The Taj Lake Palace, otherwise known as Jag Niwas
Udaipur is honestly one of the most beautiful places I've ever been, anywhere in the world. Its a stunning location - lakes dotted with old royal palaces, surrounded by more palaces and the picturesque Araveli hills. Its not hard to see why Udaipur is known as the Venice of the East. We stayed here for 4 days which was enough to see the sights and spend some quality time by the pool (and oh what a pool), but I feel like I definitely want to go back. Here are a few of my tips:
Sleeping: We stayed at the Taj Lake Palace Hotel, the iconic palace in the middle of Lake Pichola (seen above) that was also the backdrop to the very cheesy James Bond film Octopussy. The Taj (otherwise known as Jag Niwas) was formerly the Maharana of Udaipur's summer residence. If you are looking for a romantic getaway, this is definitely your best bet. I think I mentioned in a previous post we were travelling off peak and were luckily upgraded once again to a suite that overlooked the other palace on Lake Pichola, Jag Mandir. The view from our room was amazing, and the sun setting behind the City Palace each night was so beautiful and felt like a private show just for us. It would be very easy to spend the entire time in Udaipur in this hotel, especially seeing as its the top tourist attraction listed in quite a few guidebooks. The view from the pool alone is enough, add to that the spa facilities and two restaurants (with a performance each night, plus a heritage walk of the hotel AND a boat tour around the lakes)...I seriously did consider not stepping foot off the hotel island...
Eating: If you are staying at the Taj then look no further than the two in house restaurants. The Indian speciality restaurant has a fantastic range of local Rajasthan cuisine with some great dishes we'd never tried before. Or, if you want something more international the All Day Dining restaurant - which also happens to have an amazing view over the lake - has a pretty good menu to select from.
We dined one evening at the Sunset Terrace in the Fateh Prakesh Palace Hotel, within the City Palace. The view at night of the sun setting behind the hills behind the lake and both palaces is unparalleled. Shame the food is not much to rave about, but its reasonably priced, and the view alone may just be worth it.
Shopping: Within the City Palace complex are some cute local shops and a few more upscale boutiques. One of the later is Aashka, the brainchild of Princess Bhargavi Kumari Mewar - the elder daughter of Udaipur's Maharana. Aashka stocks a range of clothing, furniture, homewares, jewellery and other accessories. The jewellery was what caught my eye, in particular the Amrapali and En Inde designs. Both lines are stocked elsewhere so check out their websites for other stockists. I walked away with a lovely necklace from en inde, and am very much looking forward to them adding more images to their website. Opposite the Aashka boutique was another Anokhi store. A little smaller than their boutique in Jaipur, but definitely worth a look.
If you are after more of a local shopping experience then head straight through the City Palace complex towards the Jagdish Temple and you'll find you're in another world. My new friend Mukesh of Marco Polo Collection can help you out if you're looking for Pashmina or silk scarves (his shop is on the left, just past all the Auto rickshaw drivers trying to sell everyone drugs..) If you keep walking you'll happen upon the Clock Tower, and turning right will lead to you one of the main market streets - Bara Bazaar. If you keep going down Bara Bazaar you'll eventually find the other main market street - Bapu Bazaar. Here you'll find a mix of fabrics, jewellery, spices, tea, more scarves and pashminas and a treasure trove of other goodies.
Sight seeing: Like I said, the Taj Hotel (otherwise known as Jag Niwas, or the Summer palace) is definitely high up on the list of places to see in Udaipur, so if you're not staying here you definitely need to take a trip across for a meal or just for a sticky beak, because it truly is beautiful. Jag Mandir, the other palace on Lake Pichola is still currently owned by the Maharana of Udaipur but is apparently set to be handed over to the Taj group, so no doubt this will end up being another luxury hotel. Maybe I'll have to stay there next time....
Other than the two lake palaces, the City Palace is the main attraction in town. The large complex of buildings that has been added to over time by each successive Maharana is so large it now houses the current residence of the Maharana, not one but TWO luxury hotels AND a museum. Seriously impressive.
There are other former palaces, haveli's and other grand structures around to visit, but the only other one we made the trip to was the Monsoon Palace, otherwise known as Sajjan Garh Palace. The Monsoon palace was built on a large hilltop overlooking lake Pichola and the surrounding Araveli hills as an escape for the Maharana during the monsoon season. Sadly it was never finished and has remained in an abandoned state since 1884. I couldn't help but hope that someone cashed up would buy it and restore it to the glory it once could have been. Luckily though, despite its abandoned state, the site is still a fantastic location for sunrise and sunset and is open to all to view from the terrace. We make the trip up for sunset and were not disappointed.
All in all I'm not sure I can say enough good things about Udaipur. Its a beautiful, quiet and laid back town with lots of culture, history and great food to be enjoyed. I am planning my next trip in my head already!
The view from the Monsoon Palace in Udaipur
Stay tuned for the final installment....Calcutta!