Having previously visited Jaipur, Jodhpur and a few other cities in Rajasthan, less ardent viewers of Travel Channel than my mother may have filed away that state under the 'been there, done that'. But not my mother. The allure of Udaipur has never been far away from her mind. So it was time to address that glaring omission when we were planning a brief getaway from Mumbai.
With logistics in mind, we decided to stay within Old City so most places we were planning to visit would be just a short Uber or auto-rickshaw ride away. While this area is definitely more congested, it gave us the flexibility of quickly returning to the hotel for a mid-day break if required.
Link to Udaipur Highlights Photo album (135 photos)
Formerly the capital of the Mewar Kingdom, Udaipur was founded by Maharana Udai Singh II in 1559. He was the 53rd ruler of the Mewar dynasty and shifted his capital from the city of Chittorgarh to Udaipur after Chittorgarh was besieged by the mughal emperor Akbar. To protect Udaipur from external attacks, he built a six kilometer long city wall with seven gates - Surajpole, Chandpole, Udaipole, Hathipole and so on and many of these are still standing. The area within these walls and gates is known as the Old City or the walled city.
Udaipur lies on the south slope of the†Aravali Range. This ancient mountain range separates it from the Thar Desert and is the catchment area that feeds Udaipurís sophisticated lake system. The seven man-made freshwater lakes in the city are all interconnected and form a cohesive system that supplies drinking water to the city and supports ground water recharge.
The main draw for tourists are Udaipurís historic forts, palaces, galleries, gardens and temples. Several of these are located along the banks of Lake Pichola, which was first created in 1362 AD. Around the picturesque lake are magnificent palaces and bathing ghats, all set against the backdrop of the Aravali range. The islands on Lake Pichola are also tourist attractions themselves and cruising the lake on a boat is a popular activity.
Among the notable Mewar palaces in Udaipur is the City Palace, a monumental complex of 11 palaces with courtyards, gardens, terraces and pavilions. It is located on banks of Lake Pichola. Construction began in 1553 and is a blend of European, Medieval and even Chinese architectural style. This is because different buildings in the palace complex were constructed and improved upon by several rulers over 400 years. Architecture aside, the sheer size of the palace complex is awe-inspiring.
We entered the palace complex through the south side (second) gate and this involves a long but gentle climb along the impressive walls of the Shiv Nivas Palace, now an upscale hotel. The path finally leads to Manek Chowk, a huge landscaped courtyard in front of the main Mardana Mahal or the ĎPalace of the Kingsí, Manek Chowk was used by the Mewar royals for ceremonial processions, cavalry and elephant parades. To this day, it is used for festivals and special celebrations. However the horse and elephant stables that lined the perimeter of Manek Chowk now functioning as clothing and souvenir shops.
City Palace main facade from Manek Chowk, Udaipur
The majestic palace is built completely with marble and granite and reflects the splendor of the rulers of Mewar. To the right of the palace is the triple arched gate known as the Tripoliya, built almost 100 years after Manek Chowk. In front of it is said to be the venue where the elephant fights would be organized by the Kings to test their prowess prior to the wars.
We entered through Ganesh Pol into a courtyard with whitewashed walls vibrantly painted with martial animals in the traditional Rajput style.†There is an extensive display tracing the of the Mewar lineage and the exploits and achievements of each of the rulers. This is also the official entrance to the 'museum' section of the Palace.
Elephant mural in Moti Mahal, City Palace
A steep stairway leads to the Rajya Angan (royal courtyard) where there is a gallery devoted to the legendary warrior Maharana Pratap and his horse Chetak. Chetak wore a elephant trunk like attachment over his face. It served to disguise the horse as an elephant and helped avoid malicious attacks from other sword wielding elephants during the battle. Chetak was killed during the battle of Haldighati.
