Hey guys 😀 Hope you loved reading my previous post Regal Rajasthan Travelogue (Part III) : Jaisalmer
For those of you who are my first-time visitors, I visited the colourful western Indian state of Rajasthan in November and December of 2015. My trip started in Jaipur, from where I went to Jodhpur in the Marwar region; then to the desert city of Jaisalmer, taking in the beauty of Thar – the Great Indian Desert, travelling right up to the border with Pakistan; before going down south to Udaipur in the Mewar region; and back to Jaipur.
Read my post: Rajasthan – The Incredible State of India
Since I’m taking you through Mewar, I highly recommend reading these earlier posts on this region:
A fascinating blend of sights, sound and experiences and inspiration for the imagination of poets, painters and writers…that’s Udaipur! So, here’s an introduction to the most romantic city in India 😀
Magnificent palaces, hill forts, lakes, folk tales of courage, valour and sacrifice, ornate temples and havelis, green parks and gardens, centres of crafts and performing arts… Udaipur has it all!
Founded by Maharana Udai Singh of Mewar in 1559, the city is a cool oasis in the dry heart of Rajasthan. A jewel among the cities of Rajasthan, it is an enchanting place of marble fairy-tale palaces overlooking expansive gleaming lakes, luxurious green gardens and parks, and exquisite ancient temples. Hence it is also called “City of Lakes and Palaces”, and “the Venice of India”.
The magnificent City Palace – an architectural wonder of marble and granite was built in 1559 by Maharana Udai Singh, alongside the calm and blue waters of the picturesque Lake Pichola. Soon after its construction, the king’s nobles and subjects built their homes around it, merchants set up market areas, and a huge city wall with impressive gateways was erected. The Maharana named the burgeoning city after himself: Udaipur.
Over the next centuries, Maharana Udai Singh’s successors added new palaces of their own to the City Palace complex and in the lake itself. Today, this compound of impressive royal residences sprawls along almost two kilometres of the lake’s eastern shore. A few of the several gates of the old city still exist, though a great deal of the wall has disappeared.
Maharana Udai Singh built his new capital after his old capital, Chittorgarh was captured by Mughal emperor Akbar with the use of modern weaponry. It is interesting to note that while Maharana Udai Singh relocated to Udaipur, Akbar of Agra was building his own new capital of Fatehpur Sikri. Both cities were built because of each ruler’s meeting with a holy man. Udai Singh was told by a Hindu sadhu to build a new capital in the valley of the holy man. Akbar built his new centre of government on a hill to honour a Muslim Sufi who lived there, and who is said to have blessed Akbar’s wife with a much-needed male child.
It was poetic justice that while Udaipur prospered, Fatehpur Sikri fell into ruin within 15 years. The fall was due to lack of proper planning by Akbar and his advisers. Udaipur had huge lakes and a river dam to supply the city with fresh water. Fatehpur Sikri was built atop a high hill, and water had to be channelled in from Bharatpur, several kilometres away. During a battle between the Mughals and the Jats, the water channels were deliberately cut and the reservoirs at Fatehpur Sikri soon became empty. Akbar was forced to return to Agra, and turn his attention to other battles on India’s northwest frontier. Fatehpur Sikri became a glorious ghost town, whereas Udaipur flourished to become a fascinating Rajasthan’s gracious metropolis.
Udaipur acquires its scenic beauty from the lush Aravalli Hills. Pichola, Fateh Sagar, Jaismand, Rajasmand and Udai Sagar are just a few of the many beautiful fresh water lakes in the city which add charm of the place and beautify the landscape.
The charming beauty of Lake Pichola provides a glorious backdrop for this romance-inspiring metropolis. It is one of the most picturesque lakes of Rajasthan and the most sought after location to experience the unique heritage of Udaipur. The best way to explore the old city is by taking a walk through the narrow lanes around Lake Pichola particularly the Lal Ghat and Hanuman Ghat areas. And the most beautiful experience is a stroll along the picturesque lake-side ghats and the breathtaking glimpse of the palaces of Udaipur lit up under the night sky.
Another famous lake of Udaipur, Lake Fateh Sagar is a quieter locality adjoining Lake Pichola with luxury hotels and heritage properties around, dotted by hills and woodlands. On the banks of this lake are the beautiful gardens of Saheliyon ki Bari, built in the mid-18th century for a retinue of 48 young ladies-in-waiting who were sent to Udaipur as part of a princess’s dowry. The gardens have beautiful lawns, lotus pools, marble pavilions and elephants. In the middle of the lake is Nehru Park, a well-manicured garden with fountains completed in 1746. Situated atop the Moti Magri (or Pearl Hill) overlooking Lake Fateh Sagar is Pratap Smarak, the memorial of the great Rajput hero, Maharana Pratap.
