Around Udaipur’s City Palace: The House of Maharana
I wake early this morning with Bombay Belly.
This is the 1st time on the trip either of us has come down with anything except a cold. I go down to breakfast, but halfway through retreat to the comfort of our bathroom. We are scheduled to have a tour of the city this morning, and with a bit of trepidation on my part, we head off to meet our guide, Laleet. We start with a tour of the museum in the city palace, a short walk up the hill from the boat launch on the city side. I am relieved that we are not getting into a car – bathrooms will surely be available on quick notice if necessary.
Around the City Palace
The Maharanas of Mewar built many palaces in Udaipur. The city palace is really a number of palaces built in close proximity, and they are also known as the winter palace. The Lake Palace, our hotel, was previously the summer palace. High on a hill overlooking town there is another palace, the Monsoon Palace. Finally, there is a palace built on another island in the lake, now open to the public. Called Jag Mandir, it was built as a small palace and is also known as the Pleasure Palace, but has never been lived in. Here the women of the Royal family would come for respite from the tough lives they had and walks in the extensive gardens.
A number of the palaces that form the city palace are now also luxury hotels; and part of the city palace is still the Udaipur residence of the current Maharana of Mewar, whose father ceded his powers to the Indian government in 1955. The main part of the palace, however, is the museum. I am ecstatic – among the amazing paintings, mosaics, sculptures and architecture are everywhere elephants! There are statues and paintings of Ganesh, elephant mounting platforms, and paintings and statues of elephants at war, in hunting, and entertaining the people. Elephants were indirectly responsible for a famous battle victory for the Maharana: he had a horse costumed as an elephant because elephants are not as nimble as horses; this confused his opponents, who did not respond appropriately, and he won his battle.
The museum is a veritable history lesson about Mewar, the only part of present-day Rajasthan that never fell to the Moghuls, and intensely proud of that, despite having borrowed many customs and architectural features from them. The Maharanas also never acknowledged the rule of Britain over this area. Despite no longer being the royal family of Mewar, the ordinary people still revere them. As we walk past the entrance to the current palace, Laleet tells us that the Maharana is in residence: He points to a red MG and tells us the Maharana is a sports car aficionado; he also points out a fountain, water flowing, which he tells us only operates when the Maharana is here.
A Drive Through the Old Town
After the tour, which I complete without needing a bathroom, we do indeed get into a car for a tour of the city. We drive through the old town, then out to another lake, this one manmade, connected by canal to Lake Pichola; it is almost dry. We stop at a beautiful park which was originally a garden for the court women, full of beautiful fountains. The fountains are not operating today, and the pools are completely dry. Laleet tells us they operate on water pressure from Lake Pichola, and are not working now because the water is so low in the lake.
Laleet takes his departure as we head for lunch at a Thali restaurant he recommends. Great silver plates, divided into sections, are put in front of us, and the waiter brings over serving dishes and doles out a variety of dishes, rice and chapattis. We eat, he brings more, and more, and more. The food is simple but good, and the supply apparently unlimited. We get the bill – for 2, with 2 bottles of water: 140 rupees, under C$5. We decide that the wisest course for the afternoon is to stick close to home, and we barely make it back in time! I spend the afternoon sticking very close to the room.
A beautiful sunset awaits us we head out for a one hour boat tour of the lake, which includes a 20 minute stop at the Pleasure Palace. Back home, we decide not to head over to the land side for dinner, and order room service instead, a smart decision as it turns out.