Udaipur: Octopussy on Rooftops!

By Uday Kiran.


If Udaipur were a person… one second. Now that I am writing an analogy, I cannot help taking advantage of it. If Udaipur is a girl, she is surely someone who flaunts her riches, filled with pride and elegance, who battles were fought after, she has seen pains and glories, has lapped up nature, arresting and impressive, flashes her colors by day and glitters her jewels at night. And importantly, she succumbs not to age and must have attained immortality. Udaipur – the center and later capital of Mewarkingdom is truly a jewel in the crown. Its lakes, that gave it the title – The city of lakes and Venice of the east, its location amidst the Aravalli mountains, the palaces, its accessibility - nearly mid-way between Mumbai and Delhi, and its proximity to Mount Abu make it the best vantage point to also explore the romantic side, apart from the historic side of Rajasthan.

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One of the many bi-lanes that lead to Lake Pichola, dotted with roof-top restaurants


After writing a bookish introduction, I insist that it was not written to just make the take-off sentence sound glorious. The city portrays many faces – a typical town with schools, banks, colleges, hotels, which makes one feel not too far from home, and the other interesting side of it – with narrow lanes, paraded shops, money exchange points, internet cafes, numerous roof-top restaurants, lake-view hotels, scattered lakes, and the palaces that appear to have been picked from a heap and thrown recklessly; some of them emerge on lakes and some stick out from the mountains reminding you of Scottish castles. I was charmed, wanted to wander from the center to every corner and get diminished to a tiny dot in a roof mural of Udaipur. After a few hours I discovered that in Udaipur, all roads lead to lakes. And of all lakes, it is most likely to be the lake Pichola. The second largest among half-a-dozen or so, it is famously famous for its Jag Niwasor, the Lake Palace (now a Tajhotel), on an island sprawling in its center, and Jagmohanpalace (now a private hotel), on yet another island. Along its banks are the Oberoi and Leela hotels. To give you an idea, all these palaces/hotels are within 1.5 sq km and comprise only a pick from the heap. I can safely say that the density of star hotels here is far above average. And this is the right place to mention that Octopussy - a bond film (1983) starring Roger Moore as M16agent was extensively filmed in Udaipur. Any guesses what Lake Palace was? It was the residence of the villain (Octopussy) and as we know when Bond travels, he only stays at the best, and the Shiv Nivaspalace in City Palace complex was the luckiest of the lot.


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Jag Niwas, or famously known Lake Palace in lake Pichola


Back to the lake, the area around braces few landmarks (the area itself is the best of all if you just want to wander). It mainly has the City Palace, boating points for Picholaand JagadishMandir. Common sights you cannot escape standing in the near vicinity are - women confidently bargaining an intricately-worked purse or a bright-colored skirt (they always seemed to have upper hand over the vendors), numerous shops displaying Mughal miniatures, postcards, hard-cover coffee table books on Indian Palaces and Kama Sutra through their small glass facades, lanes that mount up and decline, that can get you lost or leave you pinned in an array of shops and cafes, welcome boards hung outside every second hotel – TODAY MOVIE SHOW OCTOPUSSY on roof-top (most of them show the same movie every night). After all, it is fun to watch fast action and chasing scenes on screen over dinner and just turn to see those locations surrounding you in real.
Things to do in Udaipur:
1. City Palace: City Palace and its complex is an evidence to the elite lifestyle of the later kings of Mewar, as opposed to the former and well-known warrior Maharana Pratap, who fought a lot of successful battles against Akbar and his allies all his life. As our only-hindi guide said - life kabhi enjaay nahi kiye (he never enjoyed his life). He was said to have slept on the floor and lived in huts following an oath to reconquer Chittoorgarh (one of the only two forts he could not) from Akbar, which remained unfulfilled till the end. City Palace housed paintings that depict rituals and wars of Mewar, the fascinating tales of Haldighati war, his horse Chetak and a required lot about Maharana Pratap. He is considered as the true pride of Mewar region – one can see the reverence reflected in names - Maharana Pratap Singh Airport, Maharana Wildlife Sanctuary, Chetak (name of his horse, also borrowed by Bajaj Auto for its famous yesteryear’s scooter) Circle, Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture & Technology. If not for anything else, the City palace is a must visit for birds-eye views of lakes and its surrounding places. 


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City Palace facade from the lake
2. Royal Ceremony of Horses: We visited on the ninth day of Dusserra, also the day of royal ceremony of horses - Ashwa Puja. Horses were washed, toned, dressed to occassion and were marched by our side into a courtyard accompanied by men from cavalry where King Arvindsinghji, seated on his throne applied tilak to horses as a part of the ritual that was meant to show respect and gratitude towards them. It surely must remind you of our vahana puja and ayudha puja. Then the King had left in a car that was piloted by a lady walking and beating drums.
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 Horses being lead back to stables after the Ashwa Puja in City Palace

3. Monsoon Palace: Our next stop was at Sajjangarh or Monsoon Palace, located atop a hill in the Sajjangarh wildlife sactuary, amid the Aravalli range. It was one of the three palaces which served as royal residences in the year – the other two being the Lake Palace and the City Palace. This had a striking resemblance with any European castle when seen from far outside, for instance, from Lake Pichola – it appeared magnificent and strongly etched into the mountain. It had unique water storage and pull-up systems devised by western engineers, provided panoramic views of surrounding mountains, hunting and watch towers in the jungle, and visual evidence of why the City of Lakes is called so & which lakes are worth going up close to. 
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View of Udaipur, Lake Pichola, City Palace, Lake Palace from Monsoon Palace atop the hill 
4. Nataraj Dining Hall: Natral Dining Hall near the railway station, which secured a place in homp, was our food destination of the day. Though the power had gone and got us stuck in the lift for a minute, our spirits soon lifted again as the aroma of food disseminated into the lift and the lights came back on. The place was best known for its Gujarathi-Rajasthani thali for only INR 90, unlimited food and very pleasing service. I derived that an exclusively Gujarathi thali would have sweetened dishes, as per their tradition, whereas its Rajasthani counterpart would have spicy dishes with sweets separately in accompanying the thali. And here you get a best mix of these two. 
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Delicious thali at Natraj
5. Bapu Bazaar: A noteworthy thing about shopping - Bapu Bazaar near Suraj Pol has local wholesale markets where we found that the prices quoted were right away at one-third of what tags on the same products would say back home. And the best part is that we could bargain further as a top-up, sometimes outrageously with clothes that were bought in bulk.  Our shopping had started even before the trip had, and did not end till we dropped the bags, literally after reaching Bangalore, and I can say that (with the exception of Jaipur to an extent) the same bargaining works to avoid the unsought padding of price levied on tourists. Udaipur is the best place to buy Rajput and Mughal miniature paintings.  

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One of the many gateways in City Palace


Author Bio: The author is an IT professional from Bangalore who believes that 'If profession is for the body and mind, hobbies are for the soul.'


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3 comments:

  1. Thanks for the lovely post about Udaipur. You ca=an check the tasty food at Ramada Uadipur.

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  2. Recently traveled to Udaipur. Loved the place to the core. Lake Palace view is amazing. Stayed at a resort and accommodation was wonderful. The resort has the best restaurants in Udaipur too.

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  3. Very nice! Want to plan a trip to Gao too. Recently traveled to Udaipur. Loved the place to the core. Lake Palace view is amazing. Stayed at a resort and accommodation was wonderful. The resort has the best restaurants in Udaipur too.

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