February 2017
The Venice Of The East

The Venice Of The East


Udaipur-the city of lakes, the city of romance and home to the longest ruling dynasty in the world; now located in the state of Rajasthan, it stands a memory of erstwhile Indian royalty. It was founded in 1559 AD by Maharana Udai Singh II and was established as the capital of the erstwhile Mewar kingdom.

“While walking along the banks of the lake Pichola I see the rays of the morning sun glinting over the placid waters, there gleams in them the reflection of palaces, temples all testaments to manmade beauty. It’s almost as if time stood still in this little hallow where kings still rule and palaces are every bit as majestic as they seem is fairy tales. This idyllic place has filled me with a yearning to linger here and to never depart, for such wonders abound here.”…

A trip to Udaipur is incomplete without mentioning the entire gamut of palaces and lakes that can be found in this one city, the most famous among them is the Jag Niwas or the lake palace which is situated on an island in the middle of the lake, now converted into a heritage hotel, an evening dinner here put quite a few check marks on my bucket list. As I visit the Suraj Gokhda- the formal balcony of the royal family and the Mor chowk or the peacock courtyard, so called because of the mosaics in glass decorating its walls, I wonder what minds were there that could perceive such beauty. A visit to the Mahrana Pratap memorial fills me with awe as I listen to his deeds and I’m reminded of these immortal lines, “here was a man, whence comes another”. But more so for the bibliophile in me I visit the Gulab Bagh which hosts quite an impressive collection of ancient handwritten manuscripts and books. Also in Udaipur for those fond of astronomy and cosmology is the Udaipur Solar Observatory, which is on an island in the Fateh Sagar lake. Being an ardent collector of automobiles I but had to visit the vintage car museum which consisted of the personal car collection of His Highness the Maharaja of Udaipur, one of the most extensive collections in India. Any visit to Udaipur would be incomplete with a visit to the Lok Kala Mandir which is near Chetak circle, a folk art and history museum it has been showcasing the tribal culture of rajasthan and a must see is their puppet show and dance programme which generally takes place in the evening, I am mesmerized by the deftness of the dancers and intrigued by the craft that breathes such life into these small wooden puppets.

There are also some places around Udaipur that pique the interest of a natural born traveler there is the Ahar museum which is located about 2km east of Udaipur which has about 19 cenotaphs of the Mahranas that were cremated there. On this very same site I found on display a collection of very rate earthen pottery, some magnificent examples of Indian sculptures and other such archaeological marvels. To the north west of Udaipur is a crafts village by the name of Shilpgram that hosts an annual crafts fair, one of the biggest fairs in India that is where I headed next and needless to say it did not disappoint. Having come so far I pay a visit to the Ghanerao Castle, which is a mere 140 kms outside of Udaipur, a beautiful castle owned by the rulers of Ghaneroa they bear the noble distinction of being the only Rajput royalty possessing a seat among the premier nobles of both houses of Mewar and Marwar. Other nearby historic sites include the Chittorgarh fort one of the largest forts in India, and the scene of many a historic battle of the Rajputs. The fort has within it several palaces including the Rana Kumbha palace, in the cellars of which Queen Pamini committed Jauhar (self immolation through fire) with her children, each palace is unrivalled in it’s beauty and splendor, the fort is also home to the majestic Vijay Stambh or the “the tower of victory”. My heart was not quite content with the cerenity of the city and I felt a bit jaded with the quiet calm of Udaipur, so I headed out to the Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary for some adventure. The sanctuary boasts of rare species including the Wolf, Leopard, Sloth bear, jungle cat, the Chinkara and the Chausinga (the four horned antelope) and many such others.

Other than these historic sites there are other ways to unwind including the camel safari, a novel idea this took up an entire day, the trip took me into the interiors of the deserts and provided a wonderful opportunity to observe the tribal lifestyle firsthand. Other than that the city of Udaipur preserves its rustic charm by not observing active nightlife, there might not be quintessential discotheque or pubs, but their absence is little missed.

‘The best time of the year to visit Udaipur is during one of its festival, the Mewar festival takes place in the months of March and April and it welcomes the onset of spring. Teej is the festival that celebrates the onset of Mon soon in July and August and the Shilpgram festival is the local arts and crafts festival is the local arts and crafts festival celebrated during the winter months. It takes place near the Havala village and is a daylong fiesta of local artistry and cultural craft.’

Udaipur is known the world over as a famous shopping destination for miniature paintings made in the traditional Mewar style and Pichwai paintings synonymous to the taste of Mewar rulers , clothes in the Batik and hand prints, pottery, traditional handicrafts including toys, puppets, marble souvenirs, brassware and handmade greeting cards. Shopping centers include the Hathi Pol, Chetak circle, Bada Bazaar, Rajasthali and the Palace Road. Bargaining is a must in these shops and the government run markets including Sadhna are also a must visit, however these are fixed price shops. Traveling in Udaipur is most commonly done by Auto Rickshaws, Unfortunately these do not run by meter and drivers are known to charge more, bargaining is a must here before you board the auto and fares of about 40 Rs will be enough to cover most of the travel destinations at night all autos will charge more. Another novel way of travel is by using Tongas or horse carts which are cheaper.

In the end Udaipur manages to combine the charm of a lost generation with the contemporary nuances so required by the traveler of today. As the pale moon glimmers in the waters of the lake Pichola I rest my head in the comfort of a palace on an island in the middle of a lake, what man could possibly ask for more!