Thursday, May 16, 2024

Incredible India - Part 7: Udaipur, The City of Lakes

Udaipur – the City of Lakes

Friday and Saturday, February 16 and 17, 2024

Udaipur was a delightful surprise and one of my favorite destinations of this trip.  With a population of less than one million, it is much smaller than Delhi, Agra, or Jaipur.  It’s nickname is “The City of Lakes” due to its network of man-made lakes scattered around the city. 

The Taj Lake Palace Hotel viewed from the City Palace

Travel guru Rick Steves often includes on his tours a day with no itinerary, which he calls “a vacation from your vacation.”  Our first day in Udaipur was that much-needed day for us.  We took a very early morning flight from Jaipur and now had one glorious day with absolutely no scheduled activities.

How fun to discover that we were once again staying in a palace! Our driver dropped us off at a dock where we caught a boat to the Taj Lake Palace, a palace built in the mid-1700s on a small island in the middle of Lake Pichola, the most visited of all the city lakes.   Until 1963, this was the summer palace of the royal family of Udaipur. The family still resides in the City Palace on the shores of the lake, although the Maharana holds no political power anymore.  The family now resides in the luxury hotel in one part of the massive City Palace.

The City Palace Complex viewed from the Taj Lake Hotel

We enjoyed the short boat ride to the Taj Lake Palace where we were greeted by staff members dressed in the traditional garb of old India – and by more rose petals!  The hotel’s buffet breakfast was still being served, so we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, settled into our room, and explored the palace grounds.  The hotel has 83 guest rooms (including 17 luxury suites – check out images on their website!  Taj Lake Palace Hotel) These rooms were once the bedrooms of the royal family and their guests, so each room is unique and beautifully decorated.

The "Floating Palace" seen from our boat.

The onshore dock for the Taj Lake Palace

Rob on our short boat ride to the Taj Lake Palace

Arriving at the Taj Lake Palace

Breakfast in a palace

Our room at the Taj Lake Palace

In the afternoon, we took the guided Heritage Walk around this gorgeous hotel. Our guide explained the history of the palace, which was built in 1743 by the Maharana Jagat Singh II.  His father, Maharana Jagat Singh, had expanded a “pleasure palace” on Jagmandir Island, which we could see nearby, and legend has it that when his teenaged son joined him for one of his parties, the father was very displeased when his son kept sneaking drinks of alcohol and carousing with the women of the palace. The son was banned from the pleasure island, so when he came into power, he decided to build his own palace on this small rock in the middle of the lake.

The Taj Lake Hotel Lobby

Decorations in the Hotel Lobby

The Maharana would sit in the upper balcony to watch dancers 
and musicians perform in this courtyard.

The gameroom at the Taj Lake Palace

Wall decorations in the Taj Lake Palace

The Taj Lake Palace has been used as a film location for some movies, including the Bond movie, "Octopussy." On YouTube, you can find the scene where Roger Moore is on a terrace looking down onto the beautiful fountain and pond in the center courtyard. We also learned that Jackie Kennedy was a guest of the family here and loved it. She suggested, while a guest of the Maharana here, that this would make a wonderful hotel - and it is!

Taj Lake Palace courtyard
(The balcony above is where James Bond met with Octopussy.)

Taj Lake Palace Gardens

The boat to shore was available to guests upon request, so Rob and I returned to the lakeside for a walk through the green park that lines the lake shore.  The morning mist had cleared so we had good view of the lake and the Aravalli Mountains on the far shore. 

More views of the sprawling City Palace

A Walk in the Park

Sights in the Park

In the evening, we attended the nightly performance of Indian music and dance. I have to admit, the loud wailing sound of Indian music is not my cup of tea, but it was a cultural adventure.  The musicians were lively and the two dancers were lovely.

Entertainers in the Taj Lake Palace courtyard.

Udaipur - Day 2

The City Palace

Saturday was a full day of sightseeing. We took the boat to the dock and met our guide Dhilip who walked us to the enormous City Palace complex for a tour. The City Palace is actually a series of palaces sitting along the eastern shore of Lake Pichola and constructed at different times, beginning in 1559.  It houses the Taj Fateh Prakash Palace Hotel in one section, but most of the palace complex is now a museum, containing antiques, paintings, clothing, furniture, and other items from the royal era in its magnificent rooms.

The royalty of Udaipur were members of the Mewar Dynasty, which traced its roots to Surya, the Sun God.  It is one of the oldest dynasties, dating back to 569 A.D.

A modern hotel in the front of the old City Palace

Maharanas and Maharanis could survey their realm from the balconies of the palace.

