Udaipur is Rajasthan’s Lake City, but it could also be called Palace City as there are many charming, historical palaces and Havelis within Old Town. It’s a great place to spend a few days, soaking in the history.
Udaipur’s Old town is a maze of narrow streets haphazardly climbing up and down the small hills around its main buildings, City Palace and Jagdish Temple. The tight streets are filled with old buildings, many dating back to the 1600s. Some have been well maintained and are in excellent condition, others are in disrepair. No matter their condition, all are being used today as homes, shops and dingy cafes. As you move closer to the palace, they are used for tourist-friendly restaurants and hotels. It’s a lively area with a lot of character. You can see though, from the electrical wiring, why we had frequent blackouts in India.
Set beside the large, but shallow man-made Lake Pichola, City Palace was first built in in the 1600s. Many additions were built on to it over the centuries by generations of Maharajas (kings). Today it’s a stunning building with elaborate cupolas, towers, turrets and, balconies. The design details include stained glass, colourful tiles and detailed carvings. The palace is entered through three large gates passing lovely garden courtyards. At the side of one entrance are eight marble arches. They represent the eight Maharajas who donated their weight in gold or silver to the citizens of Udaipur during their reign. Toran Pol is the final colourful gate that leads to the Palace’s interior. It has painting of Surya, the sun god, on the top.
Inside the gates, the first palace rooms you enter, are finished in white marble and are decorated with incredibly detailed carved doorways and window frames. The windows have colourful stained glass which is common in Rajasthan. As we walked through the palace, we saw many rooms that are colourfully tiled or brightly painted in blue, green or orange. Throughout the palace are countless elaborate windows and pretty balconies offering great views of the sprawling city on one side and the lake on the other.
There are many open-air courtyards, with covered walkways and pavilions inside City Palace. In the middle of the place is Badi Mahal (Garden Palace). Its enclosed courtyard with large trees and marble benches is a tranquil spot. There are several chhatris and balconies on the roof of the surrounding walkway. Laxmi Chowk (courtyard) is a large courtyard with elegant moldings on the eaves of the covered walkway. In the middle of the courtyard is a gorgeous white pavilion with a a fancy domed roof. A room just off Laxmi Chowk has paintings of the previous ruling Maharajas, who all had fantastic, fashionable beards.
City Palace is a popular tourist site. When we were visiting, there were many Indian tourists also sightseeing. They love to take selfies. We think the worst invention was to put cameras in cell phones. Groups of Indian tourists would literally each take 20 selfies, at every possible location. They would take over an area, so that others couldn’t even get close to the attraction. We often had to wait and wait to ensure sure our pictures did not include these selfie takers.
Udaipur is home to many other historical Palaces and Havelis (Rajasthani mansions) that have recently been converted into hotels. Beside City Palace is the 17th century Fateh Prakash Palace Hotel with large turrets and majestic domes. The Maharaja’s family still lives in a part of this palace. Further down is Shiv Niwas Palace with many elaborate balconies and distinctive cupolas and domes on the roof. Beside this hotel is one of many lovely gardens in the city. Set on the side of the lake, its trees offered a respite from the heat. From the garden you can see Lake Palace, an old palace built in the middle of Lake Pichola, giving the appearance that it is floating. At the edge of the lake, Bagore-ki-Haveli has a triple arched entryway to the lake at its base and delicately details windows on top.
After 18 months on the road, we felt we needed a bit of luxury, so we booked a room at the historical Kotra Haveli Hotel. Havelis are traditional, ornately decorated mansions, typical in Rajasthan. The inner courtyard of our hotel is gorgeous with white pillars, arched doorways and carved windows frames. Our room had a beautiful 4-poster bed and marble floors. The best part was the view of City Palace from the rooftop restaurant. It is the best view in Udaipur.
Beside City Palace, atop another small hill, is the 17th century Jagdish Temple. The tall towers are plastered with carvings of Hindu gods, people and animals. The temple is dedicated to Jagannath, an incarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu. There were quite a few beggars at the back of this temple which is something we haven’t seen at a temple in a while.
On a hill outside of town is Monsoon Palace. It was built in the 19th century as an astronomical site and for the Maharaja to watch the monsoon clouds. Today the building is bare, with little of interest, but it does provide nice view of the surrounding, dry Aravalli hills and of Udaipur far below. For a great ending to our day, we watched a playful troupe of Grey Langur monkeys on the trees outside of Monsoon Palace.
Coming up next: Jaisalmer – Sandcastles and Camels
To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.
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