Remember Panna Dai ? The legendary nanny of Mewar royals ? The one who sacrificed her own child when Banbir, illegitimate son of Prithviraj, came calling to kill the royal child ? Well, but for her, Udaipur would have not been in existence today. The royal child she saved was Udai Singh, 4th son of Rana Sanga. And Udai Singh is the one who founded Udaipur in 1559.
Udaipur, though in Rajasthan (which is oft touted to be the desert state), is on the greener side of Aravalis. It gets normal rains like most of North India, and as a result, the place has a charm of its own with some of the most scenic lakes in the country, like Fateh Sagar, Pichola, Udai Sagar, Swaroop Sagar, etc., leading to it being called the ‘Lake City’.
The city is one of the cleanest in India. My assessment for the reason of its cleanliness – a population of just about half a million. Though the city is quaint-looking, the cleanliness here does come through as a pleasant surprise.
During my visit there, I was staying at the Udaivilas Palace – an Oberoi property. This property has been rated as one of the top 3 small luxury properties across the globe for almost every year now. It is on the banks of the Pichola Lake. And being the masters of the experiential tourism game, they usher you into the property through a private jetty and a speedboat. That ride is an experience to savour as you take in the sights like the City Palace, Jag Mandir, Lake Palace (a Taj property), Aravalis, and myriad other architecturally spectacular ensembles around the lake.
When I was finalising the itinerary for my duration of stay, a few places of interest that popped up were – City Palace, Sajjangarh Fort, Vintage Cars Museum, and options like Kumbhalgarh Fort (around 90 km from Udaipur), Ranakpur Jain Temple (about 110 km from Udaipur), Haldighati (a short detour when you are headed for Kumbhalgarh Fort), Chittorgarh (approx. 110 km from Udaipur), Eklingji (just 22 km from Udaipur, this complex of 108 temples in sandstone and marble is a remarkable place to visit).
My visit to City Palace left me awe-struck. The whole fort-palace complex is shaped like a huge ship. You can only appreciate the shape once you take a cable car ride from Dudhtalai area to Sunset Point (a short, 10-minute ride, that gives you a bird’s eye view of this beautiful city and its fort-palace). This is one heritage building that’s been maintained extremely well. The whole complex is clean and the inside structures are almost entirely intact. You can expect to find many sections here with exquisite stained-glass work. Rajasthani and Mughal architecture has been seamlessly melded in its construction.
After his defeat at the hands of Akbar’s army in Chittor, Udai Singh had moved here. Subsequently, his son, Maharana Pratap, defeated Akbar’s army in Haldighati. The peace that ensued after this battle was the time when most of the exotic palaces in Udaipur were built, including the Jag Mahal (Now, the Taj-run Lake Palace Hotel) and Jag Mandir.
We timed our visit to Sajjangarh Fort (also known as the Monsoon Palace) around sunset. The setting sun over the Aravalis was a sight to behold. This place had been made famous as Octopussy (a Bond film) was shot here. This fort-palace is on a hilltop, and the entire hill is now been protected as a wildlife sanctuary, where reportedly you could spot leopards, hyenas, nilgais, and wild boar.
We devoted a full day for visiting the Kumbhalgarh Fort and the Ranakpur Jain Temple. Kumbhalgarh Fort was known for its strategic location since it could not be spotted by the enemy until they were within half a kilometre of the fort. Its wall (total length = 36kms) is considered the second longest wall in the world after the great wall of China.
Ranakpur is a small village in district Pali, and the temple there is an Adinath temple. There are 1444 marble pillars in the temple, each one carved differently. The numerous domes also have distinctly different carvings on each one of them. The work on the temple construction is said to have started in 1437 and finished in 1458. By the looks of it, it doesn’t seem that old, since it is still beautifully and completely preserved. In fact, it looks almost new. The road to Kumbhalgarh and Ranakpur are in decent condition and hence, you can do a comfortable day trip to these 2 places.
We spent about an hour admiring the vintage beauties in the Vintage Cars Museum. These cars belong to the royal family and are maintained by them. Besides the cars, it also houses some of the horse-coaches from olden times. These horse-coaches are lacquered and shiny, and you could see the beautifully painted, elaborate royal seals on them.
For shopaholics, the place offers Bandhni dupattas, Rajasthani Jootis, Rajasthani quilts and Rajasthani jewelry. As is usual in most places in India, you must negotiate for a good price.
All in all, our 3 days here were fulfilling and gave us more-than-a-glimpse of this Venice of the East. A visit here would certainly be in order, even if it were just to see an extremely well maintained heritage city of a heritage-rich Rajasthan.