Udaipur in Rajasthan, India - A Travel Guide
To be in Rajasthan, India, and not visit the oh-so-serene Udaipur would be nothing short of felony in the books of a ‘travelohlic’ like me. Since the state is home to some of the most famous tourist destinations – Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Ajmer, Pushkar – chances are that you’d want to include as many of these places in your travel itinerary as possible. Udaipur is likely to the last leg of your Rajasthan tour given its geographical location, and it is only most apposite if you believe is saving the best for the last.
You can approach Udaipur via Jodhpur, which is nearly 275 km away, or take the Jaipur-Chittorgarh route which makes for a 405km road travel. The place is also accessible by all other major destination, and there is air and rail connectivity if you are not a fan of road trips. Me, I like to hit the roads, for the love of getting behind the wheel and the freedom of customizing travel plans as per my own choosing.
If you arrive here expecting to be greeted by the same arid landscape that the state is better known for, you are definitely in for a surprise, a pleasant one of course. Udaipur, also known as the city of dawn, is a picturesque hill settlement surrounded by lush green hillocks with a tranquil lake at the heart of it. We arrived in the city long after the sun had gone down, and were greeted by a refreshing breeze and slight drizzle – the kind that makes you want to roll down the windows and soak up the pleasantness. Even before I got a real glimpse of the city, I knew I was going to fall in love with it.
Another place that I fell in love with, with the same fervor was a place called Mandarmani, an almost virgin beach, located close to Kolkata. If you like the sun, the sand and the sea then Mandarmani will not disappoint. But, more on that in another hub!
Things To Do
The city offers a mix of scenic solace and a sneak peek into the Rajput heritage. We began our Udaipur sojourn with a visit to the city palace, located bang on Lake Pichola. At the palace gates you can avail a sight-seeing package that includes a trip to the palace, crystal gallery, vintage car collection, boat ride on Pichola that takes you to Jag Mandir – located in the middle of the lake – and back. We began with the crystal gallery – the glistening crystal blinding the eye and huge chandeliers creating an effect of grandiose. To play our part as keen tourists we also hired the audio guide, which in hindsight was not a great idea. Unless you are a foreign tourist who knows nothing about the culture and history, the audio guide tends to hinder your experience instead of augmenting it.
The City Palace looks grand in its appearance. Be prepared for a fair amount of walking and climbing stairs before you set out for a tour of the city palace. But I have to admit I was a bit disappointed with its architecture – especially in the Janana Mahal (the women wing of the palace). The alleys are too narrow, so are the windows and doors, all this coupled with low roofs invoke claustrophobia more than awe. The architecture speaks volumes about the conservative outlook of the Rajput kings and the Rajputana ethos. The palace falls short on every account if you compare it with the grandeur of Mughal architecture. For me, the highlight was the silver museum that houses buggies and entire mandaps made from silver.
The boat ride to Jag Mandir – another ancient palace-like building now converted into a resort with suites and a restaurant – was clearly the highlight of the tour for me. The steel grey waters of Pichola dotted with grand palaces in the midst and along its shoreline offer an unmatched visual treat.
We also visited the Bagaur ki Havelli that houses a cultural evening including a traditional dance performance and sound and light show. The structure is still under restoration, and you can give it a pass if you are pressed for time.
The place that you must visit, even if you have to push your schedule a little, is Jai Samand. Nearly 50 km from Udaipur, this obscure lake will sweep you off your feet. There is a resort in the middle of the lake – something that is trade mark of Udaipur – you can stop at for lunch or even an overnight stay. But the clear star is the vast expanse of the tranquil water that appears seamless. The tourist inflow is minimal, and you can enjoy some quiet moments on your trip here.
The Fatehsagar Lake in Udaipur is a close replica of Lake Pichola, and is equally serene. There is a walking plaza along the lake that locals frequent for their evening walks. The best time to visit is around sunset. There is a huge array of roadside kiosks; you can order some steaming hot momos and cold coffee to munch on as you take in the twilight.
The entire palace road is dotted with small cafes that offer mouthwatering continental food, besides the more luxurious fine dining restaurants in all the leading hotels. My personal recommendations are the outdoor restaurant at Hotel Ambrai and Café O’zen. Pushkar’s Café in the main market appears like a shady joint bar, but if you are looking for some cheap booze and amazing pizzas, this is the place to be. If you have a compulsive sweet tooth, visit Café Edelweiss for its succulent pies.
Our only disappointment with hospitality was at Jag Mandir, where the staff is too snobbish to even care to take your order. We had to return on an empty stomach; unless you have oodles of patience to deal with such idiosyncrasies, you’d be better of letting it pass.
Places to Stay
There is no dearth of lodging options in Udaipur. From heritage hotels such as Taj Lake Palace and Leela Palace to luxury hotels like Trident and The Oberoi Udaivillas, and the budget hotels like Thamla Havelli, Gangaur Palace and Hotel Ambrai the list is endless, and there is something for every budgetary need.
© 2013 Juana Aman