We continue our journey of discovery of Rajasthan, the pearl of India. After Jaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, it is the turn of Udaipur, the city of lakes. Finally we leave aside the desert and we are now on the hillocks, which in this period are green and lush. We start in the morning from Jodhpur. On the way to Udaipur we stop at a Jain temple.
The Ranakpur temple is one of the most beautiful in India, which is completely built in carved marble and the ceilings are supported by 1,444 pillars all carved with different patterns. The atmosphere is really nice, with a few tourists too. If you search for an architectural marvel, Ranakpur will satisfy this desire. It is one of the largest groups of Jain temples in the world and is a rare beauty. Personally Chaumukha Temple, which is also the largest of the complex, has left me speechless. I was literally astonished in front of such beauty and is unmissable.
After the temple we approach the Kumbhalgarh fort. The road is beautiful that goes up and down the hilly passes. On the way we pass through several villages, where we see the Indian rural life. The highlight inside is not that great, and in fact there is nothing, but the view from the highest roof of the building is magnificent.
Finally we come to Udaipur. Located about 400 km from the state capital, Jaipur, the land of Udaipur is steeped in history, and its culture floating in the air. If you are in search of the Arabian Nights in India, Udaipur is the place for you. If as a child I could point to a place in which to find what my imagination had imagined hearing about de One Thousand and One Nights, the famous collection of Oriental tales, I would choose no doubt Udaipur, overlooking the sparkling shores of Lake Pichola, with the wooded backdrop of the Aravalli Mountains and the fairy-tale palaces, beautiful temples, rich havelis and narrow winding streets, where the hectic pace of the big Indian cities are on another planet.
Here everything is a dream, from nature to architecture up to some of the most beautiful extraordinary luxury hotels in the world, such as the Oberoi Udaivilas and the Taj Lake Palace. It is no exaggeration to say that Udaipur is one of the most beautiful cities of India.
Some think it can be left out of a tour of Rajasthan, because it is small and maybe, by doing so, you can retrieve a day to add a stopover elsewhere, perhaps to get to Agra. Udaipur, however, is a precious jewel. Here in Udaipur, where the deserts seem to light years away, and the heat seems to have really rarefied with the limpid air that you breathe in these mountains and you have the impression of floating, if only for a couple of days, in a dream.
Udaipur is acclaimed as one of the most romantic cities and heritages around the world. Not for nothing that Udaipur has earned the reputation of Venice of the East. It is situated around and on the Aravalli hills. Many lakes in the city add to the beauty of the historic city. It was in fact built on the shores of six lakes, the main one being, the Lake Pichola, is the reference point for exploring the city. These lakes mainly were created, to meet the needs of water for drinking and irrigation, with the construction of dams.
Historically, Udaipur was the capital of the former kingdom of Mewar, which was founded in 1559 by Maharana Udai Singh II, whose power and wealth is still visible in the great palaces that testify fully the style and architecture of Rajasthan.
Udaipur hosts fairs and festivals that are celebrated with great enthusiasm. The most important of them are Gangaur Festival, Mewar Festival and Shilpgram Fair, a colorful festival dedicated to artisan excellence of Rajasthan, which annually attracts thousands of visitors. It's the perfect opportunity to discover the art, culture and history that for centuries are the hallmark of an extraordinary country called India. Udaipur is a major center for trade, in particular for the production of terracotta.
Udaipur offers a unique atmosphere, where the beautiful Rajput era palaces are reflected in the calm waters while in the air you can breathe the scent of spices and street foods. It seems the perfect set for a movie. Udaipur boasts a high concentration of traditional Rajasthani architecture that still can be admired. Just think of the imposing City Palace, which lies on the shores of Lake Pichola, or the Lake Palace, now converted into a luxury hotel, or even the Jag Mandir and the Monsoon Palace.
In the guesthouse we take a room with balcony and view of the lake, which was very beautiful. We decide to take a walk around the fort. In the evening, near the guesthouse we got attracted by the songs and as we get closer we find some kind of township show where all the women and girls were dancing in the middle of a courtyard. As it was the time of the nine nights of Navratri, the temples and altars scattered around the city were decorated with lights and often there were dance shows around.
