The day still smelt of dawn and the mist laden breeze caressed my face, as I set out on a three day sojourn to discover the fairy tale city of palaces, havelis and rolling hills descending into glassy, man-made lakes. I was in the regal city of Udaipur, a romantic destination, set amid lakes and dotted with palaces. At first, the city appeared to be a regal creature of fashion. Living in the shadows of the largest palace in Rajasthan, it displays a facade of colours, its busy touristy streets still living the dream of munificence of Mewar. Culture has refused to die in the kaleidoscopic panorama of Udaipur..
I headed towards my royal residence for three days – the Shivniwas Palace, a palace turned hotel. A big palatial door leads you to the lobby area, from where a cobbled path on the right takes you to the imposing City Palace and the left to the heritage rooms.
I had to start the day early with a visit to the City Palace, which stands as a local guardian to the city, marketing the nostalgia of that bygone era. After having my breakfast, I sauntered along my way towards the City Palace. City Palace stands tall, standing to five storeys, as a masterpiece in marble and granite, as a revelation of architectural beauty and bounty. Manek Chowk, where the palace grounds, is beautifully landscaped with emporium shops, vending colourful souvenirs as cultural symbols of the city, veritably blending modernity with history. A major part of the palace has now been converted into a museum for public viewing. Needless to say, the museum, a trove of treasure, stands as a cinematic display of Mewar art and heritage. The arched windows with coloured glass panes, sculptured embellishments, aesthetically inlaid mirrored walls, elegantly sculpted pillars, mysteriously curved stairs leading to different sections of the palace, gardens inside the palace, pillared corridors with solitary fountains, opulence of the rest-rooms and richly bedecked balconies itched with memoirs of that historic era are spellbinding. The museum houses the elegance, charm, mystic, ethos and colours of the Mewar dynasty. Interestingly, different sections of the palace are built by different rulers, yet in a whole, the different structures present a strange panorama yet command unison and elude the time and space gap that exists. The palace shows some European influence in the architecture too, blue tiles with symbols of Christianity are few but loud. One needs to be patient in the palace; the whole tour can take 4 – 6 hours, but it is surely worth that patience. Other prominent features of the palace include Mor Chowk with richly sculpted walls and three peacocks intricately crafted from blue glass and mirror and a Surya Gokhda, an emblem of Sun God. Also the palace puts before some of the finest panoply of the city from the balconies to leave photographers in a click frenzy mode.
Next door, to the city palace, at the Fateh Sagar palace, is the crystal gallery; the exhibits of which are displayed in brightly lit passages overlooking the Durbar Hall. Ordered by Raja Sajjan Singh from Birmingham, the crystal items were kept on display, without even being put to use, due to untimely death of the king. The regal durbar is bejewelled with three heavy chandeliers, weighing around a ton each, supposedly the largest and the grandest in the country.
In the evening, a lake tour to the Jagmandir was arranged for us. Interestingly, contrary to the name, Jagmandir had never been a place of worship. Jagmandir palace proves that the Rajputs had steel for location. The evocative view of the hills, the undulating valley and the traditional Mewar culture getting beautifully pocketed in the Gangour Ghat makes the boat ride more worthwhile.
The palace courtyard has now been turned into a restaurant. Gol Mahal, a building inside the Jag Mandir, is said to be an inspiration for Taj Mahal. Emperor Shahjahan, who was a good friend of the then Mewar king Sajjan Singh, is said to have spent six months, with his wife Mumtaz Mahal, in this very palace. A fine dining in this palace brought me closer to the kingly life that the Maharanas lived. As I sipped wine, I caught glances of the beautiful Lake Palace: splendid, mysterious and sublime.
The next dawn was set for a spiritual visit to the Karni Mata temple, sliding our way uphill on a rope-way to capture the beauty of the lake city. Up from there, time doesn’t move linearly. You can stay for hours there, clicking the same diminutive stretch with every shot capturing a little more of this place. At the temple, we made our plans to capture the dusk from the Sajjangarh fort or the ‘Monsoon Palace’, built on a hill right opposite to the Karni Mata. And the best part, the palace was built for the Maharanas to enjoy the rains when there were no rains. The central chamber is lined with fountainhead all around the border. There are open balconies for guests to sit and savour the rain effect creating by the fountains – an elegant way to create rain when desired. Another revelation came to us when the guide at the palace told us that this monsoon retreat of the Maharanas has been eloquently captured in the famous James Bond movie ‘The Octopussey’. The fort was a brainchild of Maharana Sajjan Singh, who wanted to develop it into a nine storey building astronomical centre that could facilitate the tracking of monsoon clouds and diagnose the weather conditions. However, due to his early demise, the dream remained unfulfilled and the palace today lies neglected with no sign of the history it could have had. However, Looming at a great height, the fort offers an exhilarating bird eye view of Udaipur city overlooking the two lakes – The Pichola & Fatehsagar.
Looking at Udaipur, one gets to know how much the Mewar rulers loved art, design and architecture. From the time the foundation of this city was laid by Maharana Udai Singh in 1567, Udaipur has seen changes, yet every change appears to be in unison and seems only to have embellished the beauty of the city. The city is as interesting as the palaces, though in a different way. The city gates are called pols and divide the old city in different sections. The confusion of growing modernity is evident, veneered with allure of tradition. A statue of Chetak in the city narrates the heroic tale of Chetak, the horse of Maharana Pratap, who galloped to safety in the battle of Haldighati to save the Maharana. Chetak died after the giant leap but landed Maharana to safety. The inspiring legend still lives. Someday I would like to go to see the place where Chetak fell. Someday I would come again to absorb more of Udaipur in my words.