Udaipur

Where nature meets heritage

City Break

November 18, 2015

/ By



udhay

UDAIPUR DEFIES THE POPULAR NOTION OF DRY RAJASTHAN. THE CITY THAT BOASTS OF ITS HERITAGE, CULTURE AND NATURAL SURROUNDINGS CAN OVERWHELM A TRAVELLER WITH ITS VARIED EXPERIENCES.

Udaipur is the best city there could be, I wouldn’t leave it to go anywhere in the world”, says Nirmal Prajapat, an artist who also runs a restaurant with his three other friends. The city does have a certain charisma to it. Located in the western and otherwise arid state of Rajasthan, Udaipur stands in contradiction with its greenery and abundant lakes. It offers a rich combination of both heritage and nature fueled with art, culture and hospitality. While on one hand the old city can awe you with its life; Lake Badi, on the outskirts, can leave you in a poetic solitude. It enables a series of experiences and emotions if suitable time is invested.

The city and its people have naturally responded to the tourism in the area. The earliest and the most popular lake, Pichola, in the middle of the old city is dotted by hotels, restaurants and cafes on its shore. The old havelis have been turned into boutique hotels or bed and breakfast places. The market place has a very touristy air to it. Much like other parts of Rajasthan, people here are welcoming and friendly as well. A walk in the old city area reveals the heritage through architecture, the artistic ensembles and the calmness that Lake Pichola brings to the bustling city.

 

Galleries in the City Palace Complex of Udaipur present the culture inside the palace to the world

Galleries in the City Palace Complex of Udaipur present the culture inside the palace to the world

Marking the old city on foot
The 16th century king of Mewar region of Rajasthan, Maharana Udai singh II, would not have thought that a hunting expedition would influence him into building a palace on the shore of Lake Pichola and finding a new capital for his kingdom. As suggests the tale, the king had a close encounter with a hermit who induced this vision. It is said that the King, subsequently, shifted his capital from Chittorgarh to Udaipur. Surrounded by the Aravalli hills, Udaipur promised more safety than the frequently attacked capital Chittorgarh, located approximately 115 kilometres away. The city of Udaipur draws its name from the king himself. The foundation of the city palace was laid at the spot where the king met the hermit, Rai Angan (the royal courtyard), adjacent to Lake Pichola. The palace since then has grown in size, with additions from all the Maharanas ever since. It, therefore, illustrates different architectural phases such as the Mewar, Mewar-Mughal phase and Mewar-British phase.

The series of palaces packed in complex face eastward, as customarily appropriate for the Maharana or the Sun dynasty. It “ has an exquisite facade that extends over 244 metres in length and 30.4 metres in height. With mountains at its backdrop and Lake Pichola outlining the other edge lengthwise, the city palace complex painted in gleaming white color has been compared to the Greek islands, such as the Mykonos. It is a living palace, as the descendant of the royal house of Mewar and his family still reside there. The current royalty, Shreeji Arvind Singh Mewar, calls himself the custodian to the deity Eklingji. He envisioned to protect the heritage left behind by his ancestors and to continue the customs and traditions the way the Palace had always witnessed. He has successfully, through his vision and inherited assets, presented to the world the life inside the palace through a number of galleries. A part of the palace is also converted into hotels to grace people with rich hospitality of Rajasthan. The galleries not only reveal the stories of the past but also keep them protected. It is often joked that every locked store room in the palace has the substance capacity to conceive a new gallery. Crystal gallery, for example, includes a bewildering number of dinner sets, perfume bottles, decanters, glasses, washing bowls and even furniture. The display is the result of the crystal collection ordered from Birmingham-based F&C Osler company in1877 by the reigning king, Maharana Sajjan Singh (1874-1884). It also houses the only crystal bed in the world!

