Nimad in Udaipur
I'm sure most of you, at least once, were intrigued by the lavish life of some of the royal families around world. Be it Saudi, Oman or England, the lavish lifestyle, the immense power and tremendous wealth comes as a welcome package once you are born in the royal family.
Correct me if I'm wrong, when you hear the words royal and India together, there is one place which comes to your mind, which is, Rajasthan! So here I am in a city with big lakes and bigger palaces, the city of Udaipur.
Peace, serenity and tradition is something which is reflected from each and every drop from the lakes of Udaipur and I was accompanied by an equally beautiful person to this beautiful city. Kiran, my best friend just randomly asked me one day if I would like to come to Udaipur when she was there and I readily agreed as I had heard so many things and seen so many pictures of this city. Kiran, whose roots are from Udaipur was the best guide as she took me around the famous as well as the lesser known places in and around Udaipur.
Without wasting any more time lets dive straight into a brief history of this place. Counseled by holy sage, Maharana Udai Singh laid the foundation stone of Udaipur in 1557 AD. The fertile lands and the protection provided by the surrounding Aravalli hills made Udaipur a perfect place to setup a kingdom. Remember this year, the year 1568 is when Udaipur, became the capital of the Mewar rulers after Chittorgarh faced many attacks from the Mughal emperor, Akhbar. Udaipur remained the capital of Mewar until it became a princely state in 1818 under the British rule. After India got its independence in 1947, the Mewar ruler granted Udaipur to the government and it became a part of the state of Rajasthan.
It was a Friday night when I arrived here with a mood to go out to a local bar and catch up with the locals as Kiran was going to arrive the next day. But, but but, there are no such bars in Udaipur. So, I kind of was irritated and spent the night on the hostel's rooftop and noticed myself getting engulfed in the peace this place had to offer. So, I sat there feeling the breeze and looking at Sajjangarh (The Monsoon Palace), placed high on top of a mountain right in front of me like a star in the sky. I sat there till I went to bed, woke up the next day and sat there till lunch, then came back from lunch and sat there again. By now, I was at peace which is when Kiran arrived and took me to another beautiful place in Udaipur, the Ambrai Ghat.
Someone who has had traveled a bit in India knows that Ghats are the steps on the bank of a river or lake and Ambrai ghat is no different, but so different! In the peace of dawn, when someone sits on the Ambrai ghat, she can see the majestic golden lit City Palace, Jag Mandir Palace and the serene Taj Lake Palace just meditating on the quite Lake Pichola.
On the other side she can see some more golden lit palaces turned hotels like the Udai Vilas and The Leela Palace.
On weekends and peak seasons, Ambrai Ghat could get a bit crowded as the local youth comes here to spend the evening, while the children play in the playground located at the ghat. But, when we were there, there was a time when we had the entire place to our self.
I fell more and more in love with the city as I sat there with my feet dipped in the cool waters of Lake Pichola.
The next day we set out to the City Palace!
Udaipur City Palace
The City Palace, well, is majestic, is beautiful and is extravagant. One can spend anywhere around four to five hours going around this place. One should know that there are no forts (or "garh") in Udaipur city. The reason being, firstly the city is naturally fortified with the Aravallis and secondly, Chittorgarh served as a front fort during any attack on the Mewar kingdom. Udaipur mostly has palaces as it was the capital city and it never really faced an attack.
Coming back to the City Palace. Maharana Udai Singh laid the foundation of this marvel which was then improvised by his successors. Here are some quick facts about Udaipur's City Palace:
When in Udaipur, don't actually go and start looking for a pole when you read boards like 'Chand (Moon) Pol' or 'Bara (Big) Pol' or 'Haathi (Elephant) Pol'. Just like the entire Old City, the City Palace has several gates known as 'Pol'.
The City Palace comprises of eleven different palaces built by different rulers but still resembling each other.
The palace boasts superior Marble and Glass inlay work in 'Sheesh Mahal' (Palace of Mirrors) brought in by the Mughals and inspired by the Italians.
Another stunning part of the palace is 'Mor (Peacock) Chowk' which has peacock murals and glass mosaics depicting the three seasons.
The palace also houses some beautiful crystal and porcelain work in 'Manak Mahal' while 'Bhim Vilas' flaunts some fabulous miniature paintings.
