Venice of the East - Lake City Udaipur
Next morning we had planned to kick-start our trip of the city on a holy-note with blessings at popular temple in Nathdwara – a temple town about 50 km from Udaipur. We started at about 9 in the morning to catch the Mangal Darshan at about 11:30. On the way to Nathdwara we stopped for a few minutes at the Ek-ling-Ji shrine which is famed as the real ruler of the Mewar province. All the actual rulers were believed to be ruling the kingdom as ministers of Ek-ling-Ji. The temple complex is still owned by the royal family and the present king of Mewar – Rana Sriji Arvind Singh Mewar – visits the temple every Monday to offer prayers. After about half hours ride from there, our car stopped by the temple cottages of Nathdwara which is the last point until where the vehicles are allowed. We disembarked from the vehicle and moved towards the temple through the narrow-busy road. The shops on both sides of the roads were busy pulling in tourists to check “local specialties” for souvenirs. After making our way through the streets, we were there besides the temple building but still a lot had to be done before we were allowed entry. To begin with, we needed to free ourselves from all the worldly distractions including cell-phone, cameras and wallets. Next, we had to save ourselves from the complex web of pujaris offering special or instant darshan for a fee. Once through this maze, we finally entered the temple and began the wait as the shrine was unveiled only at about 11:45 AM. We rustled through the crowd and were finally able to have the darshan relatively easily and till content of the heart. We came out of the temple by about 12:30 and spent a few minutes doing what tourists do – souvenir hunting. However, we realized that it was more important to tour as tourists than shop and hence we were in the car before 1:15 PM moving towards our next stop.
It was about another half an hour drive back to Udaipur and we headed straight to the City Palace as we were advised that the entry to the monument is open only until 4 PM. We were there at the gates by about 3:30 PM, well before the time. On enquiring around we realized that the entry was in fact allowed until 4:30 PM (though it was advisable to enter by 4 PM for a relaxed tour) and we had some time to grab a quick lunch. We had our lunch at an open air restaurant near the Palace and then took our entry tickets. We also hired a chirpy young guy – Sunil – as our guide for the monument. The City Palace was the winter palace for the king of Udaipur who had two other palaces for summer (Lake Palace) and monsoon (Monsoon Palace). The palace is perfect place to understand the royalty of lifestyle and grandeur of luxuries that the kings of that time enjoyed. The palace is built on a small hill of Aravali Ranges and has vast expanse across its length and breadth. There were separate sections for the King and Queens each of which showcases the life of the inhabitants and displays a lot of items used by the royal family. The items on display are being consistently added as the present king donates the items for inclusion in galleries. A part of the palace is used by the present king – Rana Arvind Singh – and is out of bounds for tourists. In the evening, a light and sound show is organized in courtyard of the palace. By the time we finished our tour around the palace it was evening and the beauty of dusk invited us to spend time relaxing by the pool at Sukhadiya Circle – a well-maintained park in city center. After a couple of hours of idleness at the venue – including boating, snacking and relaxing – we wrapped up the day with a good dinner at home of a dad’s colleague.
Next day was what we had left for this wonderful trip and hence we had to make the best of it. We gave it an early start and reached the shores of Fateh Sagar Lake where we took our breakfast – roadside pao-bhaji and chowmein had its own lingering taste. This pear shaped lake is an artificial lake named after Maharana Fateh Singh who contributed immensely to its development including establishment of system of channels and overflow routes. The lake, originally built by Maharana Jai Singh, has three islands to embellish its beauty and provide opportunity for tourists to enjoy its expanse from within. One of the islands has a solar observatory while the other two have been developed as parks by the government. The largest island has been particularly well cultivated as a tourist point and named Nehru Park which provides an awesome combination of greenery and fountains with lake water on all sides to compel visitors to spend some quality time there. This was definitely on our list and hence we took a ferry – motor boats carrying about 20 people and charging 30 bucks for the round trip – to the park. We spend about an hour or so here before taking the return ferry.
Right beside the Fateh Sagar Lake is entrance to Moti Magri – a memorial of Maharana Pratap built by Maharana Fateh Singh. It is one of most carefully maintained open-air memorials that I have visited in recent times. The road uphill to the memorial is as polished as new and the curve it takes around the hillock is itself wonderful. The memorial at the top is pristine clean and provides breathtaking views of the city around and Aravalis surrounding the area. There is also a picture gallery cum museum within the premise which showcases the history of the rulers of the region and displays large models of important forts of the Kingdom of Mewar – Chittorgarh and Kumbhalgarh. From here we proceeded to Saheliyon Ki Bari (Garden of the Maids) – the gardens built by the Maharana Sangram Singh for his daughter who insisted that it should rain round the year. Well-manicured lawns, numerous fountains, engineering skills of the time and ornamental pools are what would be apt adjectives of this place. The gardens has been built at a level lower than that of the Fatehsagar Lake to allow for fountains to function using the energy of gushing water rather than requiring mechanized power. Once we covered this part of the city, we moved southwards towards Lake Pichola.
As we moved towards Pichola, we passed through Dudh Talai – a small dainty lake beside the Shiv Niwas Palace which was the residence of Maharana Fateh Singh. The bathing grounds, that this was at that time, gives a panoramic view with the palace on one side, Lake Pichola on other and two beautiful parks on remaining two sides. Adjacent to this is majestic Lake Pichola which gains its name from the fact that it lies in backyard of the City Palace. Some fables also link the name of the lake to its creator, Pichhu Banjara. Pichola Lake is enveloped by lofty Palaces, temples, bathing ghats and elevated hills on all its sides. The Ambrai Ghat is specifically worth mentioning because of the views it provides. A hotel has been built at the ghat which is great place for a relaxed lunch, if someone has the luxury of time which we lacked by the time we were there. There are a number of islands within this lake two of which deserve special mention. One of these houses the Lake Palace, summer residence of the then king which has now been converted into a super luxury hotel and the only way to enter is booking an over 25,000 Rs. room. Another island, called Jagmandir, is also a hotel but allows diners for a sumptuous buffet dinner after sunset. A boat ride in the lake presents picturesque views of the palaces and hotels in and around the lake. The ride took us around the Lake Palace and peripheral to Jagmandir over a 25 minute excursion.
A short hike from the lake is a sunset point at Deen Dayal Park developed for, what we have heard, great views of sun disappearing in the lake. This also is the starting point for the ropeway to Karni Mata temple. The five minute ride takes you to the top of the Machla Hills which provides breathtaking views of the valleys and the city around. The marvelous site is both a tourist and religious attraction. The views from the gondola ride are equally awesome and capturing. Once we descended from the ropeway, we realized that we only had a couple of hours before we had to be at the station and hence we headed straight to the Gulab Bagh – the community park cum garden cum site for upcoming theme park. Though it seemed to be a usual tourist site developed as an additional point on the tourist map of the city, what stood out for us was reminiscing the childhood over the toy train ride across the area – picking us from a mock railway station and taking us through crossings, bridges and jungles. After this short ride we had a good lunch at a restaurant near Railway Station and then retired to rest-house for last minute packing. Soon we were back at platform number 1 of Udaipur Railway Station right in time to catch our train – Mewar Express – back to Delhi.