Stories of Rajput valour, the beauty of their culture and traditions, and the grandeur of their palaces have always been of special interest to me, mainly because I come from a Rajput family. Over the years, I have developed a better understanding of Rajputana culture by touring the historical monuments and museums spread largely across Rajasthan.
This time, my destination was Udaipur, also known as the City of Lakes and the Crown Jewel of Rajasthan. The former sobriquet, City of Lakes, was given to it by the British administrator James Todd, in reference to the city’s complex and sophisticated network of lakes. He also called Udaipur “the most romantic spot on the continent”.
Around 660km from Delhi and approximately 800km from Mumbai, the city attracts tourists all year round, from all over the world. The old palaces, forts, temples, gardens and, of course, the lakes are among the highlights of Udaipur’s tourist trail.
On my three-day trip to the city, I decided to stay at the Shiv Niwas Palace in the City Palace Complex on the banks of Lake Pichola. The property is in the custodianship of Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar, a descendant of one of the Rajput kings.
Upon my arrival at the hotel, I was welcomed with a tilak and garland, a practice in tune with Rajasthani culture. While the palace and its hospitality was something that I was looking forward to, I was also curious to explore the nearby markets, temples, talking to the locals, whose major source of income is Udaipur’s thriving hospitality industry.
My day started in a luxurious room in Shiv Niwas Palace with some good food as I enjoyed the picturesque view of Lake Pichola from the hotel window. After some hours of relaxation, I went out for the Art of Bicycle Trip, a bicycle tour arranged for us. We cycled through popular markets, small forests, parks, and even rode down to places not usually visited by tourists but are not any the less vibrant and culturally rich as the better-known ones.
During my cycling adventure, I got a chance to visit the famous market Bada Bazaar. It is an ideal place for shopping colourful traditional clothes and jewellery. It also has a footwear section, Mochiwada Bazar, where you can find handmade juttis. Shopping and bicycling through the city was the kind of experience even the locals are not able to enjoy at times.
On my way back to the City Palace, I met an old man who was performing an effortless juggling routine for a group of spectators. “I have been doing this in for the last 45 years and there is nothing that can fall from my hands. I learned this from a foreigner when I was 16 and it turned out to be my life and source of livelihood,” he said.
The next day I visited the Jagmandir Island Palace, which stands in the middle of Lake Pichola. The palace has an all-day café, a bar, a stylish restaurant and a spa.
It was here that I got to meet Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar. We had a conversation about how Udaipur has emerged as the centre for excellence in learning in the past few years.
He said, “Restoring palaces into luxurious accommodations has the power to transform regional economies, inject pride in our heritage and enrich our societal fabric. For far too long Udaipur has been synonymous with heritage tourism, and we are very proud of that achievement. But now, and especially over the last few years, Udaipur has emerged as a ‘centre for excellence’ in education, philanthropy, sports, spirituality and heritage management.”
Later that evening, I was treated with Rajasthani folk performances in a brilliantly illumined setting. Manek Chowk in the City Palace attracts a lot of tourists every evening, especially those looking to encounter authentic Rajasthani culture. The biggest draw remains the puppet show performed here every night before dinner.
Excited for the adventures on my last day in Udaipur, I woke up early for a boat ride across Lake Pichola. The boat ride offers views of some beautiful monuments, including monuments submerged in the lake. The ghats with their ancient steps are still used by the locals for their daily rituals. The quaintness of this place can’t really be described in words.
The boat ride was followed by a visit to the Crystal Gallery and the Vintage Classic Car Collection, where I met Prince Lakshayaraj Singh Mewar. I asked him how Udaipur has changed over the years. He said, “With Udaipur gaining heritage status and the tag of being one of the best places to live in India, also of India’s showcase to the world of heritage and luxury, more tourists are coming here to experience the grandeur, hospitality and the beautiful culture of the city. We are growing in a complex, global and connected world and I see great potential for tourism here. Udaipur can also host major cultural events of the world.”
On my final night, I went out for a short walk, looking for some street food and keen to step out of the luxurious bubble I had been in ever since I arrived here. Street food has its own charm and the mirchi vada and the kulhad coffee were my last rewards before departure.
My visit to the City of Lakes ended late at night, although I wanted to stay for some more days.