Udaipur Travel Blog – Fall in Love with Udaipur
you’ve probably heard the phrase ‘Venice of the East’ at least once before on your travels. It’s a term commonly batted around by tourist boards – everywhere from Malacca (Malaysia) to old town Manila (Philippines) – because it adds a sense of continental flair.
To me, the only spot that can truly own the name is Udaipur, a lakeside paradise of shimmering marble, oozing romance and a European feel you just can’t find anywhere else in India.
With the old part of the city tightly wrapped around the crystal clear Lake Pichola, the Venice comparisons flow deeper than just leisurely boat trips. The author Rudyard Kipling was one of the first to coin the phrase when discussing Udaipur in his 1899 work Letters of Marque. “If the Venetian owned the Pichola, he might say with justice, ‘see it and die’,” he wrote. That’s a slightly crude way of saying the place is impossible not to fall in love with.
Not that the city is quite perfect: insensitive lakeside development, appalling traffic along the old city’s maze of tightly winding streets and vast hordes of tourists mean that Udaipur is far from unspoilt or undiscovered. Even so, it remains a richly rewarding place to visit, and although it’s possible to take in most of the sights in a few days, many people spend at least a week exploring the city and the various attractions scattered about the surrounding countryside.
Exploring Lake Pichola
Boat rides around Lake Pichola depart from the jetty towards the south end of the City Palace complex, offering unforgettable views of the various palaces. Circuits of the lake take 45 minutes. All trips stop at the Jag Mandir. Tours depart hourly on the hour from 10am to 6pm. To make the most of them, sit on the side of the boat facing the palace (they usually run anticlockwise around the lake). You can also rent your own boat (seating up to seven people) here. Alternatively, on the waterfront between the Jaiwana and Kankarwa havelis, you can take a thirty-minute boat ride or rent a private boat for up to ten people.
City Palace museum
Udaipur’s fascinating City Palace stands molded in soft yellow stone on the northeast side of Lake Pichola, its thick windowless base crowned with ornate turrets and cupolas. The largest royal complex in Rajasthan, it is made up of eleven different mahals (palaces) constructed by successive rulers over a period of three hundred years. Part of the palace is now a museum; the entrance is on the far side of the Moti Chowk courtyard (look out for the large portable tiger trap in the middle of the courtyard), just beyond the palace’s small armory.
Begin your circuit of the museum by wandering past propitious statues of Ganesh and Lakshmi, and winding upstairs to reach the first of the palace’s myriad courtyards, the Rajya Angan. A room off to one side is devoted to the exploits of Pratap Singh, one of Udaipur’s most famous military leaders. From here, steps lead up to pleasantly sylvan Badi Mahal (Garden Palace; also known as Amar Vilas after its creator, Amar Singh II, who reigned 1695–1755), its main courtyard embellished with finely carved pillars and a marble pool, and dotted with trees that flourish despite being built some 30m above ground level.
From the Badi Mahal, twisting steps lead down to the Dilkusha Mahal, whose rooms house a superb selection of paintings depicting festive events in the life of the Udaipur court and portraits of the maharanas, as well as the superb Kanch ki Burj, a tiny little chamber walled with red zig zag mirrors. Immediately beyond here, the courtyard of the Madan Vilas (built by Bhim Singh, reigned 1778–1828) offers fine lake and city views; the lakeside wall is decorated with quaint inlaid mirror work pictures.
Stairs descend from the Madan Vilas courtyard to the Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace), another oddly futuristic-looking little mirrored chamber, its walls entirely covered in plain mirrors, the only color supplied by its stained-glass windows. Steps lead around the top of the Mor Chowk courtyard to the Pitam Niwas (built by Jagat Singh II, reigned 1734–90) and down to the small Surya Choupad, dominated by a striking image showing a kingly-looking Rajput face enclosed by a huge golden halo – a reference to the belief that the rulers of the house of Mewar are descended from the sun.
Next to Surya Choupad, the wall of the fine Mor Chowk courtyard is embellished with one of the palace’s most flamboyant artworks, a trio of superb mosaic peacocks (mor), commissioned by Sajjan Singh in 1874, each made from around five thousand pieces of glass and coloured stone. On the other side of the courtyard is the opulent little Manek Mahal (Ruby Palace), its walls mirrored in rich reds and greens.
From the Manek Mahal, a long corridor winds past the kitsch apartments of the queen mother Shri Gulab Kanwar (1928–73) and through the Zenana Mahal (Women’s Palace), whose long sequence of rooms now houses a huge array of paintings depicting royal fun and frolics in Mewar. Continuing onwards to emerge, finally, into the last and largest of the palace’s courtyards, Lakshmi Chowk, the centerpiece of the Zenana Mahal. The museum exit is at the far end of the chowk, back where you came in.
The small Government Museum, opposite the entrance to the City Palace Museum, is of interest for its impressive sculpture gallery of pieces from Kumbhalgarh, including some outstanding works in black marble.
