Udaipur: Palaces by the Lake

City Palace & Lake

smw, slt has taken a break from work in Manipur to visit several of India’s justly famous tourist towns and monuments on an extended vacation to Rajasthan and the Uttar Pradesh cities of Agra and Fatehpur Sikri, which with Delhi served as capitals for the six Mughal emperors. Being out and about in this enormous country with its vast and rich history and cultural variety has humbled me with reminders of … well, how much world there really is and how little time one has to appreciate it. You’ll see how captivated I was by the landscapes, the monuments and the people we’ve seen as we traveled around; and you’ll read (if you choose) how I’ve been reminded of earlier trips through another great Asian nation with rich culture and history. Right now I’m feeling small and grateful for the chance see and share some of this – reminded of my grandmother’s trip to India and how flabbergasted she was by the Taj herself, back in the late 1970s. And still a bit boggled that I myself have had such an opportunity of which I only dreamed back when I was skipping stones with my brothers on Seven-Mile Creek during the long summer vacations. Ah well, as you may also read, my aging bones and brain are also feeling a bit tired and wonder how soon I’ll decide to retire and drop my passport into a drawer to be forgotten for a couple decades. Time will tell, I suppose. In the meantime I do hope you’ll enjoy the photos and forgive me their great abundance.

…Udaipur, among those familiar with Indian history, is probably best known as the last holdout of the Rajputs against both the Mughals and the British. After losing their original home fort at Chittor a few too many times to invading Mughals, Udai heard a voice in the desert – well, some sort of prophetic voice – that told him he and his people would be safe if he built them a fort and a palace here. So he did, and as best I can read the history, this holdout of Rajput strength never fell to the Mughals. (Surprisingly difficult to track one’s way through the various historical summaries in different travel guides, and I admit I’ve not gone back and read an Indian history book since, well, since Reagan was president.

…be that as it may, Udai and his descendants built about handful of palaces in what is now the absolutely sprawling City Palace compound. Feeling those half-dozen palaces weren’t quite enough, they built another two out in the middle of the manmade lake they’d created — the most famous being the white Lake Palace, now the exclusivest of exclusive hotels (Udai’s descendants now operate a couple dozen hotels out of various of their palaces, while living themselves in one or two of the others), which featured quite prominently in the rather enchantingly named James Bond film Octopussy.
In any case, one or two of these palaces are now given over to the City Palace Museum, recounting the history of the Mewar Dynasty (Udai and his children). The artistic centerpiece is he Peacock Court, featuring three absolutely spectactular tile peacocks. Classic example of the beauty that can emerge from dreadully inequal social systems…I just hope the remarkable artists who created these got a reasonable day’s wage for doing so.

One thing that moderately confused me but also confirmed my inner-feminist’s suspicion that misogyny is universal, regardless of one’s religion or philosophical underpinnings: the Rajputs, Hindu believers who proudly resisted Mughal influence, adopted with great alacrity the purdah system of hiding ‘their’ women away from the outside world, behind zenana screens in the women’s quarters. Lots of commentaries on how the purdah screens were so set up as to make it very possible for women to observe the happenings in court from behind the screen while being well protected from roving eyes themselves. Whatever. The screens can be quite lovely, gotta admit.

…what DID we do for dinner plans before they littered the landscape with mobile phone towers?

…two MSFers talking about generator schedules, even on their vacation. Sad but true.

They call Udaipur the most romantic city in India, I think; I can’t comment on that, but it’s certainly got interesting twisty streets and lovely buildings aplenty, wound around the lakes and hills. The alleyway and house-painting below were jokingly referred to by Howard as the most-photographed alley in Udaipur, since I was far from the only tourist taking a photo.

We stayed in the ‘Royal Retreat’ at Shikarbadi (one of the few dozen above-mentioned former palaces plus a hunting lodge, aka Shikarbadi Hotel, or two) for the glorious four days in Udaipur. H&G took great pleasure in getting out and about for more temples and sites; I took great pleasure in the hills, wetlands, deer and birds while being a vegetable in the hotel room and grounds. Having been influenced by a Frank Zappa fan in my youth (that’s you, Jens), I couldn’t help thinking of it as the Sheikh Yerbouti hotel. Hehe.

…since Shikarbadi is well south of the city, tucked into the hills below the lake, they seem to do special breakfasts for tour groups to give tourists an idea of the royal lifestyle with hunting lodges in the hills, and…well, literally, the red-carpet treatment. The low-slung building by the slough, above, contained our room and had a deer park on the other side from the slough.

4 responses

  1. Fabulous peacocks! Thanks for that. I was really impressed by the sight of the palace on the water. There's a fantasy destination (being able to relax someplace that's a bit removed from everything else).

    November 28, 2009 at 14:13

  2. Paul! As always your photographs are captivating, breathtaking images from corners of the world most of us will never visit. Thank you for bringing your friends and family along on your journey through your pictures. I am forever grateful.Happy holidays to you!

    November 29, 2009 at 05:01

  3. Hi, Paul,Wow! Great photographs! It looks like a wonderful trip. I'm rather envious! Those are some amazing buildings.I hope you're feeling refreshed from your vacation. We just drove all the way from Madison to Pittsburgh yesterday (twelve hours, including a stop for dinner), and we're both a bit zonked today!Love,Steve

    November 30, 2009 at 16:59

  4. Hey Paul! looking at your pictures has transformed my otherwise grey cold march london morning. Looks like you are having a great time. Reminds me of happy times in India, I went as a kid and stayed in the Lake Palace hotel. Will you be passing through London any time soon? I do miss the MSF life hmmmmmtake care, sorry I've been out of touch, not enough hours in the day n all that!xxxxxxxxxxxxxxLaura (from Nanning)

    March 10, 2010 at 07:44

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