'Amar Vilas' is the highest point of the City Palace. It is build on a natural rock formation and hosts hanging gardens, fountains and terraces.
Kiran, personally liked the 'Zenana Mahal' (Women's Quarter) with colored windows, mosaics, tiled walls and a small square decorated swing (Yes, the same one which you have seen in many Instagram posts).
After resting for a while and binging on some yummy Rajasthani food, we left for the Monsoon Palace.
Sajjangarh - The Monsoon Palace
Ever heard of the phrase 'Bungalow in the Sky'? Well, I wouldn't be surprised to assume that the concept was still a thing in the 19th century. Monsoon Palace or locally known as Sajjan Garh Palace is a royal residence built on a hill top. It is known as Sajjan Garh after the ruler of Mewar Dynasty called Maharana Sajjan Singh for whom it was built in the year 1884.
What better time to go to the Monsoon Palace, than during the Monsoon? We had rented a scooter and rode all the way up to this beautiful palace riding on a even more beautiful road surrounded by greenery and peace.
Upon reaching the gates of the palace we understood why this place is totally worth a visit. So here we were, on top of one of the highest peaks in the area, getting a panoramic view of all the lakes and surrounding mountains. The dark clouds just over our heads, moving like a herd of elephants, slowly but showing just how majestic they are. The wind blew swiftly as we sat there on a bench, just looking at the mountains, immersed in tranquility.
Did we feel royal sitting there? Oh yes! The Monsoon palace was built for the king to watch the monsoon clouds and we were doing just that!
We were the last ones to leave the place that evening and thus, happened to have a quick word with the local guards whose families have been guarding the palace since decades. They gave us some unrevealed insights about the palace and also mentioned the Jaguars maundering in the jungles around the hill. Okay Sir, bad timing! The fear of being attacked by Jaguars totally vanished as we started descending from the hill.
Picture this, it's early evening, you are descending from a hill, you are surrounded by greenery, cold breeze is blowing and you are in no hurry to reach anywhere. Nirvana right? Well, this made our cute little trip to the Monsoon Palace totally worth the dibs.
The next day was a big one as we decided to do something totally crazy. Yes, we decided to take our scooter and scoot all the way to Chittorgarh!
After traveling approximately 140 km for over 3 hours on a small Honda scooter, we finally made it to Chittorgarh (alive). The roads were perfect but the scooter was drifting due to the strong wind and thus it wasn't that great an idea to do this tour de force!
On reaching Chittorgarh, you will be disappointed for a very simple reason. You just cannot get that damn fort in one frame!
Imagine this, the Chittorgarh fort has a peripheral length of 13 km, covering a land of 700 acres!
There are palaces, temples, Qutub Minar like poles, huge baths and what not! This place is no doubt the largest fort in the Asian subcontinent!
If you aren't someone who likes to walk a lot, get a transport at the entrance of the fort. Choices include Tuk Tuks and taxis. The drivers do serve as decent guides and will take you systematically around the fort.
You must have figured by now that the fort is huge. Some of you might also have seen the Bollywood movie, Padmavat. So let's just dive into understanding Chittorgarh Fort.
Built in the 7th century AD by the Mauryans, the fort gets its name from the Mauryan ruler, Chitrangda Mori. The fort was passed on to many dynasties and rulers after that but there are many different versions of history when it comes to this fort.
According to one theory, the fort was captured from the Mauryans by the Guhila king, Bappa Rawal, later passed on to the Guhila king of Mewar, Ratan Singh, from whom the Arab and Delhi Sultanate ruler Alauddin Khilji later captured it.
Some legends say, that Ratan Singh's beautiful wife, Rani Padmini was the sole reason for Alauddin to attack the fort and capture it as he had fallen in love with her beauty. Legends also say that while Khilji's forces were entering the fort after defeating Ratan Singh, all the women committed Jauhar (a massive self-immolation by jumping in to the fire). But, since there are no official accounts to any of these versions of history, a lot of the versions could be just tales.
Khilji then passed on the fort to his brother Khizr Khan who lost it to Rana Hammir Singh, the ruler of the Mewar dynasty in 1320 AD and Chittor once again regained its past glory. The dynasty fathered by him came to be known as the Sisodia Dynasty. Then came the famous Mewar ruler from the Sisodia dynasty called Rana Kumbha.