Lake Jaisamand, 48 KM to the south-east of Udaipur, is the second largest artificial lake in Asia. It was built in the late 17th century. Nearby are the summer palaces of the Udaipur queens. The surrounding area was a royal hunting preserve, which has now been converted into a wildlife sanctuary.
Lake Badi is a serene place, 13 KM from the city centre on the way to Mount Abu, the only hill station in the desert state.
Udaipur is a fascinating blend of natural beauty provided by lakes and mountains, and manmade charm through exquisite masterpieces of art and architecture. The city’s massive royal forts and palaces are an architectural delight with spellbinding details and superbly-crafted elegance of the Rajputs. Still in excellent condition, each of them is a tribute to the unique Mewar dynasty which has ruled the place for centuries. Many of the royal palaces have been converted into luxury hotels and provide guests the opportunity to enjoy a truly royal holiday.
Lake Pichola is the location of many dazzling palaces. Overwhelming in splendour, their shimmering reflection in the placid water of Lake Pichola is an enticing sight. The largest palace complex in Rajasthan, the City Palace is beautifully located at the highest point in the area overlooking Lake Pichola on its west and the city on its east.
The City Palace is actually a conglomeration of palaces constructed by different kings during their reign, commencing from the city’s founder, Maharana Udai Singh. The entire complex is an exquisite mix of architectural style, but it has retained uniformity of design. Built of granite and marble, it rises a hundred feet from the ground and has octagonal towers crowned with cupolas. All the palaces were constructed according to the ancient Hindu Vastu Shastra concepts, providing sunlight and natural air conditioning to the chambers. The main part of the Palace is now preserved as a museum, which not only houses a fine collection of royal antiques but also exhibits beautiful chambers and courtyards with glass mosaics inlaid with tiles and mirror work, exquisite paintings, glass and porcelain figures, etc. The remaining part has been converted into luxurious, heritage hotels while retaining the beauty and aesthetic value of the palaces. One of them, Fateh Prakash Palace is open to public for visiting its Crystal Gallery and Durbar Hall. The Crystal Gallery has a fabulous collection of hundreds of crystal items including tables, sofa sets, dining tables, dressers, fountains and even beds besides a whole array of washing bowls, decanters and perfume bottles. There is also an exquisite jewel studded carpet.
The second and most famous of the exquisite lake palaces of Udaipur is the luminous white marbled Lake Palace situated in the middle of Lake Pichola. Built in 1746, today it is a luxurious heritage hotel which has been endorsed as one of the best romantic places in the world. The yesteryear James Bond flick “Octopussy” was filmed here, as well as at Shiv Niwas Palace Hotel, another palace hotel in the City Palace complex and Sajjangarh fort.
Another beautiful island palace in Lake Pichola is Jag Mandir, located to the southern side of the lake. Originally built in 1622, the historical importance of this palace lies in its association with Mughal prince Khurram (who later on became Shah Jahan), who sought refuge here along with his wife and children after rebelling against his father, Mughal emperor Jehangir. The palace is believed to have inspired Shah Jahan while constructing the world-famous Taj Mahal in memory of his deceased wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
Majestically situated on a hillock overlooking Lake Fateh Sagar is Laxmi Vilas Palace, a magnificent palace of modern structure. Today it is a luxurious heritage hotel providing panoramic view of the lovely Fateh Sagar and its adjacent green hills.
Close to Lake Fateh Sagar, Udaipur’s massive fort-palace, Sajjangarh, also known as Monsoon Palace, is located high atop a hill. Built in 1884, at a height of 3100 feet above sea level, Sajjangarh offers a fabulous panoramic view of the entire city, all of its lakes and a vast expanse of the surroundings. The hilltop palace is visible from practically everywhere in Udaipur.
Both are standing relics of the rich history of Mewar. Chittorgarh is the largest fort in the country, while Kumbhalgarh has the second longest wall in the world, after the Great Wall of China.
There are quite a number of famous temples in and around Udaipur visited by devotees across the country. The striking temples generate a sense of spirituality with their divine ecstasy.
The Jagdish Temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu, was built by Maharana Jagat Singh in 1651. It is located in the centre of the old city near the City Palace.
Nimach Mata Mandir on a hilltop above Lake Fateh Sagar is dedicated to Goddess Neemach. The shrine is accessed after a long climb of 600 steps. It provides great views of the city.
About 22 KM from the city, Eklingji is a small village with a complex of 108 Shiva temples collectively known as Shri Eklingji Temple. The Shiva Temple was originally built in 734 AD, although its present form dates from the rule of Maharana Raimal between 1473 and 1509. It is the family temple of the Maharanas of Udaipur.
