My Kind of Place: Udaipur, India
With its marble palaces and five lakes encircled by hills, Udaipur is one of India’s most enchanting places. It’s also the site of some of the country’s finest luxury hotels, which vie with each other to pamper their customers.
The grand City Palace Museum, on the shore of the man-made Lake Pichola which was constructed in 1362, houses a superb collection of traditional miniature paintings, many celebrating the triumphs of the Mewar royal house.
This fiercely independent Rajput warrior clan claims to be descended from the Sun. They spurned marital alliances with the Mughal Empire and – alone among the princely states of India – did not deign to attend the 1911 Delhi Durbar, when King George V visited Delhi in his capacity as Emperor of India.
A comfortable bed
The Oberoi Udaivilas – consistently ranked as one of the world’s best hotels – sprawls over 50 acres on the shore of Lake Pichola and includes its own wildlife sanctuary, including roaming deer and wild boar (54,470 rupees [Dh2,923] for a premier double with semi-private pool and breakfast; www.oberoihotels.com).
Located on its own private island, the Taj Lake Palace (www.tajhotels.com), a former royal residence dating back to the 18th century, cossets its guests from the moment they embark to be transported from a private jetty. Rooms vary in size and amenities but it’s worth the splurge for a lake view (60,613 rupees [Dh3,253] for a lake-view double with breakfast).
The boutique Fateh Garh (www.fategarh.in) enjoys stunning views from its hilltop location just outside the city. It has its own excellent on-site restaurant, making it unnecessary to venture into the city to dine (20,180 rupees [Dh1,083] for a heritage double with breakfast).
Find your feet
After founding the city in 1559, Maharana Udai Singh II started construction of the City Palace on the shores of Lake Pichola. His successors extended the complex so it’s now the largest such royal structure in Rajasthan. Start from the Badi Pol (Great Gate) and allow at least half a day for a self-paced ramble through its many buildings, courtyards and gardens, led by the excellent audio guide. Vantage points offer fine views of the city and lake. The palace also houses exquisite collections of miniature paintings and historic photographs that provide glimpses of this royal house’s former grandeur.
From the palace, take a short stroll north to Jagdish Temple, built by Maharana Jagat Singh in 1651. Enter past an immense pair of stone elephants and ascend a steep flight of stairs to admire the ceiling and other sculptures, especially that of Lord Vishnu, carved from a single black stone slab.
Although originally built to view the monsoon clouds, Sajjan Garh Palace, also known as Monsoon Palace, offers a dazzling sunset panorama of Udaipur and its surroundings on any clear day during the year.
Meet the locals
Virasat Experiences (www.virasatexperiences.com) is a community tourism initiative that aims to showcase authentic Rajasthan.
Its heritage walks and fixed or custom itineraries allow visitors to meet artisans or tour surrounding villages.
Book a table
Udaipur’s most exclusive hotels generally restrict their restaurants to residents only. Taj Lake Palace guests should book a table for at least one evening meal at the hotel’s Bhairo rooftop restaurant, for the moonlit view and ambience.
Ambrai at the Amet Haveli (www.amethaveliudaipur.com) is open to all. Try the Rajasthani mutton speciality, laal mas (515 rupees [Dh27]) and dal makhani, a sumptuous black lentil dish (315 rupees [Dh17]). Finding the lakeside restaurant can be a bit tricky, so call ahead for precise directions.
Coffee is the main draw at the Udai Art Café (www.udaiartcafe.com), conveniently located near the Jagdish Temple and the City Palace complex. It also features breakfast, English or Greek style (400 rupees [Dh21]) and light fare – crêpes, sandwiches, salads – from 7am onwards.
Andraab (www.andraab.com) sells exquisite pashmina items – shawls, scarves, blankets – in attractive traditional and contemporary designs. Also check out its unique pashmina scarves, hand-knit in Srinagar by female relatives of the three Kashmiri brothers that run the company. Well-designed but less expensive items made from pashmina mixed with merino wool are also available.
Created by a member of Udaipur’s royal family, Aaskha (www.eternalmewar.com) offers an attractive range of contemporary local Mewari crafts.
You can also admire jewellery from Jaipur’s celebrated Amrapali Jewels (www.amrapalijewels.com).
Gem Arts Emporium (www.gemartsemp.com) specialises in traditional gem-centric pieces and silver.
Bougainvillaea (www.bougainvillea.co.in) also houses the work of some of India’s best contemporary artists and photographers.
What to avoid
Plan your visit to avoid April to June, when day temperatures often top 40°C.
The Jag Mandir Island Palace (www.hrhhotels.com), one of two palaces on Lake Pichola islands, can be reached by boat from the jetty near the City Palace.
It’s a must-see, particularly for those not staying at the Taj Lake Palace. Ferries depart hourly. Plan on a sunset cruise for the best views or go earlier in the day to stroll through the gardens and enjoy a meal.
Round-trip flights on Jet Airways (www.jetairways.com) from Dubai connect through either Delhi or Mumbai, and cost from Dh1,409, including taxes.