Words and photography: Natalie Bannister
Udaipur enchants with its regal romance and intoxicating beauty. The City of Lakes bursts to life with lush gardens, stunning marble palaces, mighty mansions, and a charm that could only be bestowed upon India’s very own ‘Venice of the East.’
The city is home to three lakes, the biggest of which is Lake Pichola, where the magnificent and world-renowned Taj Lake Palace Hotel takes centre stage – the epitome of luxury and true decadence and floating on a private island (the hotel was famously the setting for the 1983 James Bond movie, Octopussy).
A shimmering jewel in the desert state, Udaipur has an ambience unlike anywhere else in the country. The city makes for a remarkably peaceful escape, in stark contrast to the frenetic pace of other Rajasthan cities, and thanks to its easy access from road or air, an ideal few days can easily be slotted in here on any itinerary.
Udaipur also offers some incredible accommodation options, from the uber-luxe to the more affordable (however, still undeniably enchanting) hotels and traditional havelis, many set right on the lake’s shore, and all fit for a Maharani or Maharaja.
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Explore the city on foot, and don’t be afraid to get a little lost amongst the serpentine alleyways teeming with shops and stalls selling trinkets, spices, leather, clothing, miniature paintings and traditional crafts.
Spend a few hours wandering through the private chambers, courtyards, and mahals of the sprawling City Palace, one of India’s few ‘living palaces,’ as the Maharaja and his family still reside in-part here. If you’re still exploring the precinct in the afternoon, end your visit with a sunset drink on the terrace at the adjoining Shiv Niwas Palace, a grand heritage palace hotel, and watch as the sun sinks over the Aravalli hills.
Take a boat ride over to the beautiful Jagmandir Island Palace, an historic palace from the 17th-century, redeveloped as a luxury hotel. Day-trippers should include a pitstop at either the colonnaded Darikhana Restaurant or Picholi Bar for a cold Kingfisher beer or a snack, while you gaze across Lake Pichola and the imposing City Palace. There’s been many an epic wedding held here on the island – it’s apparently a popular choice of venues for celebrity Bollywood couples! Boats for Jagmandir Island Palace depart from the jetty near the City Palace.
A sunset cruise around Lake Pichola is a notable activity, and you can purchase tickets from the City Palace ticket counter. But for something more intimate and private, you’re best to avoid the tourist masses and charter a private boat (some hotels offer their own) – you’ll be rewarded with the best scenic view of the lake and the surrounding mountains, and the freedom to putt around at your leisure. The peace is palpable on the lake at this time of day, and the sunset is spectacular – my favourite memories of Udaipur are watching the sun melt into the waters of Lake Pichola, with the palaces, hotels and islands bathed in a golden glow. End the trip with a slow cruise along the edges of the Old City ghats (steps that lead down to the water), the most famous of which is Gangaur Ghat where the beautiful old noble Bagore Ki Haveli resides (it’s now a museum, and well worth a visit).
Relish in the romance of dining at some of the city’s best lakeside restaurants. Ambrai at Amet Haveli, is as close to the water’s edge as you can get, set on the banks of Lake Pichola with glorious views of Gangaur Ghat, City Palace, Lake Palace, Jagmandir and Sajjangarh Fort.
Nearby, the stylish Upre by 1559 AD, an open-air restaurant on the terrace of Lake Pichola Hotel, boasts an informal bar, private cabanas and a restaurant serving up international and local cuisines, cocktails and wines. And you can’t beat the rooftop restaurant at Udai Kothi – it’s the perfect spot for a romantic candlelit dinner, complete with unparalleled views over the Old City.
If you are staying in the Old City area of Udaipur, there is certainly no shortage of rooftop restaurants. One of the best of which can be found overlooking the lake, at Jagat Niwas Palace Hotel. You can reserve one of the window-seat tables in the restaurant or, if weather permits, at the open-air rooftop, and settle in for a romantic feast of Rajasthani delights, with the lights of the Taj Lake Palace twinkling on the waters of Lake Pichola right in front of you as you dine.
Udaipur is a city that truly captures the imagination and requires at least three days to fully explore. For those looking to venture out of the city, a day trip to Chittorgarh is a must-see. This historic site is home to the Chittorgarh Fort. A visit to the fort takes approximately two hours and offers stunning views of the city. Located just 110 kilometres from Udaipur, it makes for an ideal one-day trip and is the perfect excuse to stay a little longer in enchanting Udaipur!
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Images by Natalie Bannister and Fotolia