Just a kilometre away from Eklingji is the small town of Nagada, which has two temples with beautiful architecture dating back to the 10th century: The Jain temple of Adbuji and the Temple of Saas-Bahu (mother-in-law and daughter-in-law).
The Shrinathji Temple of Nathdwara, 48 KM from Udaipur, is an important 18th century shrine dedicated to Lord Krishna. And on the banks of Rajsamand Lake (65 KM) is the renowned Kankroli Temple, dedicated to Lord Krishna.
Mewar has plenty of beautiful Jain temples. Among them are the beautiful 12th century Dilwara temples at Mount Abu (180 KM), Rajasthan’s only hill station. The Jain pilgrimage site of Ranakpur (96 KM) dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries is well-known for its intricate architecture and abounds with intricate friezes and sculptures. A kilometre away from the complex is the Amba Mata temple, dedicated to the Mother Goddess Amba and the Sun Temple. Rishabhdeo Jain temple is 65 KM from Udaipur.
Udaipur’s well-known Mewar Festival is an eighteen-day cultural extravaganza celebrated to welcome the advent of spring and coincides with Rajasthan’s popular Gangaur Festival.
Bagore Ki Haveli and Bharatiya Lok Kala Mandal are the city’s two cultural centres whose objective is the preservation and promotion of local folk arts and culture. Every evening, they host a cultural programme of music and dance. Besides, they have a small museum exhibiting traditional dresses, dolls, masks, musical instruments, paintings and puppets.
Another good museum is housed in Sajjan Niwas Garden (or Gulab Bagh), the beautiful rose garden laid out by Maharana Sajjan Singh. The museum has inscriptions of the first and second centuries BC, sculptures and images from Kumbhalgarh fort and inscribed Jain images. Attached to the museum is a small library, Saraswati Sadan, which has a rare collection of ancient handwritten manuscripts and books.
Places to visit…
The places to visit in the city include: City Palace and Museum, Lake Pichola, Jag Mandir Palace, Jagdish Temple, Neemach Mata Mandir, Pratap Smarak, Monsoon Palace (or Sajjan Garh), Bagore ki Haveli, Lake Fateh Sagar and Nehru Park, Saheliyon ki Bari, Sajjan Niwas Garden (Gulab Bagh) and Zoo, Vintage and Classic Car Museum, Dudh Talai, Eklingarh, Pratap Museum, Bharatiya Lok Kala Mandal, Ayad (Ahar) Museum and Tribal Museum. Around 3 KM from Udaipur, Shilpgram is a craft village spread over 70 acres. The village exhibits the cultural heritage of India, its handicrafts, folk arts and crafts, and holds a daily cultural presentation by musicians, dancers and artisans from various states.
Udaipur is famous for its traditional Mewar miniature paintings and vibrantly-coloured garments, which can be found almost everywhere at the city’s shopping markets. Other shopping and souvenir items include folk toys, hand-printed textiles, batiks, tie & dye saris and fabrics, pichwais or wall hangings painted on cloth, etc. Tourist markets are in the old city as well as Gandhi market in the main city near Hathi Pol. The main shopping areas are Chetak Circle, Bapu Bazaar, Hathi Pol, City Market and Lake Palace Road.
Saturday, 28 November 2015
My long and uncomfortable journey from Jaisalmer to Udaipur came to an end at around 4:45 AM. After dropping off passengers at a few places around the city, the bus stopped at a gas station for those whose destination was Lake Pichola and the old city around it.
Tired and relieved, I was the first person to climb down the bus. Even at that early hour there were plenty of auto-rickshaws around, but I walked for a few metres and hailed one passing by. The streets were completely deserted, even in the old city area.
During the day, the old city – covering 2 KM of the eastern shoreline of Lake Pichola – is a crowded place bustling with activity. A wide variety of heritage-style hotels called havelis stand stacked next to each other overlooking the lake in the surroundings of the expensive palace hotels and luxury hotels. Most of these havelis are budget accommodations favoured by foreign backpackers. So much that even a modest haveli has multi-cuisine menus. The main advantage of staying here is being close to the main attractions of Udaipur. There are hotels on both sides of the lake, so the choice is vast.
A small alley led to the lakeside hotel that I had in mind. Everybody seemed to be fast asleep. The reception hall was empty. I settled myself into a comfortable chair and patiently waited for someone to turn up. After an hour, a young chap appeared. He checked the hotel register for available rooms. There was just one room, but it required cleaning. I was not ready to wait till the arrival of the housekeeping staff. There were plenty of small hotels around, but the doors were closed. One early riser showed me a room which was not to my taste. I consulted the list of hotels that I had singled out. Rang Niwas Palace Hotel had positive online reviews. That it wasn’t lake-facing didn’t matter, as long as the place was good and within walking distance of the lake. By then, it was 6:30 PM. Luckily, I found an auto-rickshaw along the deserted lane.
