By Vishal B Joshi
While on a self-imposed hiatus, I sat sipping coffee near the window of my hotel room overlooking Lake Pichola and had a postcard-perfect view of the famous City Palace. The lake was possessed of a mesmerizing charm and looked stunning in the early morning light. The surrounding temples, ghats and hotels made it look more dramatic.
I was in Udaipur – the city chosen as the best in the world in a poll by Travel + Leisure magazine in 2009, where history, culture, architecture and style intersect in an unparalleled environment, and home to people from the Rajput clan whose favorite pastimes are horse-riding and polo.
We reached Udaipur from Pushkar. While travelling in Rajasthan, you can visualize the beauty of everyday village life. Young and gentle women wearing colorful clothing and living in incredibly small houses still manage a serene smile on their lips – something incredible in itself. It was as if I was transported to a never-seen-before India.
Udaipur town is different, though. Crowds and sudden traffic jams were evident the moment we got there. Afternoons are warmer even when the climate is supposedly at its best in winter. But the setting sun grabs your heart with a fierce intensity and that is when the true Udaipur emerges. The historical forts and hotels look stunning in the fading evening light.
Most hotels are havelis and the walls of the hotel rooms and corridors are adorned with photographs of royal lineage. You can drink and have a candlelight dinner on the rooftops of these hotels while the surroundings can make any event memorable.
Udaipur is an ideal location to spend a couple of days without getting bored and the places can be explored by foot. The City Palace is an opulent spectacle and a feast for any camera. You can spend an entire morning in the museum drooling at the artifacts used by the erstwhile rulers of Rajasthan. The vintage car collection at Hotel Garden near the City Palace has Chevrolets, Fords, Mercedes et al and is a treat for discerning connoisseurs.
Culturally significant landmarks like the Nathdwara temple, the Jagdish temple and the Eklingji temple make Udaipur irresistible. People who have an eye for architectural grandeur can also visit the Kumbhalgarh Fort, the birthplace of the Rajput hero Maha Rana Pratap. A few kilometers away from Kumbhalgarh is the famous Haldighati arena where the Mughal emperor Akbar defeated Rana Pratap, who fled the scene and lived in oblivion but refused to accept the lordship of the Mughals, which made him the hero that he is today.
The aeons-old Ranakpur Jain temple is exquisitely carved. An authentic lunch at the Jain dharamshala would make you think that the chefs here are the best in the world.
If you have mastered the art of bargaining, you are at the right place for shopping. The moment you enter any shop, the owner and his assistants make you sit comfortably before starting to show hundreds of varieties of carpets, bedsheets, kurtas, pants, and many other materials of rich tapestry. You can also shop for exquisite antiques, postcards, jewelry and more. A word of caution – the place can burn a hole in your pocket.
One striking feature of this place is that the local people treat travelers with utmost respect and make them feel special. This desert city has many more surprises in store. It is a must for the owners of a cluttered mind. You’ll return home entirely enamoured.
Vishal Joshi is a full-time banker and a part-time writer. Read more at his blog