The word Rajasthan conjures up a montage of images in my mind. I associate the state with royal families, forts, the Thar desert, camels, colorful pagdis, enterprising businessmen, and a history that was replete with instances of valor as well as suffering of Rajput warriors and their womenfolk.

As a tourist destination, Rajasthan is more popular with foreigners than it is with Indians. We, Indians, are more after temples and hill stations. The colorful folk, royal palaces, forts, camels and the desert together might be luring the foreigners, with the promise of quenching their thirst for the exotic. It seems, the cities Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur, and Pushkar are popular among foreign tourists. On their radar, these tourist hotspots of Rajasthan are as important as Agra, Delhi, Varanasi, Goa, Hampi, Khajuraho and Ajanta. The Indian experience is not complete without the customary trip through the land of Maharajas!

This interest in Rajasthan is not lost on the tourism and hospitality industries. Rajasthan boasts of some of the best hotels in India.  For the rich, Rajasthan is a traveler’s delight in terms of luxury and style. The itinerary of the Maharaja Express, the luxury train operated by IRCTC and patronized mainly by foreign tourists, is mainly centered on Rajasthan. However, many backpackers flock in too, travelling sleeper class in trains and staying in cheap hotels and hostels.
I had long wanted to travel through Rajasthan. I found that the nearest place of significance from Mumbai is Udaipur.  It is 16 hours away by train, which just means a night journey and then some more. I finally take up the gauntlet and on a fine late January morning, land in the city of lakes and palaces.

With the image of the desert in my mind, I was expecting the weather to be hot and so did not bring any winter gear.  To my surprise, the days were cool and the nights were cooler!  It was not that the Sun does not shine bright. It does, but still, when you are in shade, it is cold. The day temperature hovered between 17 and 230 C while the nights saw 11-140 C temperature. I observed that people, who were required to be out in the open because of their professions, lighted fires to fight the night chill. However, I was told that summers are unbearably hot.  The best time to visit Udaipur is between September and March.

Desert is nowhere near Udaipur. For that, you better go visit Jaisalmer or Bikaner. The outskirts of Udaipur have a rustic feel, with crops grown and cattle reared. It feels like any other tier-two Indian city, except for the distinct paintings on walls of most houses.

The heritage of kings and warriors dominates the cultural landscape of the city. Popular local handicrafts such as paintings, marble art, silver art, and terracotta are dominated by the motif of the royals and their lifestyle. On the walls of every house, one can see the paintings of horse and elephant mounted men, ushering visitors. This is not surprising, as Udaipur city was the seat of the kingdom of Mewar. Until the princely state of Udaipur joined the Indian Union in 1949, it had been ruled by the Chattari Rajputs of Mori Guhilot Parihar and Sisodia dynasties for over 1,400 years.

One can clearly see that even after nearly 450 years of his heroic resistance, Maharana Pratap remains the city’s favorite son. The Sisodia warrior king refused to bow down to the imperial might of the Mughal empire that was at its peak with none other than Akbar at the helm. I feel Pratap is to the Mewar region what Shivaji is to Maharashtra, a symbol of resistance to Mughal might and upholder of the local religion and culture. The places, events, and people related to the life and struggle of the brave warrior king are revered and remembered. The majestic and beautiful Maharana Pratap Smarak is a loving and respectful tribute to his memory. One can see that the royal heritage has an unmistakable imprint on the spirit of the city and Pratap, along with his loyal horse Chetak, occupies a special corner in the hearts of the people!

Lakes together with the backdrop of the Aravali hills dominate the landscape of the city. Lake Pichola, Fateh Sagar Lake, Udai Sagar Lake, Rajsamand Lake and Jaisamand Lake are the five prominent lakes of the Mewar region. While the first two lie inside the city, the later three are spread across a radius of 66 km from the city. All of these lakes are artificial lakes, developed over the last few centuries by the rulers of the times to serve the water needs of the people.  Of these, Lake Pichola is the most picturesque and lies at the heart of the city. Because of its beautiful lakes, the city is called Venice of the east and acclaimed as romantic.

City Palace, lying on the banks of Lake Pichola, is the most visited tourist attraction in the city. The downtown area of the city developed around the various entrances of the palace complex. Most of the tourist attractions like within a radius of 4 km from the City Palace. Hathi Pol, Bada Bazaar, Chetak Circle, and Palace Road are some of the popular shopping arcades.

Udaipur cuisine is mainly vegetarian because of the influence of Vaishnavism and Jainism. Udaipur is famous for its Dal-Baati-Churma, Gatte-Ki-Sabzi, Kachori and Mirchi Bada. Many restaurants serve unlimited Rajasthani thali. Rajasthani cuisine is spicy as opposed to the neighboring Gujarat where everything is supposed to be sweet.  Natraj is perhaps the most famous thali restaurant and rightly so. Your trip is not complete until you have tasted Dal-baati-churma and the thali!

List below are the important tourist attractions in and around Udaipur:  
•    City Palace and Lake Pichola
•    Monsoon palace and Sajjangarh sanctuary 
•    Maharana Pratap Smarak
•    Bagore ki Haveli and the Dharohar show
•    Fateh Sagar lake
•    Jagadish ji temple
•    Sukhadia circle
•    Chetak circle
Get out:
•    Srinathji temple – 48 km
•    Eklingji temple and Sas-Bahu temple – 22 km
•    Kumbhalgarh fort – 100 km
•    Chittorgarh fort – 130 km
•    Ranakpur – 88 km
•    Mount Abu – 158 km

Some more..
•    Monsoon Palace is situated atop a hill inside Sajjangarh sanctuary.  The views, of the Aravali range and the lakes, from the palace balconies are simply breathtaking.
•    The darshan timings of Srinath ji at Nathdwara change every day and updated on the temple website.
•    Sas-bahu is not dedicated to the sas-bahu relationship! It is a corrupted form of Sahasra Bahu.  Strangely, you won’t find any idol in this temple now. Though known for its intricate carvings, it is not a place of worship now, but maintained well by ASI for preservation purposes.
•    Ranakpur jain temple is known for its magnificent architecture.
•    Sukhadia circle is famous for its street food served by a never-ending line of stalls.  

By Amarendra Sagila

Tags: Udaipur City