I instantly liked Rang Niwas Palace Hotel. It was a beautiful heritage palace hotel: a double-storied building and two single-storied mansions facing it with a nice garden in between. The youngster at the reception showed me what he said was the best room in the AC standard double room category at a discounted tariff of 1300 plus tax. The room was on the upper floor of the beautiful double-storied building.
The common balcony in the upper floor…
The next thing that I needed was food and sleep. I had tea and a delicious, piping hot aloo paratha. An hour later, I set the alarm for 11:00 AM and went off to bed.
At around 12:30 PM, I started out for the city’s iconic City Palace on the bank of the 15th century Lake Pichola, the city’s picturesque attraction. The small city map from the hotel desk showed that it was within walking distance.
City Palace is the embodiment of the opulence that was once the princely state of Mewar. After Indian Independence, the erstwhile rulers of each princely state would receive a monthly privy purse, depending on the hierarchy of the kingdom vis-a-vis the number of gun salutes accorded to a ruler by the British Crown in pre-independent India. This was usually a reflection of the state of his relations with the British or the relative degree of political power; a 21-gun salute was considered the highest. The higher the number of gun salutes, the higher the amount of funds. But in 1971, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi abolished the Privy Purse and any connection of the erstwhile royals with the State. Subsequently, most of the royals converted their palaces into luxury heritage hotels. Many retained a part of their main palace as their residence and leased the rest along with other smaller palaces to ultra-luxury hotel chains. But still, even today, royalty commands a premium notwithstanding the fact that royal titles were long surrendered or that even the super-rich can pretend to be royals.
The Mewar royalty owned several palace properties, which were converted into luxury hotels. The foremost among them being the massive complex of City Palace standing on the east bank of Lake Pichola. The largest palace complex in Rajasthan, it’s actually a conglomeration of beautiful palaces built at different times by various rulers from 1559 AD.
City Palace, the majestic architectural marvel on the east bank of Lake Pichola…
A MUST READ: The City Palace of Udaipur
The City Palace is a series of beautiful palaces with high towers and turrets, dazzling rooms, courtyards, terraces and gardens, all of which attract thousands of visitors from across the world every day. Stunning chambers with mirrored walls and ivory doors, coloured glass windows and inlaid marble balconies…
The City Palace Museum has a vast and fabulous collection of antiques, weaponry, paintings, furniture, decorative pieces, etc. Ancient weaponry includes the original suit of armour and weapons of the great Rajput hero, Maharana Pratap…
And his favourite horse, Chetak…
The City Palace offers panoramic views of the city, Lake Pichola, the two island palaces – Jag Niwas and Jag Mandir, and the hilltop Monsoon Palace (or Sajjangarh). All these places were the main locales for the 1983 James Bond film “Octopusy” featuring Roger Moore.
Jag Niwas (now the Taj Lake Palace Hotel)…
This beautiful palace in the middle of Lake Pichola was built by Maharana Jagat Singh II in 1746. Today, it is the majestic and magnificent Taj Lake Palace Hotel. One of the world’s marvellous hotels, it has also been endorsed as one of the best romantic places in the world. And is one of the main reasons why Udaipur has gained immense fame and popularity on the international tourist circuit. Built of marble and granite, this luxury palace hotel has beautiful antique paintings and furniture, gardens, fountains, courtyards and a swimming pool. It is reached by boat from Bansi Ghat in the City Palace complex.
The “Gangaur” boat, popularly called “Octopussy boat” after featuring in the James Bond film, caters to private parties for guests staying at the Lake Palace…
The first island palace of Lake Pichola, Jag Mandir was built by Maharana Karan Singh in 1622 and was intended to be a pleasure palace for regal parties and functions. But it takes its name from Maharana Jagat Singh I who completed the palace.
Standing on a rock in Lake Pichola, the palace is known for its natural setting and historical eminence. Its cupolas, elegant stone carvings and glass mosaic, chhatri (canopy) made of grey blue stone, and beautiful spacious courtyard guarded by white marble elephants present a charming sight.
Jag Mandir served as a refuge for Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, when he was a prince against the wrath of his father, emperor Jehangir. He was hosted by his great friend, Maharana Karan Singh. It is said that Jag Mandir was the inspiration behind the world-famous Taj Mahal, which Shah Jahan built in the memory of his deceased wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
Sajjangarh or Monsoon Palace atop the hill…
Located high on a hilltop, Monsoon Palace (or Sajjangarh) is famous for its fantastic views of Udaipur. One can get a commanding view of the City Palace complex and the entire city.