Numerous jharokhas (overhanging balconies) in the city palace open to the view of Lake Pichola from where the Lake Palace and the Jag Mandir, located in the middle of the lake, can also be seen. Both these palaces acted as summer getaways to the kings. Jag Mandir, built by a lineage of three Maharanas between 16th and 17th century, was also a refuge to the Mughal king Shah Jahan when he rebelled his father, the Mughal king Jahangir. It has now become the favorite destination for high profile weddings. While a common man can enjoy the surrounding with a meal or a coffee at Jag Mandir; to go to Jag Niwas or The Lake Palace, visitors need to check-in as it has been overtaken by the Taj Group of hotels. The beautiful palace, said to be inspired by the Taj Mahal, is off limits to even the local people. One may get its architectural glimpse from Octopussy (1983), a James Bond film that has scenes from inside The Lake Palace. It is unfortunate that the native people don’t have the access to appreciate the heritage of their land.

Outside the boundaries of the palace, the city displays the charm of a similar heritage as well. The narrow streets interlinked with each other have numerous old havelis (mansion) that once used to be inhabited by the subordinates of the kings and have been passed on to their families for generations. When the city was found 500 years ago, the warriors and the courtiers moved first to the new capital and occupied areas surrounding the palace. Similarly Brahmins, Baniyas, Rajputs, and Shudras, the different castes in India, occupied different places. The higher castes settled at the safest and most convenient areas. The construction of the havelis differed according to the needs of different castes and occupations. While some have been retained for personal use, a number of them have now been transformed into hotels or restaurants providing the visitors with an essence of life inside the havelis of Rajasthan.

 

With the Lake Palace in its centre, Lake Pichola is dotted by numerous hotels along with the City Palace on its coast line

With the Lake Palace in its centre, Lake Pichola is dotted by numerous hotels along with the City Palace on its coast line

The lanes also hide in them the traditional artisans of the city. In Kalash Marg, for instance, reside the artisans who make bronze pots. Most of the shops here claim to be 100 years old. With the steel industry taking over, it has little scope of survival left. The buyers are most often the villagers who visit to buy utensils to be gifted in weddings. The lanes open into the bazaar market place) that negates the silence inside. While it is best to rise early to enjoy a walk without the noisy honks of the vehicles in crammed streets, the life that shops and people add to the bazaar is something one must experience. It offers a variety of options to engage with. Leather products such as bags and diaries; the colourful bandhej sarees and dress materials famous in Rajasthan; silver jewelleries are a few popular choices among people. The streets also have millions of galleries that sell the miniature and contemporary paintings from local artists. The owners favourably participate in conversations and share their knowledge on the art and its history without any pressure of compulsory purchase.

As the sun goes down, the lakes and the surrounding hills make the city even more beautiful. The ghats along the Lake Pichola and the lakefront at Fatesagar are filled with the local population. On the other side of Lake Pichola, numerous restaurants offer spaces to dine sitting next to the lake or terraces that overlook lake and the palace. The city palace, lit well from inside, displays the details of each façade. The cool breeze from the lake and the sight of the glowing Lake Palace in the centre make the surrounding comparable to the romantic city of Venice.

The natural heritage

Udaipur acts as a tease to other parts of dry Rajasthan with its eight lakes. Lake Pichola, the first from the five artificial lakes in the city was built by a tribesman Pichchu Banjara in the 14th century, who transported grains, to meet the water and irrigation needs of the people. This small irrigational pond was later enlarged by Maharana Udai Singh. Other lakes such as Jaisamand, the second largest artificial lake in Asia, have been built by the initiatives of the ruling kings of Mewar in different eras. Apart from being a relief for the people, the lakes and marshlands are home to 500 plus species of animals and birds found here. Winter proves to be the best season for migratory birds that bring the marshes and grasslands to life. While Lake Pichola forms a home for birds like Rudyshe duck, Sandpiper, Wagtails, Besras; Lake Fatehsagar acts as a host to species such as the Pelicans. The surrounding hills offer a wide range of hiking options as well. While the hill fort of Kumbalgarh located 82 kilometre northwest of Udaipur and hill temples such as Eklingji, 23 kilometres away from the city, naturally provide trekking options; the local tour operators offer other such experiences as well.

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