Shiv Nivas, City Palace
We took the elevator directly to the upper level of the Palace that brought us to a room dedicated to the Sun. Surya Chaupar, a huge ornamental sun is preserved in this room. Mor Chowk (Peacock Courtyard) is one of the most spectacular courtyards in the complex. Peacocks made with beautiful glass mosaics and equally beautiful glass inlay work, adorn this place. Each represents a season, summer, winter and monsoon. There is a projecting balcony 'jharokha' that is flanked by decoration made with colored glass and mirrors.
Mor Chowk, one of the most spectacular courtyards in the City Palace
Mosaic decoration on the balcony (jharokha) at Mor Chowk, City Palace
Glass mosaic Peacock, Mor Chowk , City Palace
A display of a traditional India kitchen with wood burning stove and utensils in use during olden times is set up at Amar Mahal. At the palanquins gallery was a large number of palanquins, elephant howdahs and royal buggies. After touring the Kings Palace, a corridor leads to the Zenana Mahal, former palace of the royal ladies, that was built in the early 1600s.
The courtyard of this palace has been nicely renovated and is used host events and weddings. The rooms, balconies and alcoves around this courtyard have been beautifully restored and have been converted into mini museums displaying royal memorabilia. Memorable among the ones we visited were, the Music Gallery where many antique musical instruments belonging to Mewar kings are on display, the Silver Gallery that showcases numerous precious pieces of silverware used by the royal household for wedding ceremonies and festivities and the textile museum where the regal clothes and clothing styles have of the royal over centuries is exhibited.
We also enjoyed seeing old photographs (some touched-up by hand) of the maharajas and the visitors to their royal court. After concluding the museum tour, we exited the palace through the Tripolia, and Bada Pol.
View of the Old City from the City Palace
Based on photographs that we had seen, the view from Malcha Magra of Lake Pichola and the surrounding iconic palaces can be spectacular on a clear day, but we were not so lucky. It had been somewhat cloudy all day and it only got progressively cloudier and foggier as the day wore on. It was just an hour before sunset as the cable car from the base station ascended the modest Malcha Magra hill located southeast of the City Palace and we were surrounded by haze.
Malcha Magra hill is accessed by a cable car or ropeway
Despite poor visibility, within a short walk from the cable car station are a couple of overlooks that afforded sweeping views of both the old city and the newer extensions. We made ourselves comfortable on a couple of benches on the top viewing the hazy lake until the sun dipped below the horizon.
View from Malcha Magra of Lake Palace and City Palace through the evening haze
View from Malcha Magra of Jag Mandir (Lake Garden Palace)
A prominent symbol of Udaipur Tourism, the Lake Palace or Jag Nivas stands on one of two natural islands on Pichola; the other is Lake Garden Palace or Jag Mandir. When it was built in 1746 by Maharana Jagat Singh II it was considered a significant engineering feat. The marble edifice gleamed brightly in the bright morning sunlight and appeared to be 'floating' on the surface of the lake thereby justifying its name.
Our primary destination this morning was the Lake Garden Palace, for which we took a boat from Ganesh ghat (inside the City Palace complex). It starts with a short boat cruise on Lake Pichola so as to enable everyone get a close look at the historic palaces, buildings and ghats that line the lake shore. We had toured the City Palace the previous day and viewing its colossal walls from the lake gave us a fresh appreciation for its size. The boat set a northerly course right up to the Chand Pole Puliya bridge before turning back and looping around the ultra-exclusive Lake Palace. The Lake Palace which was converted into a luxury hotel in 1960 and is now part of the Taj hotel group.
Chand Pole Puliya bridge on Lake Pichola
Another landmark, the Mohan Mandir came into view. It was built in memory of one of the unofficial sons of Maharana Jagat Singh. The kings evidently used to watch the annual Gangaur festival celebration from this site.
Gangour Ghat and Bagore-ki-Haveli, Lake Pichola
The boat veered close to the many bathing ghats including Gangour ghat and the adjacent Bagore-ki-haveli, which is now a museum. We had distant but clear views of the impressive Sajjan Garh or the Monsoon Palace, that sits high atop a formidable hill.