This white marbled palace was built by Maharana Sajjan Singh in 1884. It was originally intended to be a towering five-storied astronomical centre, but after Sajjan Singh prematurely died at the age of 26, the project was abandoned. His successor, Maharana Fateh Singh completed the partially built palace and used it as a monsoon palace and hunting lodge.
It is now owned by the government and open to the public. The 9 KM uphill drive to the palace passes through a small wildlife sanctuary.
After a three-hour tour of the City Palace Museum, I visited the Crystal Gallery in the Fateh Prakash Palace, located in the same complex. The Crystal Gallery houses the largest personal collection of crystal in the world, which was custom-made for Maharana Sajjan Singh by F&C Osler & Co. of London. The king ordered over 100,000 pieces in 1884, but died before the fabulous collection was delivered. The packages remained unopened till their discovery a hundred years later. The stunning collection of objects of art and furniture includes a crystal bed.
After completing the tour of City Palace, I proceeded to Bansi Ghat jetty within the palace complex. A sunset cruise on the placid waters of Lake Pichola is the best way to see the old city and its picturesque ghats. There were plenty of tourists, both domestic and international, on the 4:00 PM boat cruise. The ticket cost 700 rupees. It was an exciting ride, sailing past beautiful old ghats, palaces and havelis.
Bagore Ki Haveli at Gangaur Ghat…
Gangaur Ghat becomes the centre stage for all the cultural events and festivities during Rajasthan’s popular Gangaur Festival, which is celebrated in February-March. It witnesses frenzied dancing and idol immersion towards the end of the festival. The “Gangaur boat” (or Octopussy boat) is used by the head of the royal family to watch the celebrations unfold on the ghats.
The boat went up to Brahmpol Bridge and then turned back in the direction of Jag Mandir, moving closely past Jag Niwas which was on the way.
Jag Mandir is also owned by the royal family and is open to non-guest visitors unlike the Lake Palace. Jag Mandir has a selected number of hotel suites, but the palace mainly functions for hosting dinners, parties and weddings. It has an all-day café, dining restaurant, bar and spa. In the evenings, the entire island is beautifully lit, giving it a heavenly look.
The palace played an important role in Udaipur’s history. It was home to Prince Khurram (who later took the name, Shah Jahan) and Mumtaz Mahal for some time when his father Mughal emperor Jehangir exiled him for rebelling against him.
Khurram was clever and ambitious, but was a few brothers removed from being heir apparent to the Mughal throne. Over the next few years, the brothers ahead of him were removed in what might be called “suspicious circumstances”. Khurram was not well liked at the Mughal Court, but he was strongly supported by the Rajputs. Realising his ambitions were being thwarted, Prince Khurram rebelled against his father. When the revolt was put down by the Mughal Army, he sought refuge in Udaipur, the capital of his friend Karan Singh, who immediately extended him hospitality. Khurram’s wife, Mumtaz, and two of their young sons, Dara and Aurangzeb, were with him. Originally, they were allocated some apartments in the City Palace. However, a special domed palace was built at Jag Mandir for the Mughal prince, which became known as Khurram’s Palace. There the rebel lived a quiet, safe existence for some months. Ultimately Prince Khurram was forgiven, and he rejoined his father. Upon his father’s sudden, mysterious death (part of his conspiracy to capture the throne) in 1627, which was quickly followed by killings of pretenders to the throne, he was proclaimed the new Emperor of the mighty Mughal Empire, assuming his later famous title of Shah Jahan. His close relationship with Mewar led to an important era of peace, prosperity and architectural renaissance in Udaipur.
The beautiful palace complex…
Watch my video: Jag Mandir
It is said that the big cupola and glass mosaic inside it, spacious courtyard and the water-pool in its front, use of large seamless marble stones and the reflection of the beautiful palace in the lake around, inspired Shah Jahan to construct the Taj Mahal.
The palace afforded splendid views of the fabulous surroundings. I could imagine its beauty heightened by illuminations at night.
View of Sajjangarh…
Watch my video: View from Jag Mandir
A white marble platform was the popular spot for taking photographs and selfies, so I let my black tote bag become the subject, contrasting against the stark whiteness in the background…
A bit hungry, I decided to try the food of one of the restaurants in the palace. The rates were high, so I expected the food to be great too. I took a corner table alongside the lake. A lovely, cool breeze and fantastic views! And the calming sound of the waves lapping up and back was thoroughly relaxing as I waited for my order of chicken kathi roll and tea to arrive.
View of City Palace and Jag Niwas from my lakeside table…
The chicken roll cost 526 rupees, so I was expecting a delicious bite. It took a long time to come and when it finally arrived, it was a bit cold and not to my taste. Disappointed, I cancelled the tea order.
