Tuesday, March 9, 2010


You can decipher the top spot of a destination by the names of its hotels and resta-urants. In Agra, almost everyone, the under-the-mango-tree dhaba included, wants an association with the Taj Mahal. At coastal places there are definitely a few dozen with Sea View as suffix. In the Himalayan belt there will always be a Snow Point or Hill Retreat amongst the billboards you spot. Likewise, Udaipur is no exception to the rule, with lake and palace being the buzz words here. So there’s Lake View, Paras Mahal, Hilltop Palace, Queen Palace and any other permutation you can think of. The choicest of them all of course is one whose name combines both elements: Lake Palace, a hotel that’s been voted amongst the most romantic in the world.

I had often heard mixed reviews about Udaipur, the erstwhile capital of the Mewar dynasty, and considered one of the most beautiful heritage cities of the country. The shrinking water table ruining its pretty lakes was a constant cry. This had lead to a spurt of NGOs sprinting off to rescue its decaying wetlands that looked less blue and more green on account of algae and hyacinth. Nonetheless, since the past few years the city of lakes had hosted a string of celebrity dos so it couldn’t be in such a pitiful state I presumed, setting-off for it.

The Mewar Express links Delhi with Udaipur very conveniently. It’s a 12-hour overnight journey that gets you in by 7 am, just in time for breakfast. With due respect to The Bard, if food be the music of life, eat on is my mantra. Though Duke Orsino in the Twelfth Night wanted an excess of music to kill his appetite for love, there is certainly no such cause and effect as far as food goes. Rajasthan is famous for its spicy as well as drenched-in-the-sweetness-of-sugar offerings. Udaipur in particular is known to have had one of the best royal kitchens and those recipes are still prepared here. My preference in those morning hours was for off-the-street fare and my guide was more than willing to kick start my city sojourn on a scrumptious note. We drove towards the eateries packed between the city landmarks of Jagdish Temple and City Palace and within minutes of our reaching I was savouring a typical straight-off-the-wok mirchi vada—a stuffed chilli-pepper and gramflour fritter—handsomely loaded with a variety of chutney. It had the right measure of spices and was not the dynamite its name made it sound. Next up was a flaky lentil kachori and a steaming glass of milk resplendently flavoured with a fusion of condiments. What was an enormous breakfast for me was a mere appetiser for local men in colourful turbans who had gathered at this hole in the wall stall.

Udaipur’s reference is never complete without mentioning Lake Pichola on whose banks stands the stunning City Palace complex, a few ghats, dwellings, and a couple of leading luxury hotels. The lake is the pride of the city and the Aravallis in its backdrop lends added charm.

The initial views of Udaipur had shown me a series of atmospheric narrow lanes and bylanes typical to Rajasthan but as I approached the lake front it was as if I had entered a completely new world. Geography textbooks never told me an oasis could be so beautiful. They never mentioned its mornings could be ethereal or its sunsets gorgeous. They never said it could evoke poetry. You see, they never revealed the romance of a place called Udaipur. It’s Lake Pichola and the royal quarters around it, so sculpted and planned to precision, that overpower the senses. It’s said, when Maharana Udai Singh was ruling the kingdom of Mewar, Mughal emperor Akbar captured Chittorgarh in AD 1568. This forced the Maharana to relocate and establish a new capital, which was christened Udaipur. The Suryavanshi dynasty ruled fearlessly and passionately, each succeeding maharana beautifying the capital city and leaving his imprint on the sands of time.

I spent Day One by the lake enjoying its many moods. If it were up to me, I would not have ventured beyond its sight, so fairytale-like are its environs. But my super efficient guide was more than eager to show his city, and so the next day we began, delightfully so, with a boat ride to the two island palaces — Jag Mandir and the exceptional Jag Niwas (now the Lake Palace, a Taj hotel property). Next up was the City Palace museum where I found Mor Chowk particularly spectacular. Its mosaic and enamel courtyard has peacocks in lapis lazuli and other stones...talk about royal living and this is a shining example. A little later I was at Bagore ki Haveli, on Ganghori Ghat. Once the house of Amar Chand, the prime minister of Mewar, it's now a cultural centre and a must-visit to view a slice of Rajasthan. By noon I was running up the flight of steps at Jagdish Temple and then resting the heels at the popular Saheliyon-ki-Bari, a garden where ladies of the royal households would spend their leisure time. My whirlwind tour wrapped up at Ahar Museum, about 2 km from the city, a tranquil garden that has a cluster of cenotaphs of the Maharanas.

By sundown I was back by the shores of Lake Pichola. The sapphire blue sky of the morning had given way to flaming auburn and the waters reflected that majestically. Two musicians played the sitar, the stringed notes adding a dose of sublime to the already blissful ambience.

I hadn’t expected Udaipur to be so spectacular. A few days in the city showed what many others have felt before me. In the sweltering bowl of Rajasthan nature had been more than generous on Udaipur. Further on, its creators had accentuated this already worthy canvas with forts, palaces, temples, lakes and islands to compose an architectural landscape that was truly the shining jewel in Mewar’s crown. The reason millions have been smitten by it and I was no exception.


Air: Direct flights from Delhi, Mumbai

Road: Connected with Delhi and Mumbai through NH 8.

Railways: Mewar Express (2963): Departure Hazrat Nizamuddin (Delhi) –1900 hrs; arrival Udaipur – 0700 hrs


Fateh Prakash Palace, City Palace

Tel: 0294-2528016-19

Published in The New Indian Express, February 2010

No comments: