Udaipur in Rajasthan is a unique beautiful city along the banks of Lake Pichola. The Aravalli Hills surround the city and the combination of lakes, hills, majestic palaces and quaint heritage havelis all make the city one of the most romantic in India.
Udaipur’s tag of ‘the most romantic spot on the continent of India’ was conferred in 1829 by Colonel James Tod, a British officer of the East India Company. Udaipur was founded in 1553 by Maharana Udai Singh II as the new capital of Mewar Kingdom. Udaipur is also called the Venice of the East and it’s way of life along the water is reminiscent of Venice but uniquely Indian in its cultural feel.
We spent 3 nights in Udaipur and wished we had 2 more nights to explore the region. Our flight from Mumbai was delayed 2 hours so we ended up arriving after sunset. The driver we had arranged for was waiting for us and he drove us into the city – the trip took around 45 minutes. He dropped us off at the Chand pol parking nearby and we then had to take an auto rickshaw to the hotel since the old city’s roads are too narrow for cars although some small cars possibly could. It was actually walking distance but with luggage and being dark we would have been lost without the auto.
We stayed at the Jagat Niwas Palace hotel which is a beautifully restored haveli. The restaurant in the hotel was also good and with a fantastic view over Lake Pichola and the Taj Lake Palace island hotel which is seen in the Octopussy movie.
Udaipur City Palace
The next day morning we visited the grand Udaipur City Palace which is the largest palace in Rajasthan. At the city palace if you show your student ids, you can get a discount on tickets. There are several tickets depending on which areas you want to visit. We took the main museum tickets but opted not to take the Crystal gallery ones. The palace also does a Sound and Light show in the evening with separate tickets. To really see everything the City palace has to offer would take up an entire day. We hired an English speaking licensed state guide and he did a good job walking us through the highlights. When walking through these Rajasthani old havelis, forts and palaces watch your head and get used to bending down, the door ways are built such that you have to bend your head and bow to enter – all the easier to behead the invading enemy you see. Even at our hotel, my husband bumped his head couple of times walking into the bathroom which was few steps down from the room.
The next day we took a day trip to the Kumbalgarh Fort and the Ranakpur Jain temples. Our driver for the day was a nightmare (see review for Rajasthan cabs below) It is a 2 plus hour drive to the fort and be sure to time your tour such that you return before dark as there have been some odd incidents of cars being waylaid by robbers in the dark. The roads are country roads and isolated although scenic with rustic vistas of village life and farms along the way. As we travelled we saw a camel, the village woman carrying water pots on the head, a boy herding cows – pretty much all that you see in the movies about Indian village life. My impression of Rajasthan was that it is a desert but Udaipur and the area around it is actually green, a fertile valley with farming and cultivation.
Kumbalgarh fort was majestic and worth the visit. The driver got us a guide who was not that great but even so we enjoyed it. You have to walk a steep climb up though and I found myself having to stop at times. I wondered how the Rajputs built this awe inspiring fort back in 15th century AD when today in modern India they still struggle to build decent roads. A UNESCO world heritage site, it is sad that the roads leading to it from the main city are in such bad condition.
Kumbalgarh fort served the rulers of Mewar as a refuge for years and fell only once in its history only due to water scarcity. It is said to be the birthplace of Mewar’s legendary king Maharana Pratap. The fort is self-contained with its own water collection and purification systems built with ancient skills. The fort’s massive wall stretches some 36 kms with a width enough to take eight horses abreast and it is an impressive sight as you drive closer to it. The fort is among the largest wall complex in the world named as “the great wall of India”. Despite the hassle of the all day travel Kumbalgarh fort is a worthwhile day trip from Udaipur.
Ranakpur Jain Temples
The Ranakpur Jain temples were an unexpected surprise and delight. It is absolutely stunningly beautiful. Over 1444 marble pillars, carved in intricate and exquisite detail, support the temple. The pillars are all different and no two pillars are the same. The marble carvings are just amazing in their intricacy, detail and beauty. To enter the temple as a tourist, 12 pm or later, you need to buy tickets and you must also be dressed modestly – men and women, and they are pretty strict about this which means no shorts or sleeveless. A pandit approached us and offered to be our guide – his English and accent was impeccable and he did a fine job in giving us a quick 10 minute overview. Once done, he simply bowed his head and said we were free to give him a dakshina. We had no hesitation in giving him one either.