More interesting than the Government Museum in many ways – and certainly far more atmospheric – is the vast Durbar Hall in the Fateh Prakash Palace (the building immediately behind the main City Palace building, which now houses the Fateh Prakash Palace hotel). This huge, wonderfully time-warped Edwardian-era ballroom was built to host state banquets, royal functions and the like, and remains full of period character, complete with huge chandeliers, creaky old furniture and fusty portraits. In a gallery overlooking the hall is the eccentric Crystal Gallery, housing an array of fine British crystal ordered by Sajjan Singh in the 1880s and featuring outlandishly kitsch items including crystal chairs, tables and lamps – there’s even a crystal hookah and a crystal bed. The extortionate entrance charge is a bit of a turn-off, though it does include an audio guide and non-alcoholic refreshments at the hotel’s Surya Darshan Bar.
Mewar Sound-and-Light show
Every evening, fifteen years of history is revived at the palace, as special effects and commentary recount stories from the Kingdom of Mewar in a show called The Legacy of Honor (Yash ki Dharohar in Hindi). The Mewar sound-and-light show is held in Manek Chowk, and commentary is in English between September and April, and in Hindi for the rest of the year.
North of the city are the historic temples of Nagada, Eklingji, Nathdwara and Kankroli, while to the northwest, en route to Jodhpur, lie the superb Jain temples of Ranakpur and the rambling fort at Kumbhalgarh. Renting a car or motorcycle saves time, though local buses serve both routes.
Fateh Sagar Lake, Udaipur
Of the many lakes that Udaipur boasts of, the Fateh Sagar Lake ranks high on the list of must-sees. Summer or winter, this beautiful waterbody does not disappoint you. The 2.5-kilometer-long lake was built in the late 17th century by Maharaja Jai Singh, and was later remodeled by Maharana Fateh Singh. The lake offers visitors three islands – one with a lush green park called Nehru Park and a small zoo for children to enjoy, another with a public park with water-jet fountains for the general public to enjoy, and the third with a solar observatory called Udaipur Solar Observatory.
This pear-shaped lake with its tranquil waters and gorgeous views of the Aravalli Hills attracts tens of thousands of tourists every year. The best time to visit Fateh Sagar Lake is between October and March, so you can plan a trip accordingly. And while you are in the city, don’t forget to visit some of the must-visit places in Udaipur.
Lake Pichola, Udaipur
Picturesque, serene, and breathtakingly beautiful, Lake Pichola is an artificial freshwater lake built in the 14th century (in 1362 AD, to be precise). Often featured in Hollywood and Bollywood movie thanks to its picture-perfect grandeur, this lake gets an astounding number of tourists every year. Did you know that the James Bond film Octopussy was shot here on the Taj Lake Palace, a star attraction of this lake? This luxury hotel (which was once a grand palace) is located on Jag Niwas, one of the islands on the lake, and offers well-heeled services fit for a king and queen.
But don’t be disheartened! This luxury hotel isn’t the only place with great views of the lake. The lake has three more islands on it, namely Jag Mandir, Mohan Mandir, and Arsi Vilas. Jag Mandir houses a palace by the same name, and history has it that the Prince of Khurram, who later became Shah Jahan, spent a few years living here, while rebelling against his father, Jehangir. The time he spent here with daily views of the Lake Palace inspired him to build the Taj Mahal many years later. Mohan Mandir is an uncompleted structure that looks like a temple and Arsi Vilas has a palace located on it. All these islands provide beautiful views of the lake. That’s not all! Enveloped by ghats, havelis (mansions), temples, and restaurants on all sides, visitors can choose from a range of experiences and budgets. The beauty of Lake Pichola can be enjoyed from shore too.
By the way, a boat ride on Lake Pichola is a must while you are here. Sunset is a great time to skip across the waters and capture some Instagram-worthy pictures and create everlasting memories with your family and friends.
Rajsamand Lake, Udaipur
Rajsamand Lake, alternatively called Raja Samudra Lake, was built in 1660 by Maharana Raj Singh. Tourists planning on checking out the lake can take in the length and breadth of this historic construction with quiet walks while enjoying panoramic sunsets all year round. At the southern tip of the lake, there are ghats made out of marble that lead into the lake. Visitors get to witness and appreciate the etchings carved on the 12 marble pavilions that dot the embankment, describing the account of Mewar city. A big slice of history has thus been preserved right here at the Rajsamand lake.
The best time to visit the lake is during sunrise as it promises a magical view of sun-kissed waters, against a colorful sky. Tourists flock to Rajsamand to catch this scene that lasts anywhere between 2 – 3 hours in the summer months in India. And that’s another reason for shutterbugs to visit the lake.
There are many other places in the city where you can enjoy the beauty of the setting sun. You might want to check our blog on the best places for chasing sunsets in Udaipur.
Once you have visited all these lakes and other sightseeing places in Udaipur, your next destination should be Jaipur, located about 400 km from Udaipur. There are many must-visit places in Jaipur where you can experience the city’s undying charm. Are you a history buff looking for places rich in history and heritage? You could also visit some of the forts in Jaipur that mark the city’s map.
So, what are you waiting for? Start planning your trip to Udaipur today and experience its history, charm, culture, cuisines, and much more.