Opulent Udaipur: a passage from India


Nestled in the heart of Rajasthan, India, the white, marbled city of Udaipur is steeped in history and hospitality, as FARIDA MASTER recounts.

The first thing that struck me about Udaipur was a wonderful sense of pride everyone takes in welcoming visitors. From airport crew to taxi drivers, hotel staff, guides, shopkeepers, and even strangers, all had one question in common: “How do you like our city?” Each person I met was a self-appointed, personal ambassador with an ingrained sense of hospitality. This endearing quality seems to work wonders for the huge influx of tourists to Udaipur, a city of palaces, lakes and white marble also known as ‘the Venice of the East’.

As a friendly (and chatty) taxi driver drove me and my travel companions to the Radisson Blu Udaipur Palace Resort and Spa, he briefed us on must-visit sights, highly recommended restaurants and delicacies we should try. However, he also cautioned us about tour guides luring unwitting visitors to buy expensive linen – a warning we didn’t heed!

Even the hotels look like ornate retreats and staff treat guests like royalty. At our hotel, we received a traditional welcome as we stepped into the marbled arch of the sprawling, palatial resort. A gaggle of pretty girls draped in silk saris and sunny smiles smeared our foreheads with vermillion dots, gave us garlands of marigolds and sprinkled us with petals, rice and rosewater.

As much as we enjoyed the deluxe treatment, we soon headed for the renowned City Palace on Lake Pichola. Built more than 400 years ago, this majestic complex has several palaces constructed by a succession of kings from the Mewar Dynasty. Intricately designed with domes, towers and balconies, it instantly transports one to a bygone era. Built atop a hill, it offers a panoramic view of the bustling city.

Taking us on a wander through history, our guide showed us around the Sheesh Mahal (Palace of Glass and Mirrors), art gallery and the Palace of Pearls. We walked through secret corridors, the narrowness of which served to ward off attacks by burly enemy soldiers, providing an escape route for the king and his trusted chiefs.

Overlooking the tranquil Lake Pichola, the regal, white-marbled Lake Palace is an 18th century Mewar summer retreat. Later transformed into the most exclusive Taj Lake Palace Hotel, it provided a perfect setting for the famous James Bond movie, Octopussy.

Another popular attraction is the Saheliyon ki Bari (Garden of Maidens) where landscaped gardens are adorned with lotus ponds, rain fountains and marbled pavilions. These lush gardens were specially created by King Rana Sangram Singh for his beloved queen and her 48 maidens, who came along with her in marriage as a wedding gift.

Apart from the architectural beauty of palaces and landscaped gardens, Udaipur is also known for its temples. A hub of spirituality, its sacred sites attract devotees from all parts of the world. One example is the Ranakpur Jain Temple, a grand, white marble structure supported by 1444 exquisitely carved marble pillars – no two are exactly alike. The temple was built with 84 underground chambers to protect sacred idols from enemies. Fervent prayers are offered at this site by pilgrims.

Travels to Udaipur are not complete without experiencing the bustling markets of Hathi Pol and Bada Bazaar where arts and crafts, fabrics, mirror works, spices and street food deliver a sensory and immersive adventure.

While the sights and sounds of Udaipur make it a perfect holiday destination, the warm and caring nature of the locals ensured a truly unforgettable experience.

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