Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 02/4/08 4:36 PM

Travel: Udaipur, Rajasthan

Water, water everywhere…

Sheila Kumar visits the City Of Lakes

It’s a clear and crisp winter day, the third day of my Udaipur stint and I’m back in a boat.


In Udaipur, I find, you sit in a boat for quite a long time. No great hardship though, since Pichola, the lake I am on, gleams a dark blue, the stunning white mass of the Lake Palace rises whiter than white in front of me, the isle of Jag Mandir sits stolid to my left, and far on the horizon, the Sajjangarh fort rises from a crag. Altogether pleasing to the eye, just about sums it up.


Udaipur, the White City. That it certainly is, because views of the place from any height show it to be a mass of white-coloured buildings.


Udaipur, City of Lakes. Well, there’s the Fateh Sagar Lake (circa 1678) and then there’s the famous Pichola, which is a pretty shallow man-made lake.



There is the Jaisamand and the Udai Sagar lake, as well as the Jiyan Sagar, all on the outskirts of Udaipur.


Actually, the moniker ‘Place of Palaces’ too, will not sit awry on Udaipur, which boasts of the Jag Mandir (circa 1615), a palace on Pichola Lake which once sheltered the young Shah Jehan; the jaw-dropping City Palace, an awesome pile indeed; the famous Lake Palace also on Pichola (a hotel now, with its own Catch-22 situation: you need to book for a meal to visit but the hotel has a backlog of booking for three months); Devigarh, the fort palace- turned-star hotel that served as an impressive location for the film “Eklavya”; and the Sajjangarh Palace perched atop a steep hill.



Dusty little town

Except, the 18th century Sajjangarh is more fort than palace and bordering just this side of dereliction.


Perched dramatically on a crag, with amazing views of the rolling hills, inside you come across the usual regulation number of turrets, empty rooms, fading relics of ancient glory, one pretty trellis-worked chatri set in the interior, and curiously enough, many TV antennae poking out of the rooftop of the building.


Was there Ham radio training going on? Some secret society that communicated via airwaves?


Udaipur as a city is less than charming, a dusty little town with winding lanes crammed with stationary and moving vehicles, women in bright lehengas and thick silver anklets, men in colourful saafas, gold glinting in their earlobes.

Photo: Sheila Kumar

The place is dotted with interesting little shops selling camel-hide notebooks, art paper and the like. There is the Sahelion ki Bari, an 18th century garden with a lotus pool hideously marred by a green statue of a woman, lush green lawns totally taken over by hordes of noisy tourists, marble pavilions all painted a deep grey for some depressing reason.



The Maharana Pratap Smarak sits on a small hill and apart from an impressive statue of Pratap atop his famous horse Chetak, also holds a pictorial history of both Pratap’s valorous deeds as well as a potted history of the Mewar Ranas.


The founding deity of the Mewars as well as the city, Eklingji, is tucked away in a modest, ancient temple in the fold of dry and dusty hills on the Ajmer Road, well worth a visit.



Palaces within a palace

The City Palace is, of course, the top draw. Standing on a promontory of Pichola, the palace holds eleven palaces within it, with all the balconies, towers and cupolas affording some great views of the glinting Pichola. The son et lumiere showed up the magnificence of the palace through a rambling account of the Mewar kings, their beauteous queens and their ongoing battles with the Mughals.


One evening, we sit on the opposite bank at an Army mess, gazing at the lit palace…indeed, a special sight.


My personal highlight is the walk through the Crystal Gallery in the Fateh Prakash palace, just behind the City Palace. You pay a ridiculously large entrance fee and you get to see a wide and varied collection of truly lovely crystal items, all crafted by F & C Osler of England.


There are knick- knacks, bowls, fly whisk handles, perfume bottles, photo frames, lampshades, washing bowls, a brilliant emerald set of glasses made to hold a secret in-house elixir, a four-poster bed, sofa sets, tables, ornamental chairs and some really huge chandeliers, seven in all, all lit to hold the gaze for several arrested moments.



Some cliches ring true
The prohibitive entrance fee also entitles you to a cuppa tea … and nothing else.


Oh, another cliche comes alive. Udaipur is full of foreign tourists, the Crystal Gallery more so. And
while the whites all got to sit sipping their tea at tables with a view of Pichola, Indian visitors to the
Fateh Prakash Palace were shown to tables in the interior, to sip their tea and gaze at waiters flitting hither and thither.

This ran in THE HINDU of 4 Feb 2008.

Related Links:

Travel: Jaisalmer, Rajasthan










DevigarhFateh Prakash palaceFateh Sagar LakeJag MandirJaisamandJiyan SagarLake PalacePicholaRajasthanSahelion ki BariSajjangarh fortUdai Sagar lakeUdaipur

Sheila Kumar • February 4, 2008

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