My expensive chicken kathi roll…
Around 5:30 PM, I took a returning boat to the city. It was sunset time, which made the boat ride experience all the more exhilarating.
Returning to Bansi Ghat jetty…
Watch my video: Sunset Boat Cruise on Lake Pichola
On the way back to my hotel, I stopped at a large Tibetan exhibition held on the sprawling grounds, a short distance from the City Palace complex. There were plenty of non-Tibetan stalls too. I was impressed. Winter wear, luggage, handbags, travel accessories, kitchenware and lots more at discounted rates. The place had drawn a large number of tourists throughout the day. It was nearing closing time, but there were many visitors hanging around the food stalls.
Window shopping done, I wandered around the streets for a while. The city attracts a large number of international tourists, so there are many souvenir and antique shops. Most cafes and restaurants have international food menus, with Italian food topping the list.
Back in my room, I spent some time deciding my itinerary for the next two days. The mighty forts of Chittorgarh (112 KM) and Kumbhalgarh (84 KM) were already in my list, but I was interested in doing a few temple visits too. I would have liked to see the beautiful architecture and exquisite carvings of the 12th century Dilwara temples at Mount Abu, Rajasthan’s only hill station. But at 180 KM, it was quite far. The famous Ranakpur Jain Temple complex was 55 KM from Kumbhalgarh, so if I had to hire a tourist car, I could do both together in a day. And on the second day, I could do Chittorgarh and the famous battlefield of Haldighatti (50 KM away, where Maharana Pratap fought with the Mughals) along with Eklingji Temple (25 KM) dedicated to Lord Shiva, and the Shrinathji Temple (42 KM) at Nathdwara, one of the most revered and visited Krishna temple in India. But hiring a tourist car for two days would be expensive… and sort of boring with not much local interaction. There were bus services for Chittorgarh and Kumbhalgarh, but it would mean skipping the temples. After checking the Nathdwara temple timings, I realized that I would have to spend more than four hours and perhaps would not even get a darshan of the Lord, it being the busiest season for tourists. In the end, I decided to go to the two forts by bus. Cheap and at a leisurely pace, without having to rush from one place to another.
It was dinnertime. My hotel served only vegetarian meals, and had fixed menus. The vegetable dish for dinner didn’t appeal to me, so I only had tomato soup. Around 9:00 PM, I was off to bed.
Sunday, 29 November 2015
At 7:45 AM, I set off for the bus station. The auto-rickshaw fare was 50 rupees. I reached the bus station just in time to catch a bus going to the fort. The ticket cost 80 rupees for the two-hour journey. It was an enjoyable drive. Some of the passengers were daily travellers so they knew each other. When the conductor found out that I was a writer, he introduced me to a blind young man who travelled alone every day to a small town an hour away, to teach at a polytechnic college. A commendable achiever, his story had appeared in a local newspaper.
Finally, I got my first view of the 1400-year-old Chittorgarh fort – the epitome of Mewar Rajput pride, valour and sacrifice; the sole objective of Maharana Pratap’s life; and synonymous with the legend of Rani Padmavati (or Padmini).
I was told that rickshaw drivers double up as guides, so I hired an auto-rickshaw from the bus station to the fort and back for 300 rupees plus 130 rupees as guide fee. I suggest hiring a certified guide at the fort, as the rickshaw drivers aren’t well-versed with the fort’s history and may take you to only some of the fort’s attractions, not all.
This fort had 84 water bodies, out of which only a few exist today. To know about the fort, read my post: Chittorgarh Fort
The previous day at the City Palace Museum, I had seen this beautiful and life-like statue of Chetak…
So I was fortunate to see a white Marwari horse (a rare breed of horse from the Marwar or Jodhpur region) at Chittorgarh. Standing still, it resembled the statue of Chetak…
After a three-hour tour of the fort, I was back at the bus station. It was 1:45 PM. A bus was standing at the gate but it left after a long wait of 30 minutes or so, totally packed. The woman sitting next to me was a village municipal school teacher. Her school-going kid lived with her husband in another town and she visited them only on weekends and holidays. It was surprising that even small town women were independent-minded enough to live apart from their families for the sake of their career…and above all, that their husbands could be so encouraging.
The bus reached Udaipur at 4:30 PM. Hungry, I started for a bhojnalaya (small restaurant) which was a popular place for having the Rajasthani speciality, dal-baati-churma. Dal, or lentil curry, is served with baati (or bhati) which is a substitute for roti. Baati is a rounded dough made of wheat, flour, millet or a mix of maize which is baked in a charcoal fire or oven and served with loads of ghee. There are plain baatis, or the more exotic masala, dry fruit or missi baatis. Churma is a sweet dish made with flour, jaggery or sugar and ghee. It’s a simple and wholesome meal at a nominal cost. Mine cost only 80 rupees.
