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Prepare to be enchanted by the lovely lake city of Rajasthan. Sat in a basin of mountains and rolling desert, Udaipur is the historic home of the Mewars.
It managed to resist Mughal dominion for centuries, which means it has a unique culture and long history of its own. That pops up with the grand Lake Palace and the handsome haveli houses of the old town, in the local arts and crafts, and with the spicy food.
More than anything, Udaipur is a (relatively) peaceful city that oozes character. This is the India of rattling rickshaws and chowk markets. It’s the India of mystical fortresses topped with bulbous cupolas.
There really is nothing quite like the way the light glows on the old homes of the Mewar maharanas in the evening, shimmering across Lake Pichola in streams of gold and red.
Where exactly is Udaipur?
Udaipur is at the heart of the historic region of Mewar. That’s tucked into the southernmost part of the vast state of Rajasthan, which rolls northwards to meet the deserts through ranges of rock-topped mountains.
Not far to the south-west is the border with Gujarat, while going eastwards – as many visitors choose to do – will bring you to the famous Golden Triangle sites of Agra, Jaipur and New Delhi.
What to do in Udaipur
From riding across the mirror-like lake waters that surround the city to exploring centuries-old palaces that once housed the Mewar kings, the activities in Udaipur certainly aren’t your run-of-the-mill sort of stuff…
Explore the amazing Udaipur City Palace
You simply can’t miss the vast complex of the City Palace. This is the marble-clad icon of Udaipur, perched on a steep bluff above the ghats of Lake Pichola. Approach the main gate on the road that goes south from Jagdish Temple.
Guides and touts offering tours cluster around the entrance there. Go through the carved Tripoliya Gate into the palace grounds and then push through to the endless medley of pleasure gardens and exquisite courtrooms within.
Some of the highlights include the leafy Badi Mahal courtyard and its hanging vines, the stunning quarters of Peacock Square, gilded with inlaid tiles and mirror mosaics, and the Rang Bhawan, home to a mystical shrine to Shiva. However, all that’s just a taster, and you’re likely to need an entire afternoon to really get a feel for the sheer opulence and audacity of this fantastic monument.
See Jagdish Temple.
The central spire of the Jagdish Temple skewers the very heart of old Udaipur. You can look up from the bustling chowks of the downtown and use it to get your bearings. A visit is a must, too, if only for the intricate murals that are carved right around the base of the shrine.
They depict important episodes from the life of Krishna and come watched over by a troop of particularly cheeky macaques. Also, don’t forget to snap a shot of the elaborate entryway to Jagdish Temple – it’s gilded with over 30 steps above a lively bazaar that’s scented with spices.
Boat across the lake to Jag Mandir.
If there’s one geographic feature that really defines Udaipur, it’s surely the dual waters of Lake Pichola and Fateh Sagar Lake. The first of those stretches southwards in front of the great City Palace, hosting a few islets and points of interests of its own.
You’ll need to hop on a boat tour to find them, which can whisk you out over the surface to see some beautiful shots of the city with the mountains in the background.
Be sure to take a trip that includes a stop at the Jag Mandir. Keen-eyed film buffs might recognise it as a filming location from the 1983 James Bond flick, Octopussy. Restaurants and bars around the lake still show Octopussy on big screens 24/7.
But its history goes on long past that, with the first structures dating back to the 1500s. After hopping off the boat, you’ll have time to wander gorgeous arboretums and gardens laced with elephant statues, along with palace rooms that are thought to have been one of the inspiration for the Taj Mahal.
Watch the sunset on the ghats.
Udaipur is probably at its most gorgeous when the light dips low in the evening. That’s when you’ll be able to watch the City Palace gleaming bright yellow over a reflective lake. For frontal views of that unforgettable site, make for the Ambrai Ghat on the western side of town. It juts straight out into the lake, promising breathtaking broadsides of the marble cupolas and sweeping waters of Pichola.
Drive out to the Sajjangarh Monsoon Palace.
For even more awesome views and rich Mewar history, the Sajjangarh Monsoon Palace beckons on the western side of town. It’s a 30-minute tuk-tuk to the site, which sits atop high ridges blanketed in peepal trees and thorny cacti. Built-in 1884, the complex was intended as a perch from where the maharana could survey the rainclouds. It’s in a slight state of disrepair but has gorgeous vistas and some resident monkeys.
How to get to Udaipur
There are lots of ways to reach the majestic lake city of Udaipur.
Come from the air by hopping on one of the many domestic Indian flights that jet into the Maharana Pratap Airport, and you’ll find yourself a short tuk-tuk ride from the centre to the west. There are regular links from New Delhi, Jaipur and Mumbai.
There are also frequent bus services across the whole state of Rajasthan. They hardly cost a dime, with fares for an eight-hour journey to Jodhpur (another must-see), for example, sitting around just 125 INR ($1.70). Just be ready to jostle for seats and space – India’s buses can get hot and crowded, although that’s part of the fun!
Perhaps the most alluring way to arrive is by rail. India’s train network is famous around the world, and you can really enjoy the ride in from cities like Mumbai, Chittorgarh, or Agra, watching as the wild desert, the farms and the mountains roll by outside the window. Be sure to book your train tickets as early as possible online, because services will sell out fast.
Where to stay in Udaipur
Udaipur is one of the most popular stops in Rajasthan. That means it’s got the whole spectrum of accommodation choices, going from budget hostels in old Havelis to uber-opulent hotels that have even been championed as the very best in the world!
goStops Udaipur ($)
This hostel in the heart of the old town not only has an amazing view of the City Palace and a fine location, but also a vibrant communal area where you’ll meet and mingle with fellow backpackers from all around the globe. The highlights are the rooftop terrace and, of course, the price, which has rooms sitting at just $10 a pop per night!
Lassi Guesthouse ($$)
Local and lovely, Lassi Guesthouse is a highly rated choice that sits in the quiet side streets on the not-so-busy the western half of the city. It’s run by a family and comes with just a handful of rooms, all of which are clean and tidy and equipped with ensuite bathrooms. There’s a cool reading room on the second floor, while the owners offer cooking lessons that reveal the spicy secrets of Rajasthani cuisine.
The Oberoi Udaivilas ($$$)
Talk about luxury! The Oberoi Udaivilas is opulence in the extreme. It’s been hailed as the single best hotel on the globe in the past, and it’s easy to see why. Raised in the Mughal style, it spreads out on a grand estate on the edge of Udaipur, glancing over the lake with its onion domes and lush grass gardens. Inside, you’ll find honeymoon suites that spill into private pools, bathrooms with freestanding Victorian tubs, and sprawling terraces set to a backdrop of hazy Indian mountains.
There are loads more amazing things to do and see in the enchanting lake town of Udaipur. If you’ve got anything to add to this ultimate guide, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below…
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