Rana Kumbha, also known as Maharana Kumbhakarna, son of Rana Mokal, ruled Mewar between 1433 AD and 1468 AD. He is credited with building up the Mewar kingdom assiduously as a force to reckon with. He built 32 forts (84 fortresses formed the defense of Mewar) including one in his own name, called Kumbalgarh.
The second largest wall after the Great Wall of China is in Kumbalgarh which is over thirty eight kilometers
But his death come in 1468 AD at the hands of his own son Rana Udaysimha (Uday Singh I) who assassinated him to gain the throne of Mewar.
The final Siege of Chittorgarh came years later, in 1567, when the Mughal Emperor Akbar invaded the fort. Akbar wanted to conquer Mewar, which was being ruled by Rana Uday Singh II.
And and and, now we know what Rana Udai Singh did after that! Yes, back to where we started this blog, he established Udaipur.
So much so, for the history. Lets look at some facts which makes this fort a spectacular one.
Chittorgarh has 65 historic built structures
It has 4 palaces, 19 significant temples and 4 memorials
The prudent framework of the fort consists of 84 water bodies out of which 22 are still eminent. Fed by the natural rainwater and catchments, the total water storage capacity of the water bodies comprising of ponds, wells, and step-wells is of 4 billion liters, sufficient for an army of 50,000.
When seen from a bird’s eye view, the fort appears to be in the shape of a fish circumscribed on a hilltop.
In 2013, at the 37th session of the World Heritage Committee held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Chittorgarh Fort, along with five other forts of Rajasthan, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as a group called the Hill Forts of Rajasthan.
Well, we didn't really need a guide as we were pretty well read about Chittorgarh but we would suggest you get one while touring this fort. The people in Rajasthan are honest and would never thug you.
Kiran's favorite spot at the fort was this beautiful infinity lake. Yes, an artificially made infinity lake! If you wish to dive in this beauty, you are totally allowed to do so and hence, you may also carry an extra pair of clothes.
Moving on, trust me we were in no mood to move on from this beautiful and peaceful place, but we had to and took the road back to Udaipur. With a 'Chittor State of Mind' and another day left for our Udaipur trip, it was time to get some sleep.
Karni Mata Temple
We woke up to a slight drizzle which made our tired souls sleep for a little more time. Once the skies cleared we left for another amazing landmark in Udaipur. The Karni Mata temple. This temple is located on top of a hill (again) but the fun part is that you can take a cable car to the base of the temple.
Now let me tell you something about this place. Built atop the Machla Magra Hills, this temple enshrines the stone idol of the Hindu sage, Karni Mata.
What to expect on top? A panoramic view of the city with a beautiful bifurcation of the old town and the new.
So Karni Mata was a Hindu warrior sage and considered to be an incarnation of the Hindu warrior goddess Durga by her followers. It is said that the royal families of Jodhpur and Bikaner used to pay her a visit every time before going to war.
Someone who has had too much of Udaipur might not find this place very exciting, but I feel that once you understand the history and importance of this place, you will fall in love with it.
Kiran's suggestion is to go here just before dawn to see the old town light up as you sit there feeling the cold evening breeze.
We unfortunately couldn't do that as we had to cover Kiran's favourite place in the evening, Badi Lake! (You should listen to her say that and you'll only find her eyes light up!)
As kids we all read about Rajasthan and its deserts, cacti and wars. Who knew there would be a mystical place like this amid the dry and torrid places we all were told about. Welcome to the Badi Lake!
This artificial lake was built by Maharan Raj Singh I in the village of Badi (1680) to counter the effects of famine and drought. It went ahead to serve as a primary source of water during the droughts of 1973.
I kid you not, this place during monsoon can give the Fjords of British Columbia a run for their money.
A short 12 km ride from the old town passing the foot of Monsoon Palace (wait! Monsoon Palace, was engulfed in clouds that day and looked beautiful from below) will lead you to Badi Lake. It's a fancy place to be at, not visited by a lot of people. So if are able to reach where we went, trust me it's worthy of a picnic spot.