For dinner we go to the restaurant in the guesthouse, and in the menu we see the naan and laal maas, which we savour gleefully.
The next day we wake up relatively early in order to have the whole day to explore. We head towards the large Lake Pichola, which reflects the gray-blue mountains on its calm surface like a large mirror in which the sun can bath every day. This lake was built in the late fourteenth century, when Udai Singh made this city the capital of Mewar, after escaping from the Mughals in Chittaurgarh.
Udai Singh was the head of the Sisodia clan, one of the most prestigious Rajput clans, who traced their solar dynasty of Rama. The fog of Agra and New Delhi seems to have never come this far. At one time the lake was much smaller and on its shores was the village of Picholi. The most beautiful excursions that we do in Udaipur are those of boating on the lake, which departs every hour from Rameshwar Ghat, to the City Palace, and stops at Jagmandir Island, which we can recognize right from afar for large stone elephants greet those arriving on the dock.
Here, we get into the area of the City Palace, which is worth a visit. Later we opt for a boat tour of thirty minutes from Lal Ghat. Once the small boat makes waves, you will never know whether the islands and buildings sprouting from the surface of water sways or the boat. The buildings from the water lapping up the stairs and to the front doors appear as hives built directly on the lake by busy bees.
There are two islands on Lake Pichola that of Jag Mandir and Jag Niwas, which coincides perfectly with the building that houses since 1754. Today it is the Hotel Lake Palace, converted into a hotel in the sixties, which was the summer residence of the maharajah. It really feels like that the island and the building moves on the water like a big ship. The Lake Palace is illuminated at night and is visible from almost every point of Udaipur, in the middle of the lake.
There are two other places in Udaipur, to go to get to know the city better. The City Palace is the largest and most impressive building of Rajasthan. There are two entrances called Badi Pol and Sheetla Mata Gate. They are uphill and if you do not have a driver available, you'll have to cross the road on foot. It is a complex structure, part of which is occupied by a hotel, where there is also a museum and gallery of crystals.
This is an artificial lake which was built in 1678 by Maharana Fateh Singh. We finally get out of there to leave for the Jagdish temple. The City Palace is not far from here, just to the left of the temple. We decided to go to the temple and then go for lunch overlooking the opposite bank of Lake Pichola.
In the afternoon we went to the City Palace Museum. The entrance of this City Palace is much broader than those seen previously, and the palace itself differs greatly from previous ones in that this cannot occur some Mughal influences in its architecture. Unlike other historical sites here are not present a sufficient number of explanatory plaques.
Without the audio guide, which is rented separately, it is almost impossible to understand the functions of the rooms, corridors and courtyards. Also the first part and the last of the path are really boring and unattractive, while the central part with its beautiful jharokhas and decorated courtyards are certainly more interesting.
The special feature of this labyrinthine building are the many windowless rooms, totally decorated with glass inlays. It seems that they served as private spaces of the King to relax and maybe smoking tobacco or opium, but according to our mischievous look had rooms allocated to the amorous exploits in the court with women, who were returning after the entertainment in zenana, the space reserved for the women. Otherwise they would explain these cramped and overflowing with reflective surfaces!
We could also visit the Fateh Prakash Palace, home to the Gallery of the crystals, which is a British crystal display, a wide collection of spittoons and the real machine-park at the Garden Hotel. We left the City Palace at closing time and it was just before sunset.
Before getting back on the road to Chittorgarh and Pushkar, we walk to Saheliyon Ki Bari, also known as the garden of the virgin maidens. This beautiful garden was created by Maharana Sangram Singh II between 1710 and 1734 AD for the entertainment of the princesses and their bridesmaids. It is said that this place of delight have been built to allow the girls of the Maharani to find protection and peace in a place away from the palace machinations and prying eyes.
Walking between the tanks and the flower beds in bloom, there are also some fountains that give coolness on hot days, including one with the statues depicting lions and elephants and the water covered by lotus flowers. The best time to visit the garden is from October to March.
Now is the hour of sunset, and we rely on the car passing from the lakeside of Fateh Sagar. In this part of the world no one tried to sell us something or pushing up the price because we are tourists and for a moment we felt the true essence of this place. We headed towards the hotel, but first we wanted to greet Udaipur observing silently the Pichola lake during sunset.