Udaipur is considered the romantic city of Rajasthan, and I have to say it was love at first sight when I visited this city the second time. The historical palaces, luxurious hotels, scenic sights along the lakes and much more exciting stuff. It was my second visit to Udaipur, the last time I visited it I was too small to remember a thing.
But my second visit was indelible. With an aim to make it a visual delight for my family and, of course, me, I insisted on visiting the Udaipur City Palace.
The City Palace: A visual delight of Udaipur
The City Palace is a palace complex in the city of Udaipur, Rajasthan. It was built in 1559 by Maharana Udai Singh II and his successor Maharanas (76 generations) over a period of next 300 years. It comprises of 11 magnificent palaces, each built by 42 different rulers retaining a surprising uniformity to the design and is considered as largest palace complex in Rajasthan and is replete with history. It is often considered as ‘ a city within a city’.
It was built as the capital after Maharana Udai Singh shifted from Chittor. Situated on the eastern bank of Lake Pichola, the City Palace has several small palaces constructed within its entire complex. This palace is an unmatched sample of status, prestige and elegance of the Mewar Rulers, who ruled over Udaipur.
Now, I take you through the beauty of the architecture and the richness of the Mewar Maharanas.
The main entrance to the museum is through the main old town street leading to Jagdish Mandir. There is an alternate entrance from the Southside also. At the main gate, Badi Pol, there is a ticket window on the left-hand side. Vehicle parking is after the Badi Pol, so you have to stop before that entrance to buy a ticket.
The museum opens at 9:30 hours and the last ticket is sold at 16:45 hours. The museum closes at 17:30 hours. The museum is open on Sundays and all public holidays except on the day after Holika Dahan in March.
Buying ticket is itself a great task, not because of the crowd, but because of the different options available there. You can buy tickets for different items inside the palace, for example, to visit palace complex only or to visit the palace museum or to visit the crystal museum or to take a boat ride in Pichola and many combinations of these, there are at least 20 combinations. So, the first thing is to be sure about your purpose of visit.
It is a long walk from the ticket office to the entrance to the City Palace Museum, which got extended further as I just felt like stopping now and then to look at the calm blue waters of Lake Pichola. What would have ordinarily been a leisurely 5-7 minute walk to the palace complex entrance turned into a 15-minute stroll.
The external walls of the City Palace are not plain but have the most delicate art painted on them in muted shades of grey and blue. There are spots of bright colours in these paintings, which enhance the artwork rather than overwhelm it. Today, while the central part of the Palace Complex is the City Palace Museum, other portions have been converted into hotels. Part of the City Palace is also home to the royal family of Udaipur. I entered the City Palace Museum through the Toran Pol Gate; there’s a large tiger-catching cage near the Toran Pol.
One of the first set of rooms in the Museum is devoted to Maharana Pratap. I was fascinated by his chain mail armour, which reportedly weighs 20 kilos, and the ‘elephant mask’ he devised for his horse, Chetak, to fool the elephants of the enemy army into thinking that his horse was actually a baby elephant.
Every section of the City Palace Museum offers great views of Lake Pichola. Nearly every window in the City Palace is different from the other, either they are covered with stained glass or stone jaali work or both.
Badi Mahal: Known as the garden palace. It features a beautiful central garden with flowering shrubs, trees, water basin, fountain and arched pavilions, providing a quiet, shaded spot to rest during a tour of the museum. Situated at the highest point in the palace, it also presents a majestic and panoramic view of the town and Lake Pichola. It may seem on the highest level, but in fact, it is at ground level. It was built of local marble with 104 intricately carved pillars and verandahs on both the east and the west side.
Also, on display are the cages of pigeons, which were used as a messenger in the ancient time. They worked like WhatsApp in that era when communication means were not so advanced.
Surya Chaupar: Built by Mahara Karan Singh, this room is dedicated to God Sun. A huge ornamental sun is preserved in this room. Mewar rulers had a great faith in the power of God Sun. It was customary for the Maharanas to offer obeisance to the Sun facing east, every morning before taking breakfast.
Amar Vilas: A Mughal era-styled garden. The fact that this ‘garden’ is situated at the 4th or 5th level of the City Palace made it that much more special and interesting.
Clay Pots @ Amar Mahal: It was a surprise to see these items of common man inside a palace with exotic decorations. But, there is a display of traditional Indian kitchen with wood for fuel , old-styled fans and other things of general household inside the Amar Mahal. The chulha or stove was made out of clay or stone, in which wood is used as fuel. Utensils are made of metal or clay.
Dil Kusha Mahal: Many of the palace rooms scale not only a rocky ridge but the heights of vulgarity. The case in point is the Dil Kusha Mahal, from the 1620s. The name translates as "love entertainment room."
Dome in the ceiling of the Dil Kusha Mahal and the floor are mirrored, too.
Moti Mahal: The name means Pearl Hall, but the walls are actually clad in mirrors.
Zenana Mahal: The Women's quarters, is done in cafeteria green
All these places in the City Palace form a city within a city. The whole complex belongs to the royal family of Mewar, and several trusts administer the maintenance and running of the City Palace.
It took me about two hours to walk through the various rooms and passages in the Museum with the guide. But, I noticed that the audio guide at the City Palace took the visitors to portions in the Museum that were not frequented by tourist groups and their guides. Another big advantage is that the audio guide mutes out the babble of fellow tourists. And this was needed in a place like City Palace, which, if the crowds were any indication, receives hundreds of visitors in a day.
Even though there were large numbers of visitors, the attitude of the team that manages the City Palace complex leaves a lot to be desired.
I found that certain sections in the Museum were closed to the public some days. I found out that some portions get closed if there was a wedding or any event happening at that venue. Considering that the whole Palace in managed by the Royal Family, I appreciate that the Palace has to generate revenue from visitors and from renting out space for events.
The latter probably nets the Palace more money in one evening than revenue generated from ticket sales in a month. And yet, cancelling shows without prior notice, and suddenly making certain areas inaccessible to visitors without informing them in advance does not reflect well on the management.
This trip was originally published on Travel The Gud1