Udaipur has many names: Venice of the East, the most romantic city in India, City of Lakes, the White City. It’s an oddly glamorous place, full of opulent palaces, and housing some of the most glitzy and luxurious hotels in the country, hotels that have hosted the likes of Vivien Leigh, the Shah of Iran, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, and Queen Elizabeth.
The palaces and luxury hotels are a reminder of Udaipur’s glory years, a time when it was the capital of the rich Mewar kingdom, ruled by Maharana Udai Singh II.
In 1553 Maharana Udai decided it was time to build a new capital city for his kingdom. His old capital, Chittorgarh, was vulnerable to attack, and the Mughals, those pesky invaders from Central Asia who had captured and expanded across Northern India, were quite keen to add his kingdom to their booty. His new city, Udaipur, built on Lake Pichola, on a high ridge, had walls 6km in length.
The City Palace, Udaipur
After choosing the site for his new city, Maharana Udai immediately commenced construction of a grand palace. The City Palace, a mix of Rajasthani and Mughal architectural styles, became the largest palace in Rajasthan. Construction was completed in 1559.
The Lake Palace, Udaipur
The Lake Palace, completed in 1746, was a winter palace; a little getaway for the royal family during the doldrums of winter when daytime temperatures drop to lows of 28 degrees Celsius. It was converted into a luxury hotel in the 1960s. Along with hosting many high profile guests, it reached the height of notoriety when used as the home of evil dude, Octopussy, in the eponymously named James Bond film of 1985.
Jag Mandir, Udaipur
Jag Mandir, also known as the Lake Garden Palace, was a summer resort. The first enactment of the palace was built in 1551, it was used by the royal family as a function hall for parties, and also provided asylum for a young, rebellious Shah Jahan – who later went on to create the Taj Mahal.
Jagdish Temple, Udaipur
A Hindu temple completed in 1651, a year before Jag Mandir. It is considered a classic example of Maru-Gurjara (Rasjasthani-Gujerati) architecture.
Udaipur might be famous for its palaces and luxury hotels, but that doesn’t mean budget travellers miss out. Hunt around, and if you’re lucky you’ll find a room in an un-renovated manor, with period furniture, rock-bottom prices, and a restaurant on the roof. Take lodgings in one of these hotels and you won’t need to leave. Spend some time admiring the White City from above. You might not be as pampered as you would be in the Lake Palace, but that doesn’t mean your experience is less worthwhile.
Practical information and how to get to Udaipur:
Udaipur is on the train network with direct trains to many major cities throughout India including Jaipur (7 hours), Agra (13 hours), and Delhi (12 hours). Bus services run to Jodhpur (8 hours) and Mount Abu (5 hours). More transport info here.