View of the Sajjangarh (Monsoon Palace) from Lake Pichola
Having cruised around for a while, the boat finally pulled in at the the landing jetty on the Jag Mandir island where series of life-sized stone elephants greet disembarking visitors.
Jagmandir or Lake Garden Palace was used as a summer resort and pleasure palace by the rulers of Mewar. It has a long history and is considered one of the symbols of friendship between the Mughals and Rajputs. In fact, Shat Jahan, when he was still a prince, took refuge here (along with Mumtaz Mahal) after he had a scrap with his father, the Emperor, and needed to escape his wrath.
Jag Niwas (Lake Garden Palace) arrival jetty in Lake Pichola
Today the island contains restored buildings and beautifully landscaped gardens that evoke the glory days of the Mewars. One enters through a large courtyard and at one end of the courtyard is the Darihkhana, an open terrace where currently a restaurant run by the present Maharana is located. (by reservation only). Splendid views of the lake and buildings can be had through the colonnade lined perimeter and we lingered on taking in the views.
Gul Mahal forecourt at Jag Nivas, Lake Pichola
Among the notable structures still standing is the Gul Mahal, the first structure built in 1551. At the back of the building are two marble chattris and the building is entered through a columned hall. The inside of the Gul Mahal is now a museum with exhibits highlighting key historical events that took place here. Evidently the massive marble slabs affixed to the interior walls were inlaid with colored rubies, onyx, jasper, cornelian and jade, all gone now. In the center is a model of the Taj Mahal. It is inferred that Shah Jahan took inspiration for his more famous creation from the architecture of the Gul Mahal.
Gul Mahal at Jag Nivas, Lake Pichola
Jag Nivas landscaped gardens, Lake Pichola
Jag Nivas landscaped gardens 2, Lake Pichola
Jag Nivas boat jetty, Lake Pichola
We took our time enjoying the landscaped gardens which was being decorated and prepared for a wedding reception later that evening. We were told that 800 guests were expected that evening and every one of the would have be to ferried in to the island on a boat!
Later that afternoon we engaged an auto-rickshaw for a few hours to take us to a few places close to the Fateh Sagar lake. Our first stop was Sahelion-ki-bari, or the Garden of Maids. Legend has it that Maharana Sangram Singh had the garden built as a gift to his wife, the queen. Forty eight young women had accompanied here as part of her dowry and the garden was a retreat for them from all the political chaos in court. We enjoyed a wonderful exhibit of Rajasthani miniature paintings on display in a mini-museum building within the park.
Landscaped gardens at Saheliyon-ki-bari
Within the garden are a few charming fountains with sculpted birds and animals spouting water. The biggest among these is what is referred to as the Lotus Pond. As the name suggests, the lotuss pads tightly fill the water around the central fountain and four marble elephants stand dignified on the perimeter.
Our next stop was the Moti Magri hill. At the summit is a monument to Maharana Pratap, the brave warrior king who challenged the Mughals and battled Man Singh at Haldighati. A large memorial terrace has been erected here and on one end of the terrace is a massive bronze statue of Maharana Pratap riding Chetak, his beloved and famous horse.
Maharana Pratap statue, Moti Magri
The hilltop location overlooking Fateh Sagar lake offers some beautiful views of the promenade along the lake and also of Udaipur city from its various lookouts.
View of Fatehsagar lake from Moti Magri
Descending halfway from the memorial, is the Moti Mahal museum that features a room full of portraits of the Mewar Rajas and Maharajas. The collection includes some interesting portraits of the Queen of Chittor, Rani Padmini and one of Meera Bai Lower levels of the museum exhibit models of forts in the region, notably the Kumbalgarh fort and the Chittorgarh fort. Another interesting and detailed model on display is that of the terrain of Haldighati where the famous battle took place.
Tableau of Maharana Pratap and allies during the battle at Haldighati, outside the museum at Moti Magri
After visiting the museum, we descended all the way down to the (Fateh Sagar) lake level and were treated to the reflections in the lake of gorgeously lit palaces and hotels that surround it.
