When you think of Rajasthan, what immediately pops into your head? A picture of undulating sand waves, women in their bright colors of lehengas and odhanis, a camel safari to experience rural desert life, or the thick silver anklets. Maybe! But you couldn’t be more wrong with Udaipur, which is not just the ‘city of lakes’ as it’s nick-named, but is India’s most surreal, and romantic city. Touted to offer visitors a royal experience, it sits hidden amid lush green hills that stretch away in every direction. I had planned this trip for 2 nights 3 days and much to my surprise, visited the major attractions just as planned.
Udaipur’s history is rich and charming, the lakes framed by the Aravalli range are simply picturesque, the palaces, temples and gardens hold varied influences of the past and the vibrant bazaars are probably the best example of an alluring Rajasthan at its finest. However, experiencing the festival of colors with a multi-cultural crowd was a carnival, different from the other popular celebrations in the country.
Alive in a riot of colors
I had not played Holi for years, but I was determined to take this trip and be amongst the crowd that is local and rare. In this city, the festival of Holi is a calling card for all international and national travelers. It would be true, if one also calls Udaipur the foreigners’ land, as many of its colorful lanes and cafes are filled with tourists from all over the world – Spain, Germany, France and more. Experiencing Holi Udaipur-style was glorious at every step, as I walked the famous foreigners’ market in the busy and narrow streets of Pichola in Udaipur’s old city.
What you’ll experience the night before Holi, is a wholly religious affair, where people gather together in front of a Holika Dahan (bonfire) throwing garlands and wooden branches into the fire. As you walk down the lanes, you will find a bonfire at every kilometre, and the interesting fusion of traditional and modern music will surely take you by surprise. Also, at a spot near Jagdish temple, you will witness a cultural display, with Bollywood infused performances by local artist which can be quite a sight to see.
What you’ll experience the next morning, is the real carnival which begins by smearing each other with colored powders and children drenching you with water guns and water-filled balloons in open streets from their rooftops/balconies, all the way from Pichola bridge to Jagdish temple. (Yes, you can be their target too)
Now, if you want to experience Holi in a luxurious setting, you need to book your tickets to the residence of Mewar royal family at the iconic City Palace. The bookings happen well in advance, and if you really want to experience a grand and elaborate Holi, you can join the royal celebrations of the festival to have a truly memorable experience.
Udaipur – outside of Holi
Other than Holi, what you can experience in Udaipur is the artistic walk through the colorful markets, heritage walks through old architecture buildings and havelis where you can admire the frescoes you see. I visited the Bagore ki Haveli Museum, City Palace which overlooks Lake Pichola, the Karni Mata temple, the Saheliyon ki Bari which has a lovely history, the Gangori Ghat, the Ambrai Ghat, the Jagdish Temple, the Fatehsagar Lake and the Jag Mandir. If you have ample time, do visit the Monsoon Palace (Sajjan Garh Palace) which is located at the hilltop in the city and if you love boating, try the speed boat at Fatehsagar Lake. #justsaying.
Here’s a little about the major attractions.
The City Palace, was built by Maharana Udai Singh in 1559 in a fusion of the Rajasthani and Mughal architectural styles. It provides a 360-degree view of the city, overlooking Lake Pichola and various historic monuments such as the Lake Palace, the Jag Mandir, the Jagdish Temple, and the Monsoon Palace.
The Saheliyon ki Bari, or the Garden of the Maidens was built for the Rajkumaris and their maids from 1710 to 1734 by Maharana Sangram Singh. This garden was used for leisure, and as a green retreat for the women. They would often come here for a stroll. What is so interesting about this place is the 5 different fountains that are fed by the water directly from the Fatehsagar Lake, gushing in with great speed through the British-engineered ducts.
The Bagore ki Haveli Museum, which lies near the Gangori Ghat, is another place of interest. Built during the 18th century, the museum has over 100 rooms with displays of historic artefacts and art. The room I liked best was the puppet room, which is part of the most integral part of the Rajasthani culture. The other sections include, the main haveli, the Turban museum, the Weapon museum, and the Royal Wedding.
Traveling within the city
The best way to explore nearby locations is on foot, so you enjoy every corner and turn you take. The city also offers rental of bikes and scooters which can be fun too. Otherwise, there is thelocal transport and the rickshaws. These can be used to visit the attractions and will cost you 500 INR, on average, per day.
Taste the traditional food
The authentic foods of Rajasthan are Dal Bati Churma and Laal Maans. Krishna-Dal Bati Restaurant is one of the best place to enjoy a thali of Dal Bati Churma. Located near Gulab Bagh, you will enjoy the simple subtle, homely ambience. And, there is no better match to the quality and taste!
Laal Maans is a mutton curry prepared in a sauce of yoghurt and hot spices and is also one of the must-try dishes. Available in all restaurants in the city, the best I had was at the Shamiana Rooftop Restaurant which is situated on near Hanuman Ghat, overlooking the Pichola Lake.
If you’re seeking something light and European, check out places like the Grasswood Café, Lake View Rooftop restaurant, Jheel Café, Café Edelweiss, and many more.
Where to stay
There are plenty of guest houses and havelis around old Udaipur and near Jagdish temple that fall in a budget of 5-10 thousand (INR). Some of them include Aravali View Palace, Hibiscus Guest House, Hostel Crown and goStops hostel.
Tips for your budget trip
- Solo traveling can be expensive, so if you have someone to travel with, the expenses for transport, food, accommodation can be shared.
- A big way to save money is to bargain. If you possess that skill, go for it.
- If you’re using the local transport, try clubbing two-three attractions in the same area. For example, a visit to Fatehsagar lake and Saheliyon ki Bari can be easily combined.
Call it the ‘Venice of the East’ or the ‘City of Lakes’, plan your trip and experience cultural shock in beautiful Udaipur.