Udaipur - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to Udaipur


Udaipur was once the capital of the powerful state of Mewar, and still takes great pride in being the only one of the seven major Rajput states to have upheld its Hindu allegiance in the face of Muslim invasions. The Mewar household is the longest-lasting of all the ruling powers in Rajasthan, and possibly the oldest surviving dynasty in the world. The current ruler is the seventy-sixth in an unbroken line of Mewar rulers dating back to 568 AD.

Undoubtedly the most romantic city in Rajasthan, and perhaps the whole of India, Udaipur is situated 200 miles (320km) southwest of Jaipur. The city is centred around Lake Pichola and has inevitably been dubbed the 'Venice of the East'. Two island palaces, Jagniwas and Jagmandir, sit on the lake - the former is now the luxurious Lake Palace Hotel. The majestic City Palace towers over the lake and is bedecked by balconies, turrets and cupolas.

Despite the many attractions in and around the city, the real joy of Udaipur lies in soaking up its atmosphere - taking in the view from a rooftop restaurant, wandering around the relatively hassle-free inner-city, enjoying a drink on the edge of the lake, or taking a boat to Jagmandir Palace past the ghats (riverside landings), where washerwomen congregate and a real 'slice of Indian life' unfurls before your eyes.

Information & Facts

Although English is generally used for official and business purposes, Hindi is the official language and is spoken by about 40 percent of the population. Urdu is the language common with the Muslim demographic. India has a total of 22 official languages

The currency is the Indian Rupee (INR), which is divided into 100 paise (singular paisa). Major currencies can be changed at banks, and authorised bureaux de changes. It is impossible to obtain rupees outside India, but no matter what time you arrive in India there will be an exchange office open at the airport. It is illegal to exchange money through the black market and it is advisable to refuse torn notes, as no one will accept them apart from the National Bank. It is best to change money into small denominations. Travellers cheques and major credit cards are widely accepted, particularly in tourist orientated establishments. ATMs are not generally available.

Forty miles (60km) north of Udaipur are the Jain temples of Ranakpur. It is the largest temple complex of its kind in India, and boasts some truly staggering marble work - easily on a par with any in Asia. The main temple was built in 1439, and is dedicated to the first tirthankara Adinath, whose image is enshrined in its central sanctuary. The temple is two or three storeys high in parts, and its roof, topped with five large shikharas, undulates with tiny spires that crown the small shrines to Jain saints lining the temple walls. Within are 1444 pillars, each sculpted with unique and intricate designs, and dissecting the 29 halls. The carving on the walls, columns and the domed ceilings is superb. Friezes depicting the life of the tirthankara are etched into the walls, while musicians and dancers have been modelled out of brackets between the pillars and the ceiling. While exploring the temples at Ranakpur, visitors may see Jain monks walking about with masks on their faces to avoid eating insects: the most important teaching of Jainism is 'Ahimsa', meaning non-violence, and this is applied to all sentient beings. Many monks also carry a brush to sweep surfaces to avoid standing on bugs. Ranakpur's isolated position means it is not on the major tourist trail, but it makes a good stop for those travelling between Jaipur and Udaipur.

The white walls of Udaipur's Lake Palace soar above the peaceful waters of Lake Pichola, topped by ornamental battlements and turrets. The sprawling palace has been developed by successive maharanas since the foundation of Udaipur in 1559. These days, part of the palace is home to the current maharana, a section of it is a first-class hotel (with the best restaurant in the city), and the remainder is a museum.

The approach to the City Palace is through the Elephant Gate, Hati Pol. The Great Gate (Bara Pol) leads to the first court, where eight carved arches mark the spot where the rulers were once weighed against gold or silver, the equivalent value of which was then distributed among the poor. Beyond the Tripolia Gate is the arena where the elephant tug-of-war competitions were staged, past which are a series of courtyards, overlapping pavilions, terraces, corridors and hanging gardens.

The Krishna Vilas honours a 19th-century Udaipur princess, who poisoned herself to avoid the dilemma of choosing a husband from the two rival households of Jodhpur and Jaipur. Its walls display miniature paintings portraying royal processions, festivals and hunting parties. Further along, a glass mosaic gallery contains superb portraits and stained glass, and offers a wonderful panoramic view of the city below. Set into the walls of the 17th-century Mor Chowk are brilliant mosaics of three peacocks showing the three seasons: summer, winter and monsoon. Perhaps the most splendid rooms in the palace are the women's quarters, Zenana Mahal, with their ornate alcoves, balconies and coloured windows.

Udaipur's Lake Palace really does have a storybook quality to it - both in terms of its looks and its history - and it is rightly considered by all and sundry to be one of India's stellar tourist attractions.

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