The Visitors Entrance into the City Palace
Note the Om symbol and the swastikas over the gate. 
The swastika is a sacred symbol in Hinduism.

One of the many palace courtyards.

Another courtyard looks down on the city of Udaipur.

This courtyard provides views of Pichola Lake.

Peacock colors and decoration on the courtyard walls.

Rob and Joan in the City Palace

A view of Lake Pichola from the City Palace

The city of Udaipur from the windows of the City Palace.
The stone tower of Jagdish Temple can be seen to the left.

A peaceful garden courtyard in the City Palace

Indian royalty seems to like color and glitter.
Some of the rooms in the City Palace were bright with mirrors and foil-like walls.

Other rooms showed hints of the lives of the Indian royalty.

Beauty rituals of the Indian Royalty

Games and Toys of the royal children

A shrine to Ganesha and Laksmi, his companion

Decorations in the City Palace
The Sun design is a reminder of the royal family's connection with Surya, the Sun God.

Elephants were a recurring theme in the City Palace decorations.  
The two pictures in the middle show the sport of fighting elephants.
The sidewalk in the courtyard still includes posts with chains and "beds" where the elephants would rest when not being used.

Wall paintings on the walls of the City Palace.

By this time in our travels, I had learned to recognize a Hall of Public Audience,
which we encountered in every palace and fortress.

Jagdish Temple 

From the palace, it was just a short walk down a busy market street to one of the largest Hindu temples in India, Jagdish Temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The temple was completed in 1651 and has been in continuous use since then. 

The color and crowds of a market street in Udaipur.

Dhilip let us up the 32 marble steps to the central tower, which rises 79 feet.  The central shrine includes the image of Lord Vishnu, who is known as Lord Jagannath in the local dialect.  Smaller shrines dedicated to Lord Ganesha, Surya, Goddess Shakti, and Lord Shiva form a circle around the main shrine.

The steps up to the Jagdish Temple

Stone carvings of the Hindu gods.

One of the three towers of the Jagdish Temple

The entrance into the shrine to Vishnu.

Just as the sculptures and stained glass in a cathedral teach Christian followers the stories of the Bible, the intricate hand-hewn stone carvings on the outer walls of the temple taught Hindu followers about the cycle of reincarnation. Pictured on the lowest level are the demons.  Above them are the elephants, then above are horses, then humans, and finally the gods at the top. (There are lots of possible incarnations in between, but the lesson, of course, is that it is better to be reincarnated into the upper levels.)

An illustration of reincarnation.

Hindu gods and goddesses

 Sahelion Ki Bari

We returned to our hotel for lunch, then rejoined Dhilip and our driver for a drove across town to Sahelion Ki Bari, a large garden that had originally been built as a retreat for the royal women. It is now a large green park filled with both tourists and local visitors and several pretty fountains, all run by natural water pressure.

On our way to Sahelion Ki Bari, we drove along the shores of Fateh Sagar Lake, another of the man-made lakes of Udaipur.

The sign explains the history of these historic gardens.

Entering the Sahelion Ki Bari Gardens

Two of the many fountains in Sahelion Ki Bari

Sahelion Ki Bari Gardens

Fountain and courtyard at Sahelion Ki Bari

 A Boat Ride on Lake Pichola

Our final activity of the day was a pleasant boat ride around Lake Pichola. Udaipur’s second nickname is "Venice of the East" because of its network of man-made lakes. These serve to prevent any flooding during the monsoon season. Lake Pichola is the largest, and if the water rises above 22 feet (at which level it would flood the Summer Palace), the water will be diverted into the series of lower lakes that have the capacity to hold the overflow.

A boat ride on Lake Pichola

From our boat, we got nice views of our own palace, the City Palace, Jagmandir (the Pleasure Palace Island), and the Monsoon Palace high on one of the hills that surround this area. The weather was great - warm and sunny - and the two days here were just what we needed as a break from the hectic pace.

Well, you can't be called "Venice of the East" if you don't have a Rialto Bridge!

The City Palace

Some of the towers of the City Palace

The "ghats" or docks of the City Palace

The eastern banks of Lake Pichola are lined with luxury homes and hotels.
Udaipur is a popular vacation spot in India.

More of the hotels that line the lake shore.

The Oberoi Udaivilas Hotel with the Monsoon Palace on the hill above.

Jagmandir, the Maharana's "Pleasure Palace"

Jagmandir Island

We had a lovely relaxing two days in Udaipur!  The next day, we would depart for our final destination of this Indian adventure - Aurangabad and the amazing caves of Ellora and Ajanta. 

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