A trip to magical Mewar has left a lasting impression on my mind. It is a fertile region, criss-crossed by rivers and dotted with large freshwater lakes, carved out from the mighty Aravali ranges in the sandy Rajasthan.
We reached Udaipur and got a taste of the famed Rajput pride from the airport itself, when the taxi driver picked us up and recounted historical slices. Our hotel was located just 10 minutes away from the City Palace and is run by a member of the Shaktawat family from Boheda. We spent the evening lounging around in the roof-top restaurant of our hotel from where we could see the famed city palace all lit up.
On our first day in Udaipur, we walked up the winding lanes to the main attraction – the city palace. We passed by tiny shops selling Rajasthani handicrafts, fabrics, leather chappals, miniatures and walls adorned with murals. Just a few metres before the City Palace is the Jagdish Mandir which is a marble marvel. The sanctum houses a huge idol of Lord Vishnu as Jagannath. The entire temple is covered with beautiful sculptures.
The City Palace is located on one side of Lake Pichola on the highest part of Udaipur. One part is a museum open to the public, one part is a hotel and the third is occupied by the royal family. It is the largest palace complex in Rajasthan and was built over a period of 400 years! The museum has Maharana Pratap’s armour and his famous horse Chetak’s embellishments too. There are many courtyards and pavilions with beautifully painted walls and stained glass windows. The most iconic is the ‘Mor Chowk’ (Peacock Courtyard) which takes its name after the three stunningly exquisite mosaic peacocks on one of the walls. From the city palace windows and balconies, you can also catch breathtaking views of the lake, the surrounding hills and the lake palace built on an island (the lake palace is a hotel run by the Taj Group, some scenes from the Bond movie Octopussy were shot there).
We then took a boat ride to Jag Mandir, which was a royal guesthouse built on an island in Lake Pichola. We had our lunch at the restaurant there run by the HRH group from where one can see the other side of the City Palace. The island is famous for providing refuge to Shah Jahan in 1623 when he had gained his father’s wrath by rebelling against him.
That evening we went to Sahelion ki Bari which is a beautiful water garden built on the bank of Lake Fateh Sagar. An ingenious technique uses water from the lake to power the fountains in the garden without any motor system as the lake is at a higher level compared to the gardens. It was built by Maharana Sangram Singh for his ten daughters to enjoy the monsoon even during other seasons. A humorous chap, Radheshyam Chaubisa insisted on showing us around the gardens. He told us that visiting a place without a guide is like watching a silent movie and not all silent movies are as good as Mr Bean.
We ended the day by watching a cultural performance at ‘Bagore ki Haveli’ on the banks of Lake Pichola close to the picturesque Gangaur Ghat. In spite of what tourist guides say, I recommend this place for a relaxing evening amidst song and dance.
The next day we went on an excursion to Chittaurgarh (Chittore) which was the first capital of the Mewar rulers. The hilltop Chittaurgarh fort is the second largest in Rajasthan after Kumbhalgarh. There are many temples, stepped wells and royal residences within the fort walls though only a few are accessible. The temple where Meera Bai worshipped Krishna is one among the noteworthy ones. Padmini’s Palace, ‘Vijaystambh’ and ‘Keerthi Stambh’ are a few of the well-preserved monuments. There are many legends associated with the fort at Chittaurgarh including that of Alauddin Khilji’s lust for Rani Padmini. The place where Rani Padmini performed jauhar (self immolation) along with other noble ladies leaves one teary eyed.
We returned to Udaipur that evening and visited Ahar where one can find a myriad of cenotaphs of the royalty and the nobility of Mewar. It is overgrown with weeds and wears a desolate look. The memorial chhatris of the royal family are in many different shapes and sizes. The largest ones belong to Maharanas Amar Singh and Sangram Singh. We then drove up the hills overlooking Udaipur to the Monsoon Palace or Sajjangarh. Now poorly maintained, it was designed to be a pleasure palace to entertain guests. The views from the balconies of the city on one side and the Aravali ranges on the other are breath-taking. We were in time to watch the sun set behind the rolling Aravallis.
The next day we decided to head out of Udaipur by road. The first stop was at Kailashpur village which has the temple housing Eklingji, the family deity of the Mewar Royals. Then we went to Nagda which was the ancient capital of the Mewar Rulers. There are two temples built in 11th century dedicated to Vishnu locally known as Sas-Bahu temples. The temples are on the shores of a lake covered with neelkamal (blue lotus) and has some intricate carvings. Next stop was at Nathdwara which has a temple dedicated to Krishna as Srinathji. The temple is steeped in history and mythology. The bazaar surrounding the temple is a wonderful place to shop and savour street food. The town itself is famous for its Pichwai school of painting. We then drove to Haldighati the site of Maharana Pratap’s battle against the Mughal Emperor Akbar. We spent a few teary moments at ‘Chetak Samadhi’ as we read about the story of how a severely wounded Chetak (Maharana Pratap’s horse) leapt across a stream to carry his master to safety before dying. The last stop that day was Ambika Mata Temple at a village called Jagat which is 50 km southeast of Udaipur and is famous for the erotica carved on the outer walls. The temple is also known as the Khajuraho of Mewar.
The next day we set off to Mount Abu. After climbing Guru Shikhar and catching great views of the mountains around, we went to the Dilwara Jain temples. It is a complex of five marble temples which have the most exquisite of carvings. Unfortunately photography is not allowed. After driving around the Nakki Lake, we drove down the winding road and returned to Udaipur by evening.
Jodhpur beckoned us the next day. On the way we went to Kumbhalgarh Fort which is the largest fort in Rajasthan. Maharana Pratap was born in one of the rooms atop the fort. There are numerous Jain and Hindu temples within the walls and there is a palace called the ‘Badal Mahal’ at the summit. The entire fort is in a dramatic setting and is built amidst the Aravali Ranges in such a way that it is not at all visible, in spite of its massive walls, unless you are very close to it. After the strenuous ascent and descent, we proceeded to Ranakpur which has one of the most beautiful Jain Temples I’ve come across. The Chaturmukha Temple dedicated to Adinatha is a ballad in marble.
With this our journey in Mewar ended. We reached Jodhpur that evening and immediately realised the change in landscape and the weather. Mewar is not the sandy stereotypical picture of Rajasthan we have in mind, it is an oasis in the desert and is often called the ‘Venice of the East’.
Places to see in Udaipur –
- City Palace
- Jag Mandir Island
- Ahar – Royal Cenotaphs
- Gangaur Ghat
- Bagore ki Haveli
- Jagdish Temple
- Lake Pichola
- Lake Fateh Sagar
- Saheliyon ki Bari
- Sajjan Garh (Monsoon Palace)
Other places in Mewar Region –
- Ambika Mata Temple, Jagat
- Kumbhalgarh Fort
- Ranakpur – Jain Temple
- Eklingji Temple
- Nagda – Sas Bahu Temple
- Haldighati – Chetak Smarak
- Nathdwara – Shrinathji Temple
- Rajasamand Lake
An article on my trip to Udaipur and Jodhpur was published in Metrolife, Deccan Herald on 5th February, 2016. DH Article