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Monday, November 26, 2007


The city of Udaipur is situated between two major lakes, the Pichola and the Fateh Sagar to the north...


The city of Udaipur, surrounded by pale fawn-brown rambling hills, is like a watercolor painting. A quite romantic air is cast over the city by the play of light on its buildings and lakes. At sunrise the palaces of Udaipur emerge and stand majestically against their background of shimmering water. Udaipur, the "Sunrise city', derives its name from the founder Maharana Udai Singh, and the title also hints at the solar descent of its rulers. By moonlight the city acquires a fairyland quality. Today, like all cities in India, it has its share of noise and bustling traffic, fifth and squalor, but it remains in many ways one of the most picturesque royal cities of the state of Rajasthan.

The city of Udaipur was built when the Mewar Rajput families were forced to leave their traditional home and fort of Chittor or Chittorgarh in 1567. Choosing a strategic site between their other forts at Kumbhalgarh and Chittor, a new royal city was built that has grown and developed over several generations. The Mewar family, unlike the Jaipur Rajputs, initially resisted the comfortable temptation of allying with the Mughal emperors. They refused to give their daughters in marriage or to allow their sons to join the emperor's forces. This brought the Mewars enormous trouble and their kingdom was under attack for much of the medieval period, and there are innumerable stories, romantic ballads, legendary songs, and love poems composed to extol their bravery and valour.

The city of Udaipur is situated between two major lakes, the Pichola and the Fateh Sagar to the north. Pichola Lake takes its name from a small village nearby which was enlarged by Udai Singh when he planned his new capital on its banks. Overlooking the lake, on the eastern bank, was a natural hillock which was incorporated into the protective fortification of the City Palace. The royal palace walls stretch over a mile on the eastern side of the lake, and within the palace are a maze of inner courtyards, apartments, and decorated halls.

Legend has it that Maharana Udai Singh was out hunting one day when he came upon a holy sage seated beside the Pichola Lake. The sage prophesied that should the king build his palace at this site the fortunes of his troubled family would soon change. The Maharana built a small shrine to mark the spot, and this sanctuary is the oldest part of the City Palace.

Much of the palace is now open to the public and one can wander through the halls and see some of the royal possessions on display. There are rooms covered with frescoes (like Krishna Vilas), stone and glass mosaics (Shish Mahal, Manak Mahal, and Moti Mahal), and ornamental doors and painted windows. Unlike the Mughal forts of Agra and Delhi where figurative art was taboo, there was no such restriction here and charming portraits of the kings and their courtiers were painted on the walls. Windows with wooden shutters were painted with lovely maindens standing beside flowering trees, evoking a lush landscape that Rajasthan rarely saw. Each painting was a happy blend of bright mineral colors, vibrant earth reds, yellows with highlights in white and green.

The marble throne in the coronation room was last used in the time of Maharana Sangram Singh II (1710-34). One courtyard has large peacock motifs decorated with colored mosaics. Nearby is the Sun Window installed by Bhim Singh (1778-1828). This is the divine symbol of the royal Mewar family which traces its lineage to the surya vamsha, the descendants of the sun.

The Zenana Mahal is situated south of the City Palace museum and was built for the women of the royal harem of Maharana Karan Singh in 1620. The fortified private living quarters of the ladies of the royal family is entered through a well-guarded doorway. Within the walls are the temples of the royal household, and each of the apartments are referred to by romantic names, e.g. the Rang Mahal, the hall of colors, and Badal Mahal, the palace of the clouds. The Museum has halls filled with miniature paintings, which provide glimpses of the royal lifestyle of the Maharanas of Mewar. There are paintings of the royal hunt, where the king is seen crouched dramatically on one side as the fleeing tiger or deer is shown well within shooting range. There are other portraits and scenes of court life which give a classic view of the way the royal kings and queens of Udaipur dressed themselves. Yards of the finest cotton, muslin, and silken brocade, over which were displayed the most spectacular jewel necklaces, belts, bracelets, rings, and anklets.

Towards the southern end of Pichola lake is Jag Mandir, an island palace built by Maharana Karan Singh. It was here that the Mughal prince Khurram took refuge from his father, Emperor Jahangir. Prince Khurram, later to be named Shah Jahan (and to build the Taj Mahal in Agra), revolted against his father in 1623 in a bid for succession. He inherited the throne on the death of Jahangir in 1627 and some say that this beautiful sandstone palace amidst the lake at Udaipur, with its fine inlaid designs using onyx, jasper, and agate, had great influence on the young prince and became his inspiration when building his palaces in Delhi and Agra.

Another lovely structure built amidst the Pichola Lake is Jag Niwas, now the Lake Palace Hotel. It was built on a four acre natural bed of granite and marble, and originates from the time of Maharana Jagat Singh I (1628-52). One can only imagine the tremendous effort that went into building this wonder palace set in a sea of water. The palace is designed with a series of interconnecting gardens and courtyards filled with fountains and trees, while the royal apartment rooms look out on the glittering lake encircling it.

