The yellow cap on the American’s head sitting in front of me in the bright orange boat read “ Le Passage to India”. The 20 seater took off just before the sunset on lake Pichola to give us just the right situation to pick up our DSLR’s and capture one of the most amazing scenic beauties that I was already captivated with.
Udaipur has been in m
Though most of the Hotels there are basically Palaces converted, I chose Shiv Niwas as my abode due to its location. One, it is inside the grand premises that not only encompasses the City Palace where tourists flock, but also the present Maharana’s Palace. Imagine waking up in the neighborhood of the royal king of Udaipur, Maharana Arvind Singhji! And since the king decided to make his palace there, no doubt its location has to be the best. Situated on the banks of lake Pichola, it gave me ample chance to devour the beauty of the water body where the Lake palace and the Jag Mandir floated with all their glory. At night they looked like two jewelry pieces embedded. The bright white lake palace or the summer palace made up of Marble is now operating under Taj group of hotels. One can take a boat ride to both these places from the City Palace.
On the first day of my visit I decided to explore the City Palace and in the evening took the boat ride to Jag Mandir Island, where shah jahan took refuge while revolting against his father. It is said that from here only, he got inspired to build The Tajmahal. Consisting of five major lakes this city of lakes has been attracting tourists and majorly foreign tourist for long. It is also filmmakers favorite site and apart from numerous bollywood films like Guide, Mera Saya, Eklavya e.t.c many Hollywood films like, Octopussy and Disney film Cheetah Girls were shot here. It’s a preferred marriage destination too for those who want to marry in Royal fashion.
The palace, witness to several generations of kings and queens stand tall as an amazing example of fusion of Rajasthani and Mughal Architecture. A peek through the intecrately designed jharokas, Sunrays filtering through the coloured mosaic mirrors in the walls, glimpses of kings beds, queen’s velvet swing, mirror palace , I enjoyed all and sundry. It was a thrilling walk through the entire palace where I decided not to carry my Canon as I simply wanted to soak in the royalty without any distractions. Walking through Amar vilas, sheesh mahal, mardana mahal , janana mahal , mor chowk through those narrow and low ceilinged rabbit warren passages I wondered what the royal life was all about . Were they just all about luxury, pomp, authority, lavish lifestyles…..or more than that !
I got my answer in the evening at the Manek Chowk where the glorious history of mewar was presented as “Yash ki Dharohar “ through a spectacular combination of light and sound emanating from various ornate windows of the Mahal. Enchanting tales of, how Raja Udai Singh founded the city, Maharana Pratap’s patriotism, Panna Dhai’s sacrifice and Jauhar performed by the queens to protect their honour opened our eyes to the true meaning of Kingship.
Next day, I visited The Crystal Gallery, at the Fateh Prakash Palace hotel in the same premises .It is probably the largest private collection of crystal in the world. Though very expensive, feasting your eyes on them doesn’t cost you too much . Similarly, you can Indulge on yet another Royal Collection , i.e. Vintage Cars owned by the rulers of Mewar. From Rolls-Royce, Cadillac open convertibles to rare Mercedes models, the collection is one of the most talked about in India as well as abroad.
My next stop was saheliyon ki baari, Jagdish temple and Fateh sagar lake,
after which I turned my feet from Royalty to the other side of the City. An amazing maze of tiny , twisting streets lined with colourful shops is where the life breathes. It’s a place that gives equal importance to both vehicles and animals ranging from goats , cows ,dogs and you can even get to see a camel if lucky enough ! Bapu Bazar and Hathi Pole is a must visit if you are keen on getting a glimpse of the mewar commoners . I shopped some “Putlis” , traditional dolls made from cloth for my daughter , ethnic hand made bags and some mouth-watering hand made mouth fresheners for myself . It was fun bargaining and catching up with the shopkeepers Marwari accented Hindi.
Being an art lover , I dedicated a day to shilpagram, a “Craftsmen’s Village” is the Rural Arts and Crafts Complex situated 3kms west of Udaipur in the lap of Aravallis. It’s a dream come true for all art lover as it showcases the art and crafts of western India in form of various huts.
But , for a foodie like me the story can never end without a heartful of meal of the local place. While Dal Batti Churma is amazing here , for non vegetarians the laal maas here is a must try. It’s a slow cooked mutton curry where Jodhpuri or Mathaniya chilis play very important role. I tried the veg thali in Vintage Car Museum and Natraj. For non veg one can try Ambrai restaurant. But specially for those will sweet tooth , please try Dil jani , a delicacy of Udaipur made from Khoya and nuts. You will get it in Bapu Bazar.
But the best part is that being a small city , it can be best explored on feet just like Venice. And now I really know why it is called the Venice of east for more than one reason.