I returned to my hotel for some rest. At 6:45 PM, I was out again. First to the Jagdish Temple and then, a cultural programme at Bagore Ki Haveli.
Wandering through the busy, narrow by-lanes that are typical of an old city experience, I came upon an old clock tower. Not too high, but nevertheless impressive.
Jagdish Temple was close to the City Palace. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, it is the largest and most beautiful Hindu temple in Udaipur…
Image source: Twitter @TrueIndology
The temple was built in 1651 by Maharana Jagat Singh I, and has been in continuous worship since then. It was dark, so my digital camera was unable to capture a good shot of the temple’s beautiful architecture carved in white marble.
Rajasthan is a land where everything is very earthy and close to the masses, which is why it has a flourishing folk culture. Rajasthani folk music has a long history. Traditionally rulers had bards in their courts that sang tales of the heroic deeds of kings. Though the tradition is long dead nevertheless these ballads called Rasos can be heard even today. The legend of King Prithviraj Chauhan and his bard Chand Bardai who composed the Prithviraj Raso, a ballad, which details the brave deeds of Prithviiraj is well known.
Rajasthani folk dances are an eye-catching sight with women dressed in bright coloured ghaghra cholis and dupattas decorated with mirrors and embroidery swaying gracefully to the music of a traditional melody. Some of the popular folk dances are Bhavai, Chari, Ghair, Ghoomar, Kacchi Ghodi (where a dancer wears a costume resembling a horse), Kalbeliya (performed by the women of the snake charmer community) and Teerahtali (where women perform with 13 cymbals tied to their limbs).
Puppetry or Kathputli (string puppet theatre) is a traditional art form and source of entertainment in Rajasthan. Tales from the epics, folk tales and social commentary are conveyed through the medium of colourful puppets. The most famous among these is the depiction of the grand epic, Mahabharata. These little puppets are also popular souvenirs for visiting tourists.
In Udaipur, cultural programmes are held every evening at Bharatiya Lok Kala Mandal and Bagore ki Haveli. A visit to either of the two is highly recommended.
I had a thoroughly enjoyable time at Bagore ki Haveli, an 18th palace built right on the waterfront of Lake Pichola at Gangaur Ghat…
The museum was once a royal palace with over hundred rooms. After restoration, most of it was converted into a museum and cultural centre. The museum showcases beautiful chambers which once existed furnished with artefacts. There’s an interesting display of costumes and modern art.
Apart from beautiful courtyards, the haveli interiors has fine examples of décor, frescoes, mirrors and glass inlay work, ornate balconies, decorative archways, cupolas and a unique fountain.
The wonderful and captivating evening show of music and dance called Dharohar is held every day from 7:00 PM to 8: 00 PM in the impressive Neem Chowk courtyard of the haveli. It’s the same spot where similar performances were held to entertain the royal household.
Arriving at Bagore Ki Haveli, I visited the museum first as it was nearing closing time. The ticket for the Dharohar cultural programme was 100 rupees. The courtyard was packed with an enthusiastic crowd of domestic and international tourists.
Women in colourful ghaghra cholis and dupattas decorated with mirrors and embroidery dancing gracefully to the accompaniment of music and songs by male performers dressed in bright, traditional wear…
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Watch my video: Rajasthani folk dance – Ghoomar
Bhavai dance, one of the state’s most exciting folk dances…
A female dancer with an earthen pot on her head danced nimbly, pirouetting and swaying to the accompanying music provided by male performers singing traditional melodies and playing a number of musical instruments including string and percussion instruments. Everyone watched spellbound as the column of earthen pots slowly increased from one to eight.
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After the show ended, I checked out the large variety of colourful Rajasthani puppets displayed for sale. These brightly-dressed puppets are popular souvenirs for visiting tourists.
Thereafter, I spent some time on the riverbank…
Watch my video: Night view of Lake Pichola from Bagore Ki Haveli
The narrow lanes of the old city…
After my late meal of dal-baati-choorma, I wasn’t hungry. Instead I stopped for a hot chocolate at a café. By 10:00 PM, I was back in my hotel room.
Monday, 30 November 2015
After tea at 7:45 PM, I left for the bus station. Once there, I found out that buses for Kumbhalgarh started from another bus stand at Chetak Circle. Another thing, buses didn’t go to the fort, but to its nearest village, Kelwade. From there, I had to hire a tourist taxi to the fort and back.
