Udaipur will always have a special place in my heart. This is where I grew up and spent most of my childhood. It is a small town but oh my, what a pretty small town. I never appreciated the beauty and the calmness of the city till the time I moved to a different place. I miss the leisurely evening stroll around the lakes, fateh sagar in particular, the beautiful hotels, which has made Udaipur internationally famous, the heritage, the colors, the festivals etc. Time just seem to slow down in Udaipur. It is where Rajasthan is at its most romantic and peaceful.
Udaipur has been put on the international tourist map because of the various luxury resorts like Udaivilas and Lake Palace which are set on Udaipur’s legendary lake Pichola overlooking the beautiful Jagmandir and City Palace. These resorts have continuously been ranked the best in the world by various international publications and surveys including the most recent trip advisor’s Traveller’s Choice 2013. Staying in these properties is indeed an experience of a lifetime. The luxury is unbeaten and the staff will make sure that during your stay, you feel no less than a King or a Queen..you will be pampered and spoilt to bits. I need to start saving right away!
Udaipur has hosted many royal weddings for Indian and International celebrities including Liz Hurley and Arun Nair, Raveena Tandon and Anil Thadani, Virendar Sehwag and Aarti Sehwag, Praful Patel’s daughter in Udaipur and many more. I remember, my wedding day coincided with one of the international celebrities wedding in Udaipur and there were BMWs and Rolls Royce all decorated with flowers waiting for the guests at the airport. Our guests got impressed when they stepped out of the airport seeing such royal welcome, only to know later that they were meant for somebody else and not them! It was embarrassing but we did have a good laugh later.
Udaipur has been also been featured in many Bollywood and Hollywood movies including the Bond film Octopussy and winner of several Oscar awards, Gandhi. I recently saw a clip of the Bond movie where Lake Palace was featured..it had the same charm and romance years back and only gets better. It is lovely to see people enjoying and getting mesmerized by the stunning location, traditional architecture, calmness and serenity of the place.. does make me proud.
However, Udaipur is not just about luxurious hotels and glamorous weddings. The grand palaces, beautiful lakes, ancient temples and forts, traditional Rajasthani cuisine and the the ancient Mughal inspired architecture provide a true insight to the Rajputana culture and heritage. This time when I visited Udaipur, I wanted to be a tourist in my own city and see the grandeur of the city once again. I might be a little biased but you can never be bored of the majestic views of the palatial buildings alongside the calmness and purity of the white marbled Lake Palace floating so peacefully in the lake Pichola.
To explore Jagmandir, City Palace, Crystal Gallery, Vintage Car collection and a 40 min boat ride at Lake Pichola, there is a combined ticket for approx $25. You can buy the tickets below the City Palace near the entrance. You will need almost one entire day to see everything. If you fancy a traditional rajasthani thali comprising of various local vegetables and curries, you could have lunch at the Garden hotel which also houses the Vintage Car collection. You will not be disappointed.
My first stop was lake Pichola boat ride. The boat ride starts every hour and lasts about 45 minutes. The lake is actually man made having been dug in the 14th century. The views are spectacular and gives you a glimpse of both the royal heritage on one side and rural life on the other. You could see the majestic City Palace, the Lake Palace Hotel and Jag Mandir island alongside the daily chores of the local people bathing, washing cloths, clearing out the green foliage etc. I found the boat ride very calming and romantic. A must do!
The next stop was the stunning island of Jag Mandir. It has some interesting piece of history as well. It is said that Jag Mandir was the inspiration behind the world-famous Taj Mahal, which the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built in the memory of his deceased wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Jag Mandir served as a refuge for Shah Jahan when he was a prince against the wrath of his father in a family dispute in the seventeenth century. The island has manicured gardens and alfresco dining with a great view looking back to the City Palace. The murals are gorgeous with beautiful colors and depicting one of my favorite subjects – elephants.
