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India: Rajasthan: Chittorgarh, Devigarh, Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Kumbhalgarh, Ranakpur, Ranthambore, Udaipur

Udaipur, Rajasthan, India: City of lakes
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief

Old Town, Udaipur, India

Udaipur was founded by Rana Udai Singh and was the capital of the Rajput kingdom of Mewar, ruled by the Ranawats of the Sisodia clan. It is the world’s oldest surviving dynasties. Referred to as the Venice of the East, tourists swear by the lovely sunsets in the backdrop of the lakes. There are three interconnected lakes within the city – Fateh Sagar Lake, Pichola Lake and the smaller Swaroop Sagar Lake.

Jagdish Temple, Udaipur, India One of the prettiest towns in the State of Rajasthan, Udaipur is well connected by air, road and rail. We were 2 couples on a week’s holiday. We took a flight from Mumbai. As the plane took off, the flight announcement was quite packed with valour – from Chatrapati Shivaji airport to Maharana Pratap airport – the two names are amongst the greatest of warriors! Udaipur would be our base for 3 days and Kumbhalgarh would be our base for the next 4.

We were booked at Hotel Trident. Built on the banks of Lake Pichola the hotel is an excellent property for business and leisure as well. The architecture and the setting will give the guests the experience of royalty. True to the State of Rajasthan, the hospitality at the hotel and during our trip around the region was remarkable. Since we were there in late December, which happens to be the busiest of the period, the rates for the rooms and for the private taxi was pretty steep. But then royalty never came cheap!

Generally, taxis for private use are available on a per kilometer basis. But when the season is high, the cab owners will usually quote on a per day basis. The ballpark for a Toyota Innova (6-seater MUV or similar) would cost about Rs 3000 per day all inclusive – fuel, parking, road toll, etc. We hired the van for our entire trip – right from pick-up at the airport to the drop back. It’s a good idea to have a vehicle at your disposal.

City Palace, Udaipur, India By the time we checked in our rooms it was past 3PM. Our agenda for the rest of the day was something like this: snacking, tour of the hotel and an evening boat ride on Lake Pichola. Trident has a private jetty on the lake and they have their own motor boats. Boat rides are very easily available by private operators as well. The boat ride lasts for about an hour. We had opted for the sunset cruise.

In 1568 the Mughal Emperor Akbar captured Chittor. That’s when Udai Singh moved the capital to Udaipur – the site of his residence. As the Mughal empire weakened the Sisodia ranas and later maharanas recaptured most of Mewar except the fort of Chittor (also known as Chittorgarh). Being a mountainous terrain (the magnificent Aravali range) unsuitable for the heavily armoured Mughal horses, Udaipur remained unconquered. Udaipur remained the capital of the state which became a princely state of British India in 1818. After India’s independence in 1947, Mewar was integrated into India’s Rajasthan State.

A Street, Udaipur, India Maharana Udai Singh II significantly distended the gorgeous Lake Pichola as a defense measure when he founded Udaipur. Cradled amongst hills, gardens, havelis, temples and ghats, Lake Pichola is a picturesque spotlight of Udaipur. The lake supports two island palaces – Jagniwas (now a hotel known as the Lake Palace) and Jagmandir.

The Lake Palace is about an acre and a half in size and was built by Maharana Jagat Singh in 1754. It used to be a pleasure palace for the royal family in summers and has now been turned into a heritage hotel. Unless you are staying there, you won’t be allowed in. Alternatively, you would need to book a table for a meal. And that can be really expensive.

The first island palace of Lake Pichola, Jagmandir was built by Maharana Karan Singh in 1622. It was intended to be a pleasure palace for regal parties and functions. It has served as a refuge for Mughal Emperor Shahjahan when he was a prince in a wrath of his father in a family dispute in the 17th century. Legend has it that Jagmandir was an inspiration behind the world-famous Taj Mahal which Shahjahan built in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Visitors can visit Jagmandir by taking a boat from the Bansi Ghat jetty.

