Udaipur remains a city untouched by modernity and retains a charm unlike any other city in Rajasthan. The urban sprawl goes beyond the city’s original boundaries that is best left ignored as the old city engulfs you in a romantic splendour. Udaipur is an enchanting city full of surprises, with lakes in the midst of sandy terrain and green forested hills.
The city is centred around the mirror-like Lake Pichola with its straight-out-of-a-fairytale Lake Palace in the middle. Upmarket hotels, spectacular palaces and havelis are somewhere around the lake to welcome the endless stream of international and domestic tourists. Other than the romantic palaces and rugged fortresses that recount its history, Udaipur’s old city is on the east of Lake Pichola. All around the old section of the city, there are narrow streets lined with shops and craftsmen’s ateliers that encourage hours of window-shopping. It is on these streets that you get the finest and most colourful of Rajasthani bandhni material and of course lip-smacking jumbo-sized chilly pakoras.
Beyond the city walls, there are small green hills all around which not only provide excellent views of the city but also a taste of Mewar’s history. Explore the surrounding countryside and you will get a first-hand view of the life of tribals. Just out of the city, there is Shilpgram, a crafts village and a fascinating place to see performers and village artisans.
Udaipur is a city of monuments and museums. The most likely reason you are here is to experience the flavours of its history and culture – against a setting that is inspiring, to say the least. This is how you can go about experiencing Udaipur. Begin with the City Palace. It is the largest palace complex in Rajasthan, rising 30 meters above Lake Pichola. The original structure was built by Maharana Udai Singh, to which the later rulers made their additions. The 244 metre long palace is partly preserved as a museum displaying a large and varied collection of artefacts.
Two parts of the palace have been converted to hotels: even if you do not stay here, a dinner or high tea will effectively put you in the Udaipur mood. Do the Crystal Gallery in the same breath as the City Palace. Located within Fateh Prakash Palace (one of the hotels), it is an astounding collection of over 600 crystal objects ordered by Maharaja Sajjan Singh in 1877.
Lake Pichola has two islands – Jag Niwas and Jag Mandir. Boats to these islands leave from the City Palace jetty between 10 am and 5 pm..
Out of the palace, the first stop can be Jagdish Temple (1651 vintage). Then walk down to Bagore ki Haveli and Gangaur Ghat – picking a souvenir or two on the way. The former is a haveli retrieved from vandalism by the West Zone Cultural Centre and turned into a museum and art gallery, much worthy of a walk-through. Evening folk performances are also held here. The latter is where the famous Gangaur procession culminates (March). Now you may get on a vehicle to visit the Vintage Car Museum, the Maharana’s personal collection of exclusive four-wheelers turned into a museum. Bhartiya Lok Kala Mandal is a cultural museum: a rather decrepit place but with a very good display of puppetry and folk art, music and dance. Shilpgram, a little away from the city is a living museum: hutments of different tribal groups have been created here and real people live in them and sell their wares. Udaipur’s old and new gardens include Sahelion ki Badi, Pratap Memorial, Sajjan Niwas and Dudh Talai – all very pleasant for a languid walk, and some history. For more history, there is Sajjan Garh, the monsoon palace atop a hill and Ahar – the royal cenotaphs.