What's also special here, is the artistic kiosks which has beautiful engravings from old era giving a glance of historic architecture. These kiosks (or Shamiyanas) can get really busy during the evenings as families and couples come here to spend time.
If you are wondering where we got those pictures from follow these steps. Take the right turn from Badi lake (there are only two diversions as soon as you reach Badi Lake where you have to take the right steep way) and after moving a few meters on the way you will encounter another diversion with a board reading ’Silence Resort’. Stay on the same path and keep moving, after a few meters on a gravel road, you will find a small tin shop. This is where you can park your vehicle and start the trek. If you have an all terrain bicycle, you can easily take it to the top.
We reached there when the place was about to shut as it was almost sunset. The locals discourage tourists to stay at this location post dawn as it is often visited by groups of people looking for a place to get drunk and this might be a nuisance for visitors.
After visiting the emblematic Badi Lake, we were hoping to visit the infamous Fateh Sagar and have the famous cold coffee there, but we had shopping to do and hence skipped the same and went to the Udaipur market!
Every time we passed the Udaipur market, Kiran reminded me of the sugarcane juice from Vidyarthi which is really famous. One jumbo glass of this nectar and you can consider yourself to be one meal down. We had the juice when we had come back from Chittorgarh. But this time we were here for the sweets! Yes, Udaipur is famous for its sweet shops and these sweet shops serve some amazing local sweets. My personal favorite was the Bhanushani from Jodhpur Misthan Bhavan. This encounter was totally accidental! As Kiran was busy asking the shopkeeper to pack the signature Malai Ghevar, I saw these innocent, freshly made Bhanushanis (which I didn't know was Bhanushani then) in a corner and I totally wanted to try one. So I did, and then one thing led to another and I ended up eating three of those!
Next up, we packed some delicious farsan for our home from this famous shop called Agrawal Namkeen, which Kiran was already aware of. Farsan is a dry, slightly spicy snack which Indians have with tea. Farsans are a mandatory part of Gujarati, Rajasthani and Sindhi cuisine, wherein a wide variety of them are prepared on special occasions and to entertain guests; and Agrawal's is the palace to be if you want some authentic farsan to take home. An early morning flight got us back to Mumbai and we were left with delightful memories of Udaipur.
I would like to exclusively mention a few more places one can visit while in Udaipur.
Gangaur Ghat & Bagore Ki Haveli
Haveli is a traditional townhouse or mansion in India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh, usually one with historical and architectural significance. The word haveli is derived from Arabic hawali, meaning "private space" popularized under the Mughal regime and was devoid of any architectural affiliations.
Bagore ki Haveli is one such Haveli turned museum in Udaipur near the Gangaur Ghat on the banks of lake Pichola. It is famous for its daily Rajasthani folk dance (Darohar Dance) show. The Dharohar Dance Show Timings are from 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm & the show tickets available from 6:15 pm. The tickets are very reasonably priced with INR 90 for Indians and INR 150 for foreigners.
Kiran's suggestion is to not forget to get a picture near the huge gates of Bagore ki Haveli.
Pipliya Ji is a hill station near Udaipur. Also known as the monsoon destination of Udaipur, it is a village that can be accessed by taking the road from Ubeshwar Ji to Dodavali. Once you reach the highest peak of the village, you will experience speedy soothing wind. Also if it is the monsoon season you’ll be surprised to watch the monsoon clouds covering the mountain region and maybe a light drizzle to lighten the mood? Sounds gratifying right?
Being a natural spot, you’ll not find any restaurant or accommodation facility nearby, hence it is advised to carry eatables and try to slip away from the location before dark.
So that was Udaipur, the city of lakes. In the four days I spent at Udaipur I only fell more and more in love with it. Be it the places, be it the people, be it the history, there is nothing wrong here and hence everything feels so right when you are in Udaipur. These aren't just my thoughts but they are the thoughts of everyone who visits Udaipur and thus this 'Venice of the East' has left behind some of the most famous cities in the world to be voted as the third best city in the world following the two Mexican winners San Miguel de Allende and Oaxaca. So come be a guest to this city which adorns grand mansions, majestic forts, beautiful lakes, and vibrant culture along with some beautiful luxurious villas and resorts for a comfortable stay just for you.