I grabbed one of the seats overlooking the waters and ordered freshly squeezed orange juice from the cafe beside it. The overcast sky, slight cool breeze carrying the aroma of the champa flowers, sound of waters from the fountains and stunning views transported me to a different world altogether. It was so quiet, peaceful amidst the heritage fountains and gardens that I spent 2 hours just sitting there and feeling the vintage charm. I had to literally force myself to move on to the next stop.
Took the boat back to the jetty underneath the City Palace and then walked to the City Palace courtyards. Enroute, stopped first at the crystal gallery which houses the one of the largest private collection of crystal in the world. There is a crystal four poster bed, the only crystal bed in the world, chairs, tables, cutlery, perfume bottles etc. depicting the indulgent luxurious life of the royals. Though the collection was extensive and beautiful, the highlight for me was sipping coffee (included as part of the ticket) sitting in the corridor which once again overlooks the beautiful lake with aravalli hills as the backdrop.
My next stop was the City Palace. Situated at the bank of Lake Pichola, City Palace is one of the many grand palaces and also the most famous one. This palace is an unmatched sample of status,prestige and elegance of the Mewar Dynasty, who ruled over Udaipur. The Palace actually comprises of two parts: the Mardana Mahal (palace for the royal men) and the Zenana Mahal (palace for the royal ladies). Within the complex, there are various chowks (courtyards), gardens, verandahs (corridors) like the Badi Palace, Badi Chitrashali, Mor Chowk, Rajya Angan, Chhoti Chitrashali etc which all showcase the grandeur and magnificence of this palace.
The main entrance to the Palace building is from the Manek Chowk which is a huge courtyard and fronts the main entrance to the Mardana Mahal. It was used for public meetings, ceremonial processions, horse cavalry, elephant parades, and other festivals. The courtyard now has a beautifully laid out Mughal style garden, created in 1992 and is still used by the Mewar royal family for festivals and special celebrations. I closed my eyes to imagine how it looked like in the olden days, when the royals dressed in their grand traditional outfits and jewels, sitting on the palanquins(covered hand carried chairs) and followed by a grand procession of decorated elephants, horses and camels entered the chowk. It would have only been spectacular!
From the Badi Chitrashali Chowk, which is a courtyard between the courtyards of Rajya Angan Chowk (royal courtyard) and Mor Chowk (Peacock courtyard), there are stunning views of the Udaipur city. The courtyard is made of blue tiles imported from China, colored glass and wall paintings and was used as a recreation area by Maharanas.
The Mor Chowk, for me, was one of the most exquisite courtyards of the Mardana Mahal, where exclusive dinners and banquets were held by the royals. It is named after the beautiful peacocks made of intricate glass mosaics and equally beautiful glass inlays that adorn the walls of this open-to-sky courtyard. I was told that an astonishing 5,000 pieces of mosaic tiles were used in creating the works of art. Mor Chowk is the last area in the Mardana Mahal. From here, a narrow passage takes you to the Zenana Mahal.
The Zenana Mahal, former palace of the royal ladies, is now splendidly transformed to host regal weddings, events and musical soirees.The Zenana Mahal was built in the early 1600s and has witnessed innumerable royal weddings. With the end of Zenana Mahal, my visit to the palace was over and I wondered why have I not been here more often when I was in Udaipur? The City Palace complex also houses two luxury heritage hotels: Fatehprakash Palace and Shiv Niwas Palace, which are not open for general visitors but are a good option for staying or dining.
The evening was spent at the the Monsoon Palace, earlier known as the Sajjan Garh fort. It was originally built as a summer resort by Maharana Sajjan Singh and is perched on top of a hill overlooking the fateh sagar lake. The fort per se does not have much to offer, but the views from the fort are stunning. Seeing the sun set from the terrace was spectacular and is one of the best I have experienced. Definitely visit during the evening and give your tired feet a break while seeing the beautiful sunset. What a gorgeous end to a fabulous day!
There were endless no. of photos to choose from but I had to restrict myself to few. It has still become an unusually long post, so if you have stuck around till the end, do leave me a comment if you have liked the post or on your favorite travel memories. Your feedback is really important to me and is always appreciated. I love to hear other people’s joys and experiences too! Happy and safe travels to all:)