Back in Udaipur, one evening we attended the Dharohar show at the Bagore Ki Haveli and we thoroughly enjoyed it. This show represents all the traditional art forms from various areas of Rajasthan including the Ghoomar. The show had ladies dancing with fire and pots, music, as well as a puppet scene. The 70 year old woman dancing with many pots on her head had the audience spell bound. See review below.
Also in the Udaipur area are these attractions:-
- In the old city near the city palace is the Jagdish temple
- Bagore Ki Haveli, Dharohar cultural show reach by 6 pm. Only cash for tickets
- Bharitya Lok Kala Mandal has a reputed 7 pm puppet show
Jagmandir is a palace built on an island on the Lake Pichola. Also called the ‘Lake Garden Palace’. Emperor Shah Jahan was given shelter here when he rebelled against his father Emperor Jahangir. It is said that it became his inspiration for one of the most magnificent Wonders of the World, The Taj Mahal. Purchasing a boat ride ticket from the city palace allows you entry to the Jagmandir palace. We did not have time to visit this unfortunately.
Another attraction is the Monsoon Palace which itself is in a dilapidated state from what I hear but may be worth it for the views from the palace which is high up on a hill. This palace was used in the 1983 James Bond film Octopussy as the residence of Kamal Khan, an exiled Afghan prince. You would need to hire a car and driver to take you there and back. There are also Cenotaphs located just outside the city which are burial memorials for the royal families..
Most tourists typically have a dinner at Ambrai, a restaurant overlooking the city palace on the lake side. This restaurant is on the opposite bank of the river from Jagat Niwas, our hotel. It has a beautiful view of the City Palace and of the Lake Palace Hotel. We skipped it preferring to enjoy dinner at our hotel instead but we did visit the area in the morning just to see the view from the other side.
Another day trip should you have an extra day is the Chittorgarh Fort. This also takes 2 hours or so each way but on a good highway from reports. The 6 pm Sound and Light show at Chittorgarh is very good I hear and you will want a good guide as the complex is sprawling.
- Ambrai in hotel Amet Haveli where you can see 3 palaces and there reflection in the lake. Slow service and food just okay
- Hari Garh restaurant. We ordered Rajasthani dishes and enjoyed it. The place has a nice view and good food priced fairly.
- Jhumar restaurant with a view of Fateh Sagar lake – this place was crowded and service took time
- Upre in the Lake Pichola Palace Hotel
- Jagat Niwas palace hotel restaurant – great views and good food
- Krishna Dal bati only for Dal Bati Thali (mixed reviews)
- Jheel’s Ginger coffee bar and bakery
- Jaiwana Haveli rooftop restaurant
- Edelweiss(on the same road as baghore ki Haveli ) for nice desserts
- Karni Palace Hotel – moderate price, rajasthani and marwari thali
- Chowka at The Aodhi hotel – relatively more expensive, Laal maas and veg.
Udaipur has a more limited choice in comparison to Jaipur which is the bigger city but even so local markets for handicrafts and tie die materials are Hathipole, Bada Bazar, Bapu Bazaar. In Hathipole, some bargaining can happen but not a lot. Apsara, leheriya, bandhini, Sadhna and ganesh palace are in the Hathipole area. We ended up purchasing some dupattas and palazzo pants at Surabhi collections.
This being December, the Tibetan market was set up and we visited it and purchased some shawls and sweaters. The market is run by and benefits Tibetan refugees.
Weather by the way in December was lovely, cool and not hot, requiring a light sweater or shawl in the mornings and evenings.
The ATMs in the old city were out of cash or would not work, so we had to take an auto to the SBI branch area in Chetak circle to get more cash. For short rides, auto drivers were fine with my husband sitting in front with the driver and the 3 of us in the actual seat. With Udaipur’s narrow roads, we ended up using the auto rickshaws a lot. Who needs a Benz when we have autos that can get you anywhere 🙂
We were totally charmed by Udaipur, something quite magical about the place