it is forbidden for the general public to visit.
The City Palace
The guide I hired at the entrance did a wonderful job explaining the history of the palace in great detail. The palace has now largely been converted into a museum open to general public, thereby preserving the royal heritage and for the general public to get a whiff of how luxurious was the life of the royal family. There are several relics compiled from generations of Maharajas, some of them being too extravagant to believe unless you see them yourself! All in all, the City Palace tops the list of places to visit once in Udaipur.
The city as seen from the Palace
Traditional sitting arrangements for the Maharaja
Even after spending hours in the City Palace, my thirst for the Royals was not satiated. I decided to visit the second great palace of the city- Sajjangarh or, as it is popularly known, The Monsoon Palace. It is located on the outskirts of Udaipur atop a hill. It is said Maharaja Sajjan Singh, after whom it is named, built it to commemorate his love for the Monsoon and wanted to watch the Monsoon clouds approaching from far away. The Palace complex begins from the bottom of the hill itself and houses a zoo as well. If you don’t happen to have a vehicle of your own, it is better to hire a seat in the car that they have for a nominal fee (Rs 90 per seat). Otherwise, you will find yourself on a 4.5 Km uphill walk which isn’t satisfying enough considering the effort.
The Monsoon Palace
The Monsoon Palace has been a venue for many famous Bollywood films, an obvious choice considering the backdrop. Standing on the edge of the garden in front of the palace, I knew what tempted the Maharaja to build it. It offers a stunning panoramic view of Udaipur. For me, this was the only place from where I could see both, Fatehsagar and Pichola Lakes in a single glance. The whole city seemed to have cropped up around these lakes and the palace rested in a graceful corner, next to Lake Pichola.
View from the top of Sajjangarh
The sunset from the castle is a sight to behold! Watch mesmerized as the sun sets behind the low rising hills and feel happy about your decision to visit Udaipur and the Monsoon Palace!
By the time I reached the market again, twilight had engulfed the city. I was roaming the streets, looking at everything around me when I heard chants from a distance. Upon enquiring from the people nearby, I was informed that the origin of those chants was the famous Jagdish temple, which was probably the second tallest edifice in the town after City Palace. I was drawn to those chants and found myself at the bottom of the near-vertical staircase of the temple, which was made completely of marbles. I climbed the steps to reach the temples inside and right in the womb of it, sat a bunch of people, oblivious to the hustle of the city right outside, and lost in prayer and chants. I stood in a corner as they sang songs upon songs without breaks or loss of enthusiasm. Coming from a city like Delhi, there was something deeply satisfying looking at them, knowing they were devoid of all outer-worldly woes and more importantly, they were happy. I never knew how the two hours passed with me leaning on a pillar at the entrance of the temple, my trance only broken when the people got up to leave. I could not have hoped for a better ending to my first day in Udaipur.
The Venice of the East, apart from being popular for the presence of lakes, has also a rich culture and history. A feel of the royal era can be experienced by visiting the museums spread across the city, the biggest being the one in City Palace. I wanted to start my second day in Udaipur with a breakfast of a famous Rajasthani dish, Pyaz Kachori. Upon enquiring from several people I met in the market, a shop named JMB sweets had just the thing I was looking for. A few hundred meters from there, on Gulab Bagh road, is the Vintage Car Museum. Although the price of the ticket might seem a bit steep considering the size of the museum, the first look at the cars displayed there would make you forget the price you paid. I spent almost a couple of hours there and it was worth every bit. Some of the cars on display include Mercedes, Rolls Royce, Cadillac, and Ford, as well as the car of the Maharaja, each of them reminding one of a bygone era.
The Royal Luxury
Evenings in Udaipur are seldom a dull affair. The lakes in Udaipur ensure everyone gets to see the beauty of the setting Sun. On my second evening there, I decided to take a stroll on Fatehsagar lakeside. It is a beautiful driveway with the lake to your side. Every evening, people of Udaipur step out to the lake with their families for recreation. You would see families taking pictures, strolling, eating from the little market that has cropped up along the lakeside, or taking joyrides in speedboats in the lake before sunset. Right opposite to the lake lies the complex which houses a bronze statue of the hero of Mewar Kingdom- Maharana Pratap. The statue is preceded by a museum which beautifully depicts the history of every ruler that ruled Mewar kingdom, right from their presence in Chittorgarh to their shift of capital to Udaipur. It also depicts scenes of battles along with the stories, highlighting the heroes of battles and the weapons used in them. In the basement, it houses models of Chittorgarh fort and Kumbalgarh fort, both prides of the dynasty.
Sunset from Fatehsagar Lake
A beautiful walk away from the museum, on top of a little hill stands tall the statue of Maharana Pratap mounted on his horse. His stance gives him an air of the silent protector of the city, watching over them from the top. Again, the view of the beautifully lit city is another reason to visit the place.
On my next and last day in Udaipur, I walked to Saheliyon Ki Badi, which was built as a garden for the queen and her friends. It is located near Fatehsagar Lake and has a nominal entry fee of Rs 10. The most interesting and bizarre feature of the place is definitely the natural fountains. There are hundreds of small copper holes constructed in the garden through which erupt natural fountains, drawing water from Fatehsagar Lake. The fountains were built to satisfy the whims of the queen, who loved bathing in rain. In the center of the complex lies a pond with these little fountains all around it, replicating natural rain as close as possible. These fountains are ever flowing and do not require any modern day machinery. They work on the difference of level principle and are a true wonder to watch! Saheliyon ki Badi, along with lake palace, were the locations where the famous James Bond movie, Octopussy, was shot at and this fact is highly advertised by every guide at this place.
The 'Natural Rain'
After spending almost all my afternoon there, I had the option of choosing from the light and sound show at City Palace and Dharohar, a cultural show in Bagore ki Haveli. I wanted to see both of them but chose the latter based on my instinct. In a couple of hours, I knew I had made the best decision of my trip!
Dharohar, which means ‘Heritage’, is an hour-long extravaganza which manages to capture, in the most impeccable way, the cultural heritage of Rajasthan. It consists of several performances from different regions of Rajasthan, traditional dances, mimes, a small skit, as well as a puppet show! The venue is Bagore ki Haveli, which is an old mansion next to Lake Pichola. The cultural programs combined with the rustic backdrop of the Haveli makes for a perfect evening to immerse yourself in the Rajasthani culture as much as you can. The show is mostly attended by people from countries other than India and according to me; it should be encouraged much more so everyone knows what makes Rajasthan so special. The show starts at 7 but one should make sure to reach by 6:15 to the venue to have the perfect seats.
The fire-pot performance
The skilled Puppeteer
A traditional dance of Jaisalmer
I feel I was lucky to have witnessed the show on my last evening in Udaipur. It was exactly the kind of memory I wanted to take with me. One can experience the whole of Rajasthan within this city.
It is rightly said- You can take yourself out of Udaipur, but not take Udaipur out of you.