Experiencing the Legends of the Mewar Maharanas with a Tour of the Majestic Udaipur City Palace15 January, 2013
The City Palace of Udaipur is a majestic complex located on the east bank of Lake Pichola. It was built by the Maharana Udai Singh as the capital of the Sisodia Rajput clan in 1559, after he moved from Chittor. Udaipur was the historic capital of the former kingdom of Mewar in the Rajputana Agency and its last capital. No trip to Udaipur is complete without doing 2 of the must-see attractions of Udaipur – first, a tour around the City Palace of Udaipur (hear the stories of the heroics of the past Mahranas and see the beauty of the architecture and the palace grounds) and second, a sunset cruise around Lake Pichola to check out the beautiful lake palaces such as Jag Mandir.
The architecture of the Udaipur City Palace comprises a mix of Rajasthani, Mughal, medieval European and Chinese influence with hundreds of different designs for its towers, domes and arches. Walking within the City Palace, you can expect hundreds of different courtyards, pavilions, terraces, corridors, rooms and hanging gardens. Encircled by fortifications, this imposing Palace is completely built with granite and marble.
The Udaipur City Palace has several gates that are known as “Pols”. ‘Bara Pol’ (Great Gate) is the main gate to the City Palace complex that will take you to the first courtyard. On passing ‘Bara Pol’, you will come across a triple arched gate, which is known as ‘Tripolia’. Between these two gates, you would see eight marble arches or Toranas, where Kings used to weigh themselves with gold and silver. Besides Tripolia, there is an arena where elephant fights were staged. Across ‘Tripolia’, you would enter the ‘Elephant Gate’ or the ‘Hathi Pol’. Each of these Pols are elaborately decorated with motifs and Rajasthani drawings of Hindu gods and symbols e.g. elephants.
Parts of the Udaipur City Palace is open to the public as the City Palace Museum (open from 9.30am to 4.30pm daily). The entry fee for the Udaipur City Palace Museum cost 75 Indian rupees per adult and 40 Indian rupees per child. If you intend to take pictures and videos inside the City Palace Museum, you must purchase a Camera Pass for 200 Indian rupees – this Pass will be tied to your camera and you are required to produce them upon request by the museum staff. You must purchase a separate Camera Pass for your phone (even if you already had bought one for your camera) if you use it to take pictures/videos within the museum grounds. The museum staff are quite strict on this. If you did not purchase a Camera Pass for your camera, you are required to lock it at the lockers at the entrance – you can still bring your phone into the museum (just no photo/video-taking without a Pass).
The 200 Indian rupees (around 4 Singapore dollars) is well worth it and you should get one if you are touring the Udaipur City Palace museum – furthermore, you are also doing your bit for charity as the proceeds go to the Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation Udaipur.
Besides the beautiful architecture of the Udaipur City Palace, what makes the tour around the palace complete is the stories behind the Maharanas who built this palace. Thankfully, we had an excellent guide, Mr Narayan Singh Kharwar from Luxe India who is very knowledgeable about the history of Udaipur and interestingly every part of this huge palace.
Just to manage expectations for a tour of the Udaipur City Palace Museum. Expect lots of walking during the City Palace Museum tour – there will be a lot of stairs to climb (the first part of the tour will be lots of upward stair-climb as you go to the very top of the City Palace; and then descending back to ground level); the stairs are most of the times quite narrow and zig-zagging (part of the palace’s in-built defence mechanism). The tour around the entire complex will last about 2 hours but it is well worth it for the beautiful architecture, gardens, palace design and paintings you see in the palace. It can also get quite crowded especially during weekends and public holidays with both domestic and international tourists – we saw quite a few school groups when we were there too.
The reason for the huge size of the City Palace is because it comprises 11 wonderful palaces built by different Maharanas of Mewar (76 generations!). We have heard of Maharajahs – Indian royalty but the Udaipur royalty had named themselves Maharanas – roughly translated as Warrior Kings due to the battles they were involved in over many centuries with the Mughal invaders and their success in defending the Kingdom of Mewar. 2 of the more notable Maharanas were Maharana Udai Singh II and his son, Maharana Pratap Singh. In A.D. 1559, Rana Udai Singh II laid the foundation of the City Palace after the birth of his grandson Amar Singh I and on the advice of a Hermit Goswami Prem Giriji Maharaj, who had a small hut on this hill. The Maharanas had also dedicated a shrine to the Hermit Goswami Prem Giriji Maharaj (who advised Maharana Udai Singh II to built the Udaipur City Palace at this location).
Maharana Pratap Singh‘s legacy was in the military field where he experimented and perfected guerrilla warfare and light horse tactics and was able to capture back most of Mewar that was lost to the Mughals. There are a lot of paintings and murals depicting the famous Battle of Haldighati which was fought on June 18, 1576 between Maharana Pratap Singh of Mewar and the Imperial army of Emperor Akbar of Delhi. His military ingenuity was demonstrated by the way he disguised his horse, the Chetak. The horse was clad in colourful mail that ended with a mask resembling a grotesque elephant, designed to terrify an opponent’s steed and to protect the horse from the enemy’s war elephants, on the assumption that elephants will not harm younger elephants (see picture below).
The City Palace in Udaipur was built on a hill top that gives a panoramic view of the Udaipur city and its surrounding from the palace’s upper terraces, including several historic monuments such as the Lake Palace in Lake Pichola, the Jag Mandir on another island in the lake, the Jagdish Temple close to the palace, the Monsoon Palace on top of an overlooking hillock nearby and the Neemach Mata temple. These structures are linked to the filming of the James Bond movie Octopussy, which features the Lake Palace and the Monsoon Palace.
There are many parts to this City Palace Museum – I will just leave it to you to explore them (preferably with the help of a guide) and just highlight a few notable ones. The Krishna Vilas is known for the noteworthy album of miniature paintings portraying royal processions, festivals and games of the Maharanas. Bada Mahal is the exotic garden palace that stands erect on a 90 feet high natural rock formation. Rang Bhawan is the palace that used to contain royal treasure. There are temples of Lord Krishna, Meera Bai and Shiva, located right to the Rang Bhawan. Mor Chowk has exceptional glass mosaics of peacocks, set in the walls presenting the three seasons of summer, winter and monsoon. Laxmi Vilas Chowk is an art gallery with a distinctive collection of Mewar paintings.
The interiors of the palace complex with its balconies, towers and cupolas exhibit delicate mirror-work, marble-work, murals, wall paintings, silver-work, inlay-work and colored glass. What impressed me a lot was the Sheesh Mahal (Palace of Mirrors – known for its breathtaking mirror work built in 1716) and the Manak Mahal (Ruby Palace) which is made of several red coloured glass and mosiac and filled with costly glass work and paintings as well as ivory-carved doors. Check out the video below for a quick peek at what the Palace of Mirrors and Ruby Palace looks like:
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Jet Airways flies to Udaipur from New Delhi twice a day. If you are flying to New Delhi from Singapore in the morning, you will be able to catch the afternoon direct 1-hour long Jet Airways flight to Udaipur. If you want to experience luxury living like a Maharajah or Maharana (in Udaipur’s context), I strongly recommend the Leela Palace Udaipur as your hotel of choice during your stay at Udaipur. Our guide from Luxe India, Narayan was able to plan a great itinerary around the Udaipur City Palace and Jagdish Temple so if you are looking for a good tour guide who is able to tell you interesting stories about these places (things you can’t typically find in guidebooks), ask for Narayan of Luxe India.