Aravali Mountain Range, Seen from Sajjangarh, Hotel Uday Vilas, Udaipur, India The next day was reserved for the city tour. The first stop post breakfast was Fateh Sagar Lake. Just a 10-minute drive from the hotel it’s an artificial lake created by Maharana Jai Singh in the year 1678. It is dotted by hills and woodlands. There’s a garden in the middle of the lake and a solar observatory too.

No visit to Udaipur will be complete without a visit to the City Palace. On the banks of Lake Pichola, the City Palace complex is the largest of its kind in the State of Rajasthan. Its uniformity in design is the palace’s key feature despite the fact that palace was built by more than one person. The beginning was made by Maharana Udai Singh II. The palace offers imposing views of towers and balconies. The major portion of the palace is occupied by the City Palace Museum which has different collections. Among them are old weapons and armoury. Highlights include Mor Chowk with mosaics of peacocks, Manak Mahal and Krishna Vilas. Many chambers take the visitors in an era gone by. Moti Mahal has an imposing mirror work whilst Bari Mahal garden commands a panoramic view of the old town. There’s a small entry fee to enter the palace. Photography is allowed after paying a fee. There’s an option to visit the Crystal Gallery.

Fateh Sagar Lake, Udaipur, India Walking distance from the City Palace is the famous Jagdish Temple. The temple was built by Maharana Jagat Singh in 1651 on a rock above a busy crossing of Jagdish Chowk. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Its exterior and plinth are covered with various figures of alligators, elephants, horsemen and celestial musicians. At sunrise and sunset, special arti (devotional offering) is held accompanied by clash of metal discs – invoking the Gods and the neighbourhood!

After paying our respects at the Jagdish Temple we spent an hour walking and exploring the old town, its narrow alleys, various ghats on the banks of Lake Pichola, and scores of shops that were busy selling artefacts and souvenirs created by local craftsmen.

Old Town, Seen from City Palace, Udaipur, India Our next stop was at Vintage Car Museum. The collection within the grounds of the garden hotel (Sajjan Niwas) consists of a variety of classic and rare vehicles which were used by the maharanas. There’s an entry fee of Rs 150 per person. By adding another Rs 100, one can get to enjoy a lunch consisting of local fares. We avoided the lunch part as our plan for lunch was to be at Uday Vilas Hotel.

The Uday Vilas Hotel ranks the number one resort hotel of the world. The property is adjoining to the Trident. Thanks to my association with the travel industry, I had the opportunity to be shown around this fantastic property.

Knife-Sharpner, Udaipur, India It was 4PM by the time we were ready to leave Uday Vilas. Sunset was only a couple of hours away. And what better location to witness the magic of the setting sun other than being atop Fort Sajjangarh? Also known as Monsoon Palace, this was the summer resort of the maharanas. It was built by Maharana Sajjan Singh towards the end of the 19th century. Though there’s nothing much up there, a trip is still worth the while. The location offers a commanding view of the lakes below and the town around. There’s a fee of Rs 130 per car and Rs 20 per passenger. It will take you about 40 minutes to drive to the top.

A Chamber, City Palace, Udaipur, India It was 7PM when we hit the base of the fort. We still had some time on hand to explore the cable car that took us atop another hill – abode of Karni Mata temple. From there we got a good view of ‘Udaipur by Night’. The cable car fee was Rs 70 per person. Expect to wait at least 20 minutes for your turn.

The next day would be a day trip to Chittorgarh. On our way back we stopped at Saheliyon Ki Badi – a garden built on the banks of Fateh Sagar Lake. The garden was designed and built for the 48 maidens meant to be a part of the dowry of the princess. Widespread lawns, gushing fountains and dappled walking lanes are key features of the garden. It has 4 pools with graceful kiosks and fountains that sport elephant trunks for spouts.

It was time to call it a day. Tomorrow we would leave for Kumbhalgarh.

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