The palace was converting into a hotel in 1963 and, with the addition of a few more rooms and facilities, it has become a romantic place in which to stay. For a price one can live in tastefully decorated rooms in the lap of luxury of a forgotten world, marooned in the midst of a lovely lake with twentieth century comforts of which the Maharanas of Udaipur could never have dreamt.

North of Pichola Lake is Fateh Sagar built in 1678 with an embankment added by Fateh Singh in 1889. A lovely walk along this lake and in the Saheliyon-ki-Bari (the garden for the lady companions) offers an opportunity to appreciate Udaipur in the way it was meant to be enjoyed. The old city has a charm of its own. The narrow and undulating roads are lined with shops and stores in which the wares are as colorful as the customers. Beside the shops there are workshops and cottage industries tucked away on rooftops and in side lanes, like any traditional market-place of old. It is well worth a visit to see how the celebrated tie-and-dye and textile block-printing is done.

Of architectural interest are the elegant chattris of Ahar 3.2 kilometers from Udaipur. At this royal cremation ground there are several artistic open pavilions with hybrid Islamic domes built to commemorate the death of the Ranas.

What's In The Neighbourhood
Apart from local sightseeing and shopping for beautiful Rajasthani printed and embroidered textiles, enamelwork jewellery and handicrafts, there are lovely gardens and lakes in and around Udaipur. A number of interesting day trips can be made out of Udaipur to see the romantic fort of Chittor, Kumbhalgarh, and the extraordinary Hindu and Jain temples nearby.

The road from Udaipur to Eklingji is very beautiful. The undulating countryside, gentle hills and valleys carry the charm of the miniature paintings of this region. About thirty kilometers north of Udaipur is an ancient temple called Eklingji dedicated to Shiva. The temple was originally built by the founder of the Mewar family who came upon this site one day when he was herding his cattle. A holy sage he met there advised him to build this temple and the stone image, a linga of Shiva with four faces, became the patron deity of the royal family. Even today the Maharana worships here and he is considered the representative of Eklingji. The temple was rebuilt in the fourteenth century in granite and marble, and is still a celebrated pilgrimage site in Rajasthan (open alas to Hindus only).

Nagada Temples
About four kilometers to the west of Eklingji are some interesting ruined eleventh century temples called Sas-Bahu (for some reason, the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law temples) with exquisite stone carvings.

Sixty kilometers north of Udaipur is one of the most popular pilgrim sites of Rajasthan built around a temple dedicated to Shri Nathji or Krishna. Within the temple (open only to Hindus) is an idol of Krishna in jet black stone and in his dimple is a huge sparkling diamond. It is said that when the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb banned worship at Mathura, the home of Shri Nathji, the Mewar Maharana offered the image a home. While transporting the idol the Maharana received an omen. At one point the wheel of his chariot refused to move, as though the deity wished to remain there. A temple was built and a small but interesting township grew around the shrine, serving the needs of thousands of pilgrims. The temple is always crowded. Nathdwara is also an artists' colony. Well-known musicians who play and sing for their lord live and study here. Pitchwais, painted cloth curtains to screen the sanctum of the temple, are also made here by skilled artists. There are interesting musical instrument shops and other cottage industries, and life on the streets of Nathdwara offers an ephemeral glimpse into the past.

North-west of Udaipur is a collection of beautiful Jain temples which are still a popular pilgrimage site for the Jain community. The temples were built in the fifteenth century by a wealthy Jain merchant. The delicate, profusely carved Adhinatha temple with a thousand elaborate marble pillars is a masterpiece of Jain architecture of this period and region.

Another spectacular fort of the Mewar family, named after Kumbha who ruled the territory from Chittor and founded the site in 1458. It stands 1087 meters above sea level (two hours drive north from Udaipur) and is a strategically placed on the northern spur of the Aravalli hills. On the crest of the highest mountain ridge is the fort, and below it run the winding serpentine protective walls which then get lost in the surrounding jungles and ravines. The fort's impressive location is enhanced by the extensive forest which surrounds it. Seven massive gateways guard the entrance to the fort. The main wall at some places eight meters thick. Much of the area is forest and forms part of the nearby wildlife sanctuary. Within the fort walls were once 365 temples and shrines, a self-sufficent village, tanks, and the remains of the garrison, numerous chattris commemorating the dead, and the palaces of the Ranas. The apart-ments of the palace were rebuilt during the nineteenth century and many of the now deserted rooms were decorated with elaborate plasterwork. The topmost building, the Badal Mahal or Cloud Palace (the palace amidst the clouds), providing a spectacular view over the forest, and hills to the south and west; to the north stretch the flat desert plains of the Thar desert.

How To Get There
Udaipur is linked by rail, road, and air to Delhi, Jaipur, Ahmadabad, and Bombay. There are a number of reasonably priced hotels and there is also converted palace accommodation. The best season to visit the region is during winter when it is cool, and if there has been a good monsoon then the lakes of Udaipur will be particularly lovely and the hills draped in lush green.


1 comment:

Delhi Agra Day Trip said...

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