Who said monsoons meant being locked up at home, watching the rainfall through the window while sipping on hot tea? Visit the city of Udaipur during the rainy months & your perception will change forever.
Referred to as the ‘Venice of the East’, Udaipur is a city of tranquil lakes, exquisitely laid out gardens & opulently decorated palaces, reaping in heritage, culture & tradition. Founded by the Rajput king Maharana Udai Singh II in 1559, Udaipur was declared the first capital of the Mewar kingdom, built around the marvellous Lake Pichola & situated in the midst of the Aravallis.
With a 4 day weekend ahead and Udaipur's proximity to Delhi, we decided to explore the city. Like always, a last minute decision didn’t allow us to get any train reservations & we resorted to the bus. Being bang in the middle of monsoons, quite a few people dissuaded us to venture, but we still did!
A number of buses leave from the Iffco Chowk at Gurgaon & are overnight journeys taking about 8 hours to reach Udaipur – we however took a little bit more than 12! Not only did the bus start late, but it was one of the most doddering journeys for the next 12 hours, the only saving grace being an air-conditioned bus. We tried to catch on whatever little sleep we could, as that was the only way to make sure that time flew.
From the Udaipur bus stand we took an auto to our hotel Poonam Haveli at Lal Ghat. Through narrow, really narrow & crowded lanes, the auto zoomed its way through. Thinking back, it was a good decision not to drive down, as the lanes in the city were so narrow that it was impossible to manoeuvre cars through.
As we walked through the dingy & over congested lanes of Lal Ghat, we suddenly found ourselves in front of these huge arches & columns, behind which lay Udaipur’s majestic architectural wonder, the City Palace. Built by Maharana Udai Singh 400 years ago, the palace is a flamboyant fusion of Mughal & Rajasthani architectural styles. Built on a hill top, it gives a breathtaking panoramic view of the city & its surroundings.
The complex comprises of 11 magnificent palaces & is often considered the ‘city within a city’. Gardens, courtyards, fountains, swimming pool, colourful ethnic wall paintings, sculptures, stained glasses, mirror work & the spectacular view of Lake Pichola from the terrace, made it a pleasure to walk around the palace while absorbing the rich history of Mewar.
Through a chequered courtyard, we walked into a gallery devoted to the legendary warrior Maharana Pratap & his loyal horse Chetak. His war ornaments, a recreated Chetak & Maharana Pratap’s 25kgs sword were all at display.
The Sheesh Mahal (Mirror Palace) & the Mor Chok (Peacock Courtyard) were the highlights of the palace displaying intricate ‘minakari’ work famous in Rajasthan.
After some authentic Rajasthani lunch, we decided to take the boat ride on the picturesque Lake Pichola. The weather was a strange combination of a beautiful sun set glimmering on the still waters & an overcast sky with a cool breeze – making it a perfect setting as we rowed along, marvelling the Udaipur skyline dotted with stately palaces & mansions.
The Lake Pichola is enveloped by lofty palaces, temples, bathing ghats & elevated hills on all its sides. Along the way, we noticed the City Palace complex looking absolutely regal & standing, or should I say ‘floating tall’. Next came the havelis (mansions) of nobles, the most prominent being Bagore ki Haveli with its triple arched Tripolia Gate standing as a magnificent piece of architecture at the far end of the Gangaur Ghat.
Have always been in awe of the Taj Lake Palace hotel – for me, it’s either been a hotel which only foreigners can afford or reserved for celebrity weddings. We sailed by this world renowned hotel perfectly placed on the Jag Island in the middle of the tranquil lake. Built by Maharana Jagat Singh in 1746, the white structure has been a famous shooting spot for James Bond’s Octopussy. Later it was handed over to the Taj group to be converted into a hotel. Since the room rates start from 25000 Indian Rupees per night, we thought we would atleast stop by for a coffee. Alas, we were told that post the 26/11 attacks on Taj in Mumbai, only residents are allowed to travel to the hotel.
Slightly disappointed we carried on sailing past the Jag Mandir, the first island palace on Pichola, as old as 1622. Initially it was built as a pleasure palace for parties & functions & till date it is known to host weddings of the rich & famous. The island has some elegant stone carvings & a chhatri, with ample courtyards & gardens.
We sailed back towards the dock & sitting by it sipped on chai, totally enthralled by the soothing effect of the pristine blue lake & the regal structures around. The lake was over flowing with water when we visited, however heard that some years back, because of drought, the entire lake had dried up & people could walk from the City Palace to the Taj hotel instead of taking the boat!
