With whatever time we could squeeze out to visit Udaipur, in our long road trip from Rajasthan to Tamilnadu spread over a period of six days, we were left wanting for more….
Though old Udaipur is a maze of meandering narrow alleys teeming with people, cows, stray dogs, trash thrown carelessly, vehicles and tourists but it is also where one finds restaurants catering authentic Rajasthani cuisine, shops selling ornate antique metal and wood work, traditional clothes and turbans and also the entrance to 5 star palace hotel ‘The Leela’ which is why it is best to park your car and hire an auto-rickshaw for the day(around 800 Rs to 900 Rs) or for a specific destination.
We chose to visit the City Palace first and not pack all tourist destinations in the few hours we had. The foundation of City Palace was laid by Maharana Uday Singh II in 1559. The complex overlooking beautiful Lake Pichola is the largest of its kind in Rajasthan and is a conglomeration of 11 separate palaces added by each descendent over a period of 400 years.
The entrance gate ‘Badi Pol’ has the entry ticket counter and is surrounded by shops, shops and more shops.
I was drawn to a particular shop selling block-printing wood stencils. Being an amateur artist I tend to pick up lot of such stuff and obviously could not resist buying these blocks specially when the shopkeeper was ready to bargain!
My shopping done we entered the gate to find another most imposing huge gate”Tripolia Gate” manned by uniformed guards, that led to the palace courtyard. The neat array of electric lamps brings a modernised feel to this centuries old magnificent entrance.
Beyond the gate is the courtyard of the palace where once upon a time the royal elephants and horses stood. The courtyard though tiled with stone, housing a beautiful garden now still shows off the heavy chains and poles where the elephants were once chained. The yesteryear stables are now high-end shops selling cloth made from banana silk, antiques, gems and precious stones etc.
The other end of courtyard houses a small but expensive cafe now. And as much I wanted to have a nice hot coffee or a scoop of frozen coffee ice cream, I still could not bring myself to splurge in the cafe…
The entrance to royal quarters is through a humble small door known as ‘Ganesh Dyodhi’ where a idol of Hindu God Lord Ganesh is installed so that every time one enters or leaves the palace, they can seek blessings of the God. The visitors were let in by the thick moustached Ram Singh, the guard at the door.
Steeped in the historic stories of brave Ranas and Maharanas of Mewar, the palace showcases silver ware, clothes, guns, swords and family photographs in various rooms. I was searching for tell tale signs of famous stories of love and war but the guide did not divulge any gossip relating to the royal family…..
Udaipur is also known as ‘White City’ and a view from an ornate jharokha (window) proved how white it really looks…
The palace built on a hill with each level made in such way that it sat on the natural contour of the hill. Moving through rooms and corridors of the palace along with the guide gave us a glimpse of royal life and I was transported to bygone era.
My imagination took vivid form and I became the princess floating down the pillared passage ways decorated with finest silk curtains overlooking the central courtyards….covertly sending messages to my prince of far off lands by the royal pigeon-post…
This is one palace where care has been taken to preserve the centuries old paintings on wall by encasing them in glass. The amount of labour, time, patience and craftsmanship that must have gone in each of these paintings is beyond comprehension in these quick-fix lifestyle of today.
As I walked past, marvelling at the displays in various rooms, the guide asked us to peep through another jharokha to see the current residence of the royal family. Rana Sriji Arvind Singh Mewar is the 76th custodian of Mewar Dynasty.
With an astute business sense, the current royal family has converted all their family palaces and havelis into heritage hotels which helps in perfect upkeep of the historic buildings along with generating income. Even the city palace is leased for large scale events like marriage ceremonies for few lakhs as the venue fee. The family also runs a school in the palace complex in the rooms which were once barracks for soldiers of royal army.
For the whole hour or so that we took the tour , we saw only a small portion of the huge palace. All other areas were not accessible for tourists.
At evenings City Palace comes alive swathed in bright lights and reverberating with the sound of horse hooves, battle cries, celebrations, music and retelling of history in a light and sound show. Due to misinformation of the timings, we however reached quite late and the show was already half way through.
Though disappointed for missing out the light and sound show we welcomed the silence of the night in our resort room because it was going to be a long drive till Surat, the next day….