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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Udaipur - The City That Oozes Royalty and History

Whether you love lakes, palaces, temples, forts or gardens, Udaipur is the perfect holiday destination. This is also the closest you can get to Venice in India. The city is considered the most romantic city in India and was voted the Best City in the World by Travel + Leisure magazine in 2009.  
Incredibly Visual Geographic Spread

When Maharana Udai Singh 2 decided to make this place the capital of the Mewar kingdom in 1553, there was already a bustling little town here. Worried about being vulnerable to artillery attacks, the Maharana selected Udaipur for its unique geographical features. Subsequent skirmishes with the Mughals under Emperor Akbar saw the creation of a walled city that still stands.

Located almost 600 meters above sea level on the southern side of the Aravalli mountain range ,
Udaipur is flanked by raised plateaus towards the North and fertile plains towards the east and dense hilly forest on the south. However, the overwhelming geographical feature of this city is its lake system, originating from the Berach river. The Berach is part of the Gangetic river system, which connects with the Banas, Chambal and Yamuna rivers later in its course. For now, the Berach supplies Udaipur’s lake system consisting of 3 upper lakes, six within its municipal boundaries and one more lake further downstream. As if 10 lakes weren't enough to rival the submerged city of Venice in Europe, the city is also home to an astounding number of palaces.

Palaces on the Lake: City Within a City

Truth of the matter is that there are actually more palaces than you can find the time to visit. The biggest is the city palace complex on the banks of Lake Pichola, which is actually a collection of 11 smaller palaces clustered together in a single structural complex built completely out of marble and granite. While many of these erstwhile royal palaces have been converted into guest houses, you could also find a unique option in The Leela, which is the only modern palace hotel by Lake Pichola. When booking this 5-star hotel in Udaipur, do remember to check for their Grand Heritage rooms that have attached balconies, offering a panoramic view of the serene lake bordered on one side by the lush Aravalli’s .  These also offer the perfect settings for a destination wedding.

A visit to the heritage palaces is a must, the interior of which are decorated with exquisite carvings, mirrors, silver work, colored glass, murals and wall paintings. When viewed in the slanting rays of the sun at sunrise or sunset, the gleaming white palace complex reminds one of Greek architecture.
While the actual ownership still lies with the royal family of Mewar, the palace complex has been handed over to a number of trusts responsible for the preservation and upkeep of the properties. Since the Mewar royals are part of the Sun dynasty, all the palaces traditionally face east. Built over an agonizingly long period of time by 76 generations of the royal family , these structures are a unique blend of European, Rajasthani, Mughal and even Chinese architecture.

It will take a few days to fully explore the Lake Palace complex. This is largely due to the maze like interlinked corridors and quadrangles that one has twist and turn to discourage surprise attacks by attacking forces. This vast city within a city has all the delights that shopping can hold. Within these walls, you will find everything from a post office to a bank along with a large number of shops where you can indulge in shopping for local handicraft to your heart's delight.

To the east of the city are a number of gates that lead into the walled city. The biggest is called Bara Pol, followed by the Tripolia Pol or gate that boasts of a triple-arch design. Just like everywhere else in this city, history follows your footsteps at every turn with an interesting story from the past. In between the two gates, it is said that the Maharanas (when feeling overly generous) would weigh themselves in gold which was then distributed to their subjects.

An Art Lovers Delight
If you are connoisseur of the arts, you will feel right at home in Udaipur. There are plenty of murals and rare paintings that adorn the palace walls. In the hall adjacent to Badi Mahal (the Great Palace), you will find miniature paintings from the 18th and 19th century. Close by, the Jag Mandir temple dedicated to an avatar of Vishnu, Lord Jagdish, you will find magnificent wall paintings from the 18th century. Don't miss the amazing depiction of an elephant fight that is based on the actual elephant fights that the Maharanas were fond of staging. It is said that the elephants were given opium just before the fights to increase their aggression. However, such practices are no longer in vogue and neither are elephant fights. What you will find is a boutique run by the nature preservation body, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The Bhim Vilas palace has one of the most comprehensive collection of miniature paintings based on stories of Krishna and his consort Radha. To see paintings of the Maharanas, head for the Durbar Hall at Fateh Prakash palace that was built in 1909 . Krishna Vilas has a collection of miniatures that depict festivals, games and processions from a bygone era. Finally, as the icing on the art cake, check out the Laxmi Vilas Chowk art gallery where you can get yourself a unique example of the Mewar style of painting.  

If you prefer your aesthetics in more dimensions than two, don't fret. Start at the top with Amar Vilas and take in its scintillating views of the lake from the hanging gardens on the terraces of the palace. From here, visit Chini Chitrashala (which literally translates into the 'Chinese Art Gallery') and see the Chinese connection to Udaipur. The Fateh Prakash palace has a unique collection of crystal furniture on display. Said to be ordered by the Maharaja Sajjan Singh in 1877, from F& C Osler & Co.  in London.

When done with your sightseeing and touring the city, you can relax with a spa and yoga session, followed by a boat cruise sipping on your favorite cocktail at sunset. A number of 5 star hotels in Udaipur offer the perfect ending to a busy day browsing through the history and culture of this fascinating city. You can enjoy a relaxing spa treatment, pamper your palate in a fine dining ambience, savor a drink overlooking the lake or go on a romantic boat cruise.

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