We managed to get hold of an excessively helpful & enthusiastic autowalla, who was all prepared to be the guide for our tour & take us around in his little auto. After our relaxing boat ride, next he took us to the Jagdish temple – a three storeyed wonder of architecture dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Beautifully carved pillars, decorated ceilings, painted walls, sculptures of dancers, elephants, horsemen, musicians & lush halls made it truly a sight to behold.
We later whiled away some time in the little alleys of Udaipur and stopped by this small, very English bakery called Cafe Edelweiss for some coffee & cakes.
Bagore ki Haveli
The Bagore ki Haveli hosts ‘Dharohar’, a cultural event from 7-8pm everyday (and apparently has been doing this continuously for the last 10 years) at their Neem Chowk. Right as all of us got seated in the open courtyard, it started raining & we were all rushed indoors where the entire show shifted to one of the large halls of the haveli.
We all quickly took our places on the floor after much pushing & shoving around, got ready to witness one of the brightest & most colourful acts ever. For the next one hour, we were witness to the 7 major traditional folk dances of Rajasthan. Women dressed in different coloured ghagras, danced with ignited brass pots on their heads, musical instruments tied to their bodies, standing on the edges of brass plates, balancing dozen earthen pots on their heads & of course with the ever omnipresent puppets of Rajasthan. Beautiful, colourful, bright, fantastic, spell binding & the thoroughly entertaining folklore kept us totally mesmerized.
Just after leaving the compound, don’t forget to turn left on to the Gangaur Ghat to view the spectacular Lake Pichola by night, looking absolutely surreal with the reflection of the lit up palaces glimmering in the lake.
We hopped onto the auto, did some search on Zomato & drove to Raas Leela – a restaurant on the banks of Pichola for a ‘lantern-lit’ dinner, overlooking the lake. Slightly difficult to locate, it will be best if you leave it to your autowalla to find the restaurant. We savoured on some delicious laal maans, enjoying an absolutely stunning view of the lake & the palaces.
Next morning, we woke up to a cloudy & rainy day. Praying for the rain to stop, after some delicious parathas for breakfast, overlooking Pichola from our hotel roof top restaurant, we called our autowalla & set off for the day.
Maharana Pratap Memorial
The Maharana Pratap Memorial is situated atop the ‘Pearl Hill’ overlooking the other famous lake of Udaipur – the Fateh Sagar Lake. A life-sized bronze statue dedicated to the gallant Rajput hero on his faithful horse Chetak stands on top of the hill, offering a beautiful view of the Udaipur city.
A Japanese rock garden & remnants of one of the forts are located near the hill & can be visited on the way back.
We kept dodging the rain and as soon as it stopped, we made the most of the many parks & gardens of Udaipur. Saheliyon-ki-Bari (meaning house of friends) is a quaint little garden that was laid out for the women attendants who had come along with the princess of Mewar, as part of her dowry. The garden has beautiful, well maintained fountains, marble sculptures, pretty flowers & a delightful lotus pond in the middle. Just after the rain, everything looked so fresh & green – it was a pleasure to walk around & almost breathe fresh & non-polluted air.
The rain Gods however decided we had had enough & therefore returned. In the meantime, we decided to lunch on some very traditional Rajasthani ‘dal-baati-churma’ at Natraj Dining Hall. A bowl of lentil (dal), a tough ball of wheat oozing with ghee (baati) & ground wheat sweetened with sugar (churma) – together making up a complete dish that is not only filling but extremely rich & heavy.
Fateh Sagar Lake & Nehru Garden
After feeling absolutely full (even small portions make you feel very heavy in the stomach), we went to the Fateh Sagar Lake – took a ferry & crossed over to the Nehru Garden, an island in the middle of the lake, a favourite picnic spot for the locals. Lush green gardens, freshly blooming flowers, fountains, dozens of squirrels scampering around & brightly colourful butterflies fluttering were all very soothing to the eye in the abode of nature.
As the sun set, we left the island and on our way back, stopped by the Bhartiya Lok Kala Mandal, a cultural institution propagating folk arts of Rajasthan. It has a museum that exhibits collection of Rajasthani folk articles along with a puppet theatre that hosts shows at regular intervals.
