Often described as Venice of the East, Udaipur is undoubtedly a very special town. Founded in 1559 by Udai Singh, it was the capital of the royal kingdom of Mewar and is still home to Udai Singh’s decedents. Also known as the City of Lakes, what makes the place so special and draws hundreds of thousands of tourists every year, is the sophisticated man-made lake system, seven of which surround the city, and the stunning palaces and havelis that climb from its shores.
The truth is much of the new city is an urban mess, with little to recommend visiting. But that doesn’t matter as the lakes, the narrow lanes of the old town that sit by the east and northern shores, and the varied shopping opportunities they offer, are enough to entertain most modern travellers. Lake Pichola is the principal lake, fed by the monsoon rains that roll off the surrounding Aravalli hills, and on which most of the royal places and havelis can be found. Many have now been converted into hotels and guesthouses with rooftop restaurants, the views from which are sublime. And sitting in the middle of the lake is the famous Lake Palace, the second most photographed building in India and now a very special hotel.
We arrived soon after midday, checked into my lakeside hotel and with JP, took a look around. Again, there were precious few western travellers, but the place was still busy with locals on holiday or weekend breaks. Down here, away from more formal rules of the capital, few wore face masks or seemed concerned about social distancing. We joined a multi-generational family, who were on a short break from Gujarat, on a traditional boat trip on the lake – which is the best way to get good photos of the City Palace and Lake Palace – and a little later had dinner at a lakeside restaurant.
I don’t know how many times I have been to Udaipur, but I never tire of visiting. At night, with a beer in your hand, looking up at the magnificent palaces, glowing under the star-filled sky, you must pinch yourself to believe it’s real.
But it’s not just the town’s beauty that makes it popular with tourists. Sitting where it does on Rajasthan’s southeast corner, with great flight connections through Delhi and Mumbai, Udaipur is also a very practical ‘gateway’ town, making it the ideal place to end a trip through Rajasthan.
Which is exactly what I have done, and tomorrow I’ll fly through Delhi and on to Kashmir – where my travelling life began.