Early next morning we made a beeline back to the old city to visit the Jagdish Temple, Udaipurís largest temple. It is located just outside the City Palace gates and is considered an architectural gem of the Mewar dynasty. It was built in the year 1651 by Maharana Jagat Singh at an estimated cost of 1.5 million India rupees, an unbelievably large sum of money at that time. The temple is 3-storied and 79 feet high and can bee seen prominently in the skyline of Udaipur.
The 3-storied and 79 feet high Jagdish Temple
The temple is architected in stunning Indo-Aryan style and is dedicated primarily to Lord Vishnu (or Jagdish) It also houses other smaller shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva, Ganesh, the Sun God, and Goddess Shakti on its periphery. A visit to this temple is not necessarily for the devout, beautiful sculptures both outside and inside is the reason it draws in both domestic and international tourists.
Sculptures of elephants, horses, musicians and apsaras at Jagdish Temple
One has to contend with a very steep flight of stairs just to get to the entrance of the temple where two massive stone elephants 'guard' the gates. We took out time to admire the multiple tiers of sculptures on the external walls, one each of elephants, horses, musicians and apsaras.
Sculpture panel of dancers and musicians at Jagdish Temple
Gangour Ghat is a short walk from the temple and its entrance is a richly decorated triple-arched structure. It was late morning, but there werenít too many people around at this famous ghat when we arrived. We were treated to some soulful music by a man on a stringed instrument while his wife painstakingly laid out hundreds of silver ankles on a mat for sale. Once sated by the views from he ghat, we ambled over to the adjoining building complex, Bagore-ki-haveli.
Arched entrance gate to Ganghour Ghat
Traditional music at Ganghour
Bagore-ki-Haveli is an 18th century mansion constructed by the then Prime Minister of the Mewar province Amarchand Badwa. Today it hosts a cultural museum of high repute. The property was a part of Mewar state till independence of India in 1947. After independence, the government used the building for housing Government employees for a period. Later it was neglected for almost 40 years and was in a dilapidated state until it was renovated and converted into a cultural museum.
The lakeside location of Bagore-ki-haveli also afforded glorious views of the lake on this bright and sunny morning. The museum is actually a series of small museums dedicated to various cultural aspects of Rajasthani society.
Among the memorable sections were, the Puppet Museum which we visited first. Puppets are an integral part of Rajasthani culture and the puppet collection at Bagore-ki-haveli was riot of colors. The puppets here are actively used for puppet theater performances and they were laid out as tableaus depicting the King's durbar. Besides kings, queens and members of the royal household, there are horses, elephants, and many other types beautiful puppet on display.
Puppet museum at Bagore-ki-Haveli
The recommended tour through the haveli-museum takes you through various rooms and corridors all set around a quiet central courtyard. They enables the visitor appreciate the architecture of the haveli while at the same time enjoy the various themed displays in each room like the game room, the household shrine, the music room etc.
Another interesting museum here is dedicated to the turban, an essential sartorial element of (rural) men in the state. Turbans from four different states in India are on display here with detailed captions explaining the subtle differences in the donning style. Evidently one would be able to correctly identify a manís caste, profession and geographic antecedents based solely on how he had tied his turban.
View of Gangour Ghat and Lake Pichola from Bagore-ki-Haveli
With all the successive restaurant meals doing a number on the digestive system, our late afternoon foray on the same day was limited to a quiet walk through Sajjan Niwas Garden aka Gulab Bagh. It is the largest garden in Udaipur and was built by Maharana Fateh Singh in the 1887. At the entrance is a creative arrangement of potted plants forming a peacock tail shaped collage.
Gulab Bagh - walking pathway
Spread over 100 acres bang in the middle of the city, Gulab Bagh has a wide array of fruit trees and shrubs criss-crossed by paths and trails that seemed popular with the locals. It offers a quiet refuge from the hustle and bustle of the old city streets that lie just outside its boundary. One of few notable buildings in Gulab Bagh is the Victoria Museum, now a functioning library known as Saraswati Library.
Photos and Text: Malini Kaushik (Dec 2019)