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Udaipur: Venice Of The East

''Endowed with beautiful lakes and palaces, it was backdrop for James Bond flick Octopussy''

LOCATION : Udaipur is a city in the state of Rajasthan, India.

WHY GO THE DISTANCE : Nestled in lofty ranges of the Aravallis, Udaipur is a must visit for its historic value and natural beauty. Experience the grandeur of Rajputana by visiting The City Palace, feel the nature at Saheliyon-Ki-Bari or just go boating in one of the three interconnected exquisite lakes - Fateh Sagar Lake, Lake Pichhola and the smaller Swaroop Sagar Lake. It is also the historic capital of the former princely state of Mewar, and its fortresses still posing firm are specimen of the same. Locals are humble and happy to help tourists all the time. The place also draws attention of up-market westerners too in large numbers every year since the time one of the early James Bond flicks Octopussy was shot here. In fact, a restaurant near The City Palace runs a show of the movie daily even today.

Posing over Lake Pichola is The City Palace, one of the architectural marvels of Rajasthan. Its big palaces, domes, museums and gardens are truly a feast to the eyes. The palace is wholly built in granite and marble and its interiors have some very intricate mirror and marble work besides paintings and murals. Its upper terraces and balconies provide spectacular view of Udaipur city and lake Pichola. There’s an alluring garden (Bada Mahal) on the fourth floor of the palace that has been built on a natural rock formation, which is a masterpiece in itself. It was built by Maharana Uday Singh II in Rajasthani and Mughal architectural styles. A part of the palace is still occupied by the King’s family, while the rest has been converted into a hotel and a museum. It takes at least 2-3 hours to do the entire museum at ease. Places to be visited inside the museum include Amar Vilas, Badi Mahal, Durbar Hall, Fatehprakash Palace, Krishna Vilas, Manak Mahal, Mor Chowk or Peacock Square, Zenana Mahal, Rang Bhawan and Sheesh Mahal.

After doing the museum one can take a boat ride in placid Lake Pichola. The same is organised by the City Palace staff too, which involves sightseeing at Jag Mandir located on one of the islands in the lake. Evening ride involves extra bucks but gives some magnificent view of sunset and illuminated City Palace, Lake Palace and Jag Mandir. Private boat operators too can be approached for a boat ride at Lal Ghat.

It is a palace built on an island in Lake Pichola and can be reached by boat easily. Built in yellow sandstone, the palace has been redeveloped to play host to corporate and leisure travellers and houses a cosy restaurant too.

Standing firm in white in the middle of Lake Pichola is the grand Lake Palace. The luxurious property has been leased-out to the Taj group of hotels. If you have money to splurge, stay a night or two in this hotel to experience grandeur of rajas and maharajas.

A few metres from The City Palace is Jagdish Temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It is one of the largest temple in Udaipur and is frequented by Hindu devotees in large numbers daily. This three-storied temple is a wonder of architecture that comprises beautifully carved pillars, decorated ceilings, painted walls and lush halls.

SAHELIYON-KI-BARI (Garden of the Maidens)
It was built in the 18th century by Maharana Sangram as a hangout place for queen and maids with stunning flowerbeds and lush green lawns. One of the main attractions of the garden are five fountains placed at different locations, which even today are fed by water of the Fatehsagar Lake, gushing through marble ducts. Monsoon is the ideal time to views these fountains at their best. Each fountain has a distinct sound of its own and no electricity or other power source is being used to operate them. The garden houses a striking lotus pond too bordered by beautifully carved marble elephants sprinkling water in the pond. Take a guide along and he would charge only 50 bucks to show you around. Another attraction is the gigantic and very old bougainvillea tree aligned alongside one of the side walls.

Perched atop a mountain is this palatial residence, built with the aim to watch monsoon clouds and for innumerable hunting trips. It was formerly called Sajjan Garh Palace and was built by Maharana Sajjan Singh in 18th century. The palace is surrounded by thick forests and a protected Wildlife Sanctuary and gives awesome panoramic views of the Lake Pichola, Fatehsagar Lake and palaces too on one side and dense Aravalli range on the other. The palace was used in the 1983 James Bond film Octopussy as the residence of Kamal Khan, an exiled Afghan prince. It’s at a distance of 8 kms from the city. Not well-maintained but a must to get priceless view of the city and sunset. Be careful if driving on own as road leading to the palace is narrow and has steep bends.

North to Lake Pichola is another big Fateh Sagar Lake. One of the islands in the lake houses the famous Nehru Park, which can be reached by a boat. The garden comprises a boat-shaped restaurant and a small zoo for children. Built in 1678 by Maharana Jai Singh, Fateh Sagar Lake got its name from Maharana Fateh Singh, who later made additions to it. The lake is clean and multiple boat ride options including pedal boats, speed boats and water scooters are available for hire here. There are a couple of shops around the lake selling snacks and beverages.

GOING AROUND THE CITY : The area around Lake Pichola can be best seen on foot. The lanes within that area are too narrow to be covered at ease in a car. If one wants to roam around the city or do budgeted sightseeing, hiring an auto rickshaw would be the best option. Bargaining is recommended for a fair price. However, going distance from one location to another within the city wouldn't cost more than Rs 60-70. Local cabs can too be hired for distant places and if one is willing to spend.

Udaipur is easily accessible from every major destination in India. From Delhi, the distance is about 650kms. One can drive down via Jaipur-Bhilwara-Chittorgarh highway route. From Delhi buses on this route ply from Bikaner House near India Gate and ISBT Kashmiri Gate.

By Air:
Dabok airport is about 25 kms from main city. There are daily flights from Delhi, Mumbai and Jaipur for Dabok.

By Train:
From Delhi there are two trains in the evening for Udaipur:
Mewar Express, which departs at 7.00pm
Chetak Exp, which departs at 7.40pm

FOOD : 1.Visit Raas Leela restaurant for the ambience it gives. It is located on one of the banks of Lake Pichola, just next to Hotel Leela, and gives amazing view of illuminated City Palace, Lake Palace and Jag Mandir. Food too is decent. In fact, the restaurant also has tent-shaped lodging facilities within the campus. So, one can even plan a stay here. Bookings are done online for the same.
2.Another restaurant worth visiting for its ambience is 1559 AD. The food is okay but the restaurant has good outdoor seating arrangement. Avoid ordering continental stuff, it is not up to the mark. Go for simple Indian food.
3.Udai Khothi hotel that gas a rooftop restaurant set around a pool, is also a good choice.

ACCOMODATION : Best would be to stay somewhere near Lake Pichola. Lal Ghat on the banks of Lake Pichola houses a decent number of guest houses and hotels. Pre-bookings for peak seasons are a must unless you are travelling backpackers’ style. Even then, it may be difficult to find a decent one on spot. It’s worth paying extra bucks for a hotel room with lake view.

Source / Review By : Pramugdha Mamgain Nautiyal


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