Udaipur, the city of lakes, also known as "the Venice of the East", is the second most visited city in Rajasthan, after Jaipur. A royal past makes itself evident in every nook and corner in Udaipur. Whether it is the ornate doors that are entrances to people's homes or the palaces, gardens and monuments, Udaipur gives one a glimpse of what the place would have looked like in its time of glory. Founded by Maharana Udai Singh in 1568, and considered the jewel of Mewar, Udaipur's air is filled with a strong sense of romance, adventure and the best of Rajputana.
Udaipur is also a centre of historic arts and crafts of Mewar, like the Mewar School of Miniature Painting. There is of course the modern face of Udaipur that one can look at if interested, but given the other sights from a glorious past, modernity is no real distraction. This is a place that will hold you in its thrall no matter who you are or where you come from.
Population : Approx 2.6 million
Climate : With scanty rainfall and summer temperatures reaching 40ºC only every once in a few years, Udaipur has pleasant winters, making it a year round destination.
Best times to visit : While Udaipur is visitable all year round, the best time would be from October to April.
Built in 1725, the grand City Palace is actually a conglomerate of eleven palaces overlooking the sprawling Lake Pichola. One of the largest, most beautiful palaces in the state of Rajasthan, it is now a museum, royal residence and a luxury hotel. This intricately designed monument is an architectural wonder in granite and marble.
Built in 1651 by Maharaja Jagat Singh, this temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and is located in the centre of the old city. The temple has a black marble image of Lord Vishnu, which is unusual for the northern part of the country, where statues of Gods are normally in marble.
Originally built in 1678 by Maharana Jai Singh, Fateh Sagar was rebuilt by Maharana Fateh Singh after the rains destroyed the dam. The garden island in the middle of the lake is Nehru Park, which also has a cafe. You can also hire pedal boats to tour the lake.
With its main attractions being the two palaces on the islands in the lake, Jagniwas and Jagmandir Lake Pichola is about 4 km in length and 3 km wide. Jagniwas was earlier the summer retreat of the prince of Mewar and now a five-star hotel. The city palace extends along the eastern shore of the lake and you can go for a boat ride from Bansi Ghat.
Udaipur has some fabulous handicrafts, which is why Shilpagram or the art village is a great place to go to. A craft bazaar, it is on the outskirts of Udaipur, about 3 km from Fateh Sagar. The place showcases crafts from Maharashtra, Goa, Gujarat and Rajasthan, and you can pick up quite a lot of wonderful pieces from here.
Udaipur Folk Museum Conserving local folk arts like paintings, dolls, masks and musical instruments, this museum can be quite an eye opener on everything from the society that exists here to the talent and creativity of its people.
Navratri, the festival that is celebrated for nine nights and ends with Dussehra on the tenth day is preceded by the worship of the horse. In the land of Rajputana, the horse is sacred for it was the Rajput warrior's most trusted and faithful companion, both in the battlefield, and also in times of peace. Ritual prayers are offered to the steed, with the Maharana himself offering prayers to the animal on the occasion.
Celebrated mainly by unmarried women in the belief that it will bring matrimony, processions of the idols of Issar and Gangaur, manifestations of Shiva and Parvati, are taken out and worshipped.
The full moon night of November, when the Pushkar Mela is in full swing in Pushkar, near Ajmer, is also the time for the festival of the full moon in Udaipur. Lord Brahma is offered ritual prayers, but in Udaipur the occasion is also celebrated with a festival of classical performing arts against the backdrop of the Jag Mandir. The City Palace remains illuminated throughout the night.
Udaipur has its own way of ringing in the New Year. Held in the opulent Durbar Hall of Fateh Prakash Palace, a formal banquet is served with all the pomp and ceremony of a royal occasion. The Maharana is in attendance, and there is live entertainment on offer.
In commemoration of the birth anniversary of the 76th Maharana, this is an occasion where the current Maharana known affectionately as Shriji is greeted by people that are symbolically his subjects. No appointments, this occasion makes people feel that the ruler is accessible and sympathetic to their problems. In the evening, he celebrates the event with his extended family and friends and is a private affair.
Holi, the festival of colours, is celebrated in February/ March and marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring. The Udaipur royal family hosts an elaborate function at the City Palace.