I spent 60 rupees on rickshaw fare to reach Chetak Circle bus stand, where a bus was already waiting. The ticket cost 50 rupees. The bus left at 8:40 AM. It was a journey of nearly three hours with a short break at a small village. The sight of hot samosas, fresh from the kadhai, made me hungry. So I walked over and bought one. The bus reached Kelwade at 11:30 AM. The fort was only 3-4 kilometres away, but the taxis were charging 400 rupees for the return journey including waiting time. Not wanting to get delayed, I boarded one. It was a 15-minute uphill drive.
The massive, arresting layout of Kumbhalgarh…
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ancient fortress has the second largest stretch of wall in the world after the Great Wall of China…
Kumbhalgarh is the birthplace of the great warrior and king of Mewar, Maharana Pratap (1572-1597), who was born here on May 9, 1540. It was Maharana Pratap’s dream to recapture his motherland Chittorgarh, and made a vow that he would give up all comforts of palace life until Chittorgarh was freed from Mughal rule.
Kumbhalgarh is spectacularly lit for some time each evening. Read all about this mighty fortress in my post Regal Rajasthan: Kumbhalgarh Fort
Around 1:40 PM, I was back at Kelwade. There were two mini-buses at the bus stand. I boarded the one which was to leave first. All the seats were taken, so I squeezed myself into a tiny space in the driver’s cabin. The bus left after more than an hour. It was a miserable and suffocating drive with so many people around. Bummer! I wished I had hired a tourist car instead. That way I could have visited the famous 15th century Ranakpur Jain temple complex which was not far. The largest and most complex Jain temple in India, it has 29 halls supported by 1400 interior pillars and its main shrine full of ornate carvings took over 50 years to construct.
Back in Udaipur, I stopped at a sweet shop to have a kachori. It was my last night in the city, so I had decided to have dinner either at Jagat Niwas Palace Hotel terrace restaurant or Ambrai restaurant, two most popular dining spots overlooking Lake Pichola. But before that, I had planned on watching the sunset from the Dudh Talai lake and the hilltop fort of Eklingarh, two beautiful places situated amidst serene and tranquil surroundings. Eklingarh is an old arsenal, almost in ruins, located in military cantonment area. There is a Karni Mata temple nearby. Both places can be reached by the Mansapurna Karni Mata Ropeway, which is a popular ride to the Machla Magra Hills. Despite spending three nights in Udaipur, I could barely cover a few of the main attractions of the city. I hadn’t even visited Sajjangarh (or Monsoon Palace) and Lake Fateh Sagar.
Tired after the uncomfortable bus journey, I changed my plans for the evening. I decided to have dinner at my hotel. The vegetable dish was Sindhi-style papad ki sabzi. I wanted to try a Rajasthani thali, so the hotel manager suggested the restaurant in Garden Hotel, a palace hotel owned by the royal family. It was within walking distance of my hotel.
The hotel grounds housed the Vintage and Classic Car Museum…
The museum timings were 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM. The museum entry fee cost 250 rupees, and the dinner coupon, 240 rupees. It was 6:45 PM when I reached the place. I got a guided tour of the museum from its amiable caretaker. The well-maintained collection consisted of a variety of classic and rare vehicles, some sleek ones too. All of them were once used by the Mewar kings. The cars had won numerous international awards over more than a century. The caretaker explained to me the importance of each one, and the interesting stories connected with a few of them. There was one which had featured in the James Bond film “Octopussy”.
1960 Mercedez Benz…
1930 Rolls Royce…
1924 Rolls Royce…
The 1934 Rolls Royce, which featured in “Octopussy”…
1934 Rolls Royce…
1930 Ford Model A…
A special Cadillac that has an interesting story connected with it…
Watch my video: Vintage and Classic Car Collection at The Palace – II
1946 MG TC…
Watch my video: Vintage and Classic cars
A 1946 Chevrolet truck…
Watch my video: 1946 Chevrolet trucks
1942 Ford jeep…
Watch my video: 1942 Ford jeep collection
And there were solar rickshaws too…
A vintage gas pump…
By the time I completed the tour it was 7:25 PM, past the closing hour. Dinner was nice, but a heavy meal. But this always happens with a thali meal, where food is unlimited and the waiters keep refilling the plate with whatever item has just been eaten until you tell them that you don’t need any more of it. The service was excellent.
Outside, there were fewer people and vehicles on road as I walked back to my hotel. It was only 8:30 PM, Perhaps the city residents prefer to return home early.
I had to leave very early the next day as my Spice Jet flight departure for Jaipur was at 9:55 AM and the airport was 22 KM away. I settled my hotel bill and the tourist taxi charge for the airport trip, which was 750 rupees. By 9:30 PM, I was off to bed.
Tuesday, 01 December 2015
At 6:30 AM, I was ready for the airport. The taxi had arrived, and soon I was on my way to Maharana Pratap Airport at Dabok…
Read my post: Regal Rajasthan Travelogue (Part I): Jaipur
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