It is believed that Maharaja Udai Singh went on a hunt in the Aravalli Hills when he met a hermit, who told the king that the fertile land on the banks of the Pichola Lake, would be an excellent capital for him. Udai Singh took his words seriously and established Udaipur in 1553 as the capital of the Kingdom of Mewar.
Most people will agree with me when I say that Udaipur is a sort of wonderland. At least that was what it seemed to me when three of us decided to drive by car from Delhi to Udaipur—it was my very first visit to the city. We had been driving for more than 4 hours and arrived late at night, disheveled and very hungry. Thankfully, we found a small eatery lit by two hurricane lanterns and someone willing to offer us an impromptu meal at 10 pm. He spread two ‘asans’ on the floor for us and brought out a chowki for my husband to sit on. Within 20 minutes, we were offered what appeared to us, a meal fit for a king—with an endless number of hot chappatis. At the time, all three of us swore that it was the most delicious meal we had ever had in our lives!
We were directed to a hotel near by—a really old haveli, with a well in the center of the house and rooms spread around it. Since we did not have a booking, we were given the smallest rooms. Next morning I realised why these rooms were empty—they were the closest to the well and the toilet!
Next morning we set out to see the sights. Lake Pichola with its two islands and pleasure palaces and the impressive Royal Palace were like a dream. Jag Mandir, on one of the islands, was developed in the 16th.century by Rana Karan Singh and became historically important, when it provided sanctuary to Prince Khuram— the rebellious son of Mughal Emperor Jahangir, who went on to become Emperor Shah Jahan. A circular room at the very top of the palace, has walls of white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones - a style of ornamentation associated with Emperor Shah Jahan. The island was named after Rana Jagat Singh I, who added a Zenana or women’s section, to the earlier palace built by his father. The main Royal Palace has been the abode of the Maharajas ever since the city was built.
It was after more than a century, that the second palace was built on the other island and named Jag Niwas. Rana Jagat Singh II, built the original pavilions around 1730, when he was heir-apparent. He continued to expand it during his reign from 1734 to 1751, adding the Dilaram Palace and numerous pavilions —Bara Mahal, Dhola Mahal, Khush Mahal and Phool Mahal. In 1861, Rana Shambhu Singh built the Shambhu Prakash, with distinctly Victorian style architecture, and Rana Sajjan Singh added'Chandra Prakash. In 1961, Rana Bhagwat Singh converted the entire complex into the Lake Palace Hotel.
Udaipur specialises in Lahariya Bandhni (tie and dye method with a striped pattern in waves of colour), Pichwais (paintings on cloth traditionally hung behind the images of Lord Krishna), enamelled and silver jewellery, colourful puppets and the famous terracotta from nearby Mollela. Bara Bazaar and Bapu Bazaar, close to the City Palace offered good shopping, and it was a treat wat hing craftsmen plying their trade.
Just three kms. outside Udaipur is the prehistoric site of Ahar. Here pottery and animal remains dating back to 4000 B. C. are housed in a small museum. These are finds from the Harappan site of Tambawati Nagari. Ahar preceded Chittor as the Mewar capital, and is the site of the
cenotaphs of the ruling family. There are nineteen Chattris here, the most recent cenotaph eing that of Rana Pratap Singh, dating back to 1861.
There are some rather important temples close to Udaipur. The 10th. Century Ambika Mata temple at Jagat, is known for its sculpture, while other temples of the 9th. and 10th. centuries may be seen at Nagada. The famous Krishna Temple at Nathdwara draws thousands of devotees during Diwali. The image of the dark-skinned Nathdwara Krishna, with his large peacock feather set at a rakish angle, is an image that appears over and over again in miniatures and images associated with Udaipur.
The temple of Eklingji, dedicated to Lord Shiva also draws many visitors. The festival of Mahashivaratri finds pilgrims pouring in, all through the night, to offer obeisance to the four headed black marble image of Shiva. Huge statues of Shiva’s mount Nandi in bronze and black marble, are also worshipped with equal reverence by the pilgrims.
Some distance away, on our way back, we stopped to see the Jain temples of Ranakpur, considered second only in fame after the splendid Dilwara temples of Mount Abu. These intricately carved temples dating back to 1432, were raised by a Jain merchant, Dharma Saha of Dhanera. The cluster of temples are in a remote area at the foothills of the Aravalis. The temple dedicated to Adinath is one of the largest Jain temples in india, reaching up to three stories. Built in a square pattern, the temple has 29 halls and 1444 profusely carved pillars richly embellished with figures from Hindu mythology. Outside the walls of the complex, there is also an ancient 13th. Century Hindu temple dedicated to the Sun God, Surya.
A convenient stopover for those visiting Ranakpur, is Maharani Bagh—a mango orchard just 4 kms from Ranakpur, where we ate a delicious buffet lunch and decided to stop for the night to see the Kumbhalgarh Fort next morning.
Located higher up in the Aravali Range is the formidable Kumbhalgarh Fort, built by the mighty 15th century warrior Rana Kumbha. The fort has 20 foot wide walls that snake up and down the hills as far as the eye can see—encircling an area that has over 300 temples and cenotaphs. One of these is that of the valiant Rana Kumbha, who while never being defeated in battle, was murdered by his own son as he sat for his evening prayers.
It was late in the afternoon, by the time we were able to leave for home. Our journey had been rather like pages from a history book. A wonderful kaleidoscope ever changing and yet, essentially the same, a wonderful blend of the ancient and the modern.