That night, we looked up Lonely planet & zeroed in on this restaurant called Savage Garden for dinner. Somebody must have been terribly inspired by the band to have named a restaurant such all the way in Udaipur!! Tucked away in the backstreets in a 250 year old haveli with indigo walls & a pleasant courtyard, it had a surprisingly great mix of continental cuisine along with some delicious Indian wine.
With a day to spare, we decided to take off from Udaipur & drive down to one of its nearest hill stations – Mount Abu.
Mount Abu is famous for the Dilwara Temple & is 3 hours away from Udaipur. Being situated on the border of Rajasthan & Gujarat, it gets tourists from both these states. The roads were pretty good & we reached by noon & immediately visited the Dilwara Temple – one of the finest Jain temples all over the world. From the outside it is so unimpressive that it becomes hard to believe the architectural wonder when you walk in.
There are five parts to the temple dedicated to the 5 Jain thirthankaras (saints) & dates back to the 13th century. The marvellous & extraordinary marble stone carvings with ornamental detailing are phenomenal & unmatched to no other – experts sometime consider this piece of craftsmanship to be superior to the Taj Mahal!
Completely spellbound, however we left the temple totally disappointed as no cameras are allowed in.
As the evening set in, we drove down to the sunset point – a must have in all possible hill stations. It was so cloudy, all we could see was a hazy view of the town through the mist.
Our resort was situated slightly away from the hustle bustle of the crowd with a pretty garden & small cottages around it. We sat at the shacks & sipped on hot chai & munched on some pakoras – just the perfect combination for the weather.
We were told by our receptionist that Guru Shikhar was a must visit as it was not only the highest peak of Mount Abu, but the entire Aravalli Range. When we reached, we agreed – it provided one of the most breathtaking panoramic views of the town & the Aravallis – and in the middle of the mist, it was like a ‘walk in the clouds’!
We panted our way up a long flight of steps, which has a couple of temples on the way that you could visit. We instead stopped midway for some chai & piping hot Maggi – another combination for the monsoons that can never go wrong!
Our next stop was the Nakki Lake, an artificial lake with a very interesting story behind its creation. Apparently, the Gods used their nails or ‘nakh’ to dig this lake & hence the name. Situated next to the main market, the place was very crowded, buzzing with people eating at the various stalls or boating.
To while away sometime before setting off, we stopped by the Jaipur Haveli Hotel (one of the royal havelis that has been converted to a hotel now), sat at the roof top overlooking the golf course & the beautiful Nakki Lake, while being showered with some royal treatment as uniformed waiters served tea in silver cups out of a shining silver tea pot (I think I saw a tea-cosy after like a million years!).
Later we left for the station to take the train back to Delhi. As the trained chugged out of the tiny little Mount Abu station, I looked at the rain outside and realized the character it adds to this part of Rajasthan – had it not been for the monsoons & the overflowing lakes, Udaipur would have been characterised as a dry, arid desert just like any other city of Rajasthan.
The ‘Clicking’ Nomads 10 travelling tips
- Without a doubt, choose to visit Udaipur during the monsoons. Not only is the temperature just perfect for moving around, you get to see the lakes in their true glory.
- Pick up a hotel that gives you a view of the lake – nothing like waking up in the morning to enjoy a cuppa tea while gazing at the serenity of the still waters.
- Do find a little time to visit the Gangaur Ghat – totally non-descript, it’s a sure shot miss if you aren’t going out looking for it specifically. For photography lovers, take your tripods & capture few of the best snapshots of the lit up palaces around the lake.
- The Darohar is a great way to watch ‘rangeelo Rajasthan’ in all its glory – however, do ensure you reach on time to get good seats upfront.
- Take out one night to enjoy dinner overlooking the lakes – a lantern, laal maans (mutton curry), some red wine & a glimmering lake, cannot get more romantic than this.
- Suggest you make reservations on trains, the bus rides are not as comfortable as they may seem to be.
- There isn’t much shopping to do in Udaipur, however, sarees made of bamboo & the traditional bandhni work are unique to the place & can be good to pick up.
- Dal-baati-churma, a must have – it’s like visiting London & not having fish & chips!
- Mount Abu is a small little hill station & good to cover along with Udaipur as an overnight trip.
- A trip to Udaipur is meaningless without a boat ride on Lake Pichola. You may feel boat rides are the same everywhere, be on Dal Lake or may be even in Venice – but there is a different charm at Pichola that can only be experienced - the palaces & royal structures all around, tower over making the experience just over-whelming.