The ancient city of Udaipur is often referred to as ‘Venice of the East’ and is said to be ‘the most romantic city in India’. Not without reason though, for the city is blessed with a landscape that features several magnificent palaces, forts, temples, gardens and three interconnected lakes; the Pichola, the Fateh Sagar and the Swaroop Sagar Lakes, which are littered with many iconic attractions like the Lake Palace Hotel.
The origins of Udaipur can be traced back to the 16th century, when the city was founded by Rana Udai Singh, a member of the Sissodia clan and the house of Mewar, which had ruled the area around the city since 568AD. The ancient capital of the house of Mewar used to be located at a city called Nagda but Rana Udai Singh shifted the capital to Udaipur when the Mughals, under Emperor Akbar, captured the mighty Chittorgarh fort in 1568.
The Hindu Mewar rulers fiercely defended their kingdoms and were never conquered by the Muslim invaders of North India. So much so, that as the power of the Mughals declined, the Sissodia kings managed to reassert their authority in the district of Mewar, though Mewar did become a princely state under the British in 1818.
After India gained her independence from the British in 1947, the Maharaja of Udaipur acceded to the Indian Government and the district of Mewar became a part of the Indian state of Rajasthan. Udaipur today is a firmly established location on the Rajasthan tourist trail and it is visited by scores of domestic and international tourists every year.
Family-friendly attractions in Udaipur
The Lake Palace
The stunning Lake Palace is Udaipur’s star attraction. Built entirely of white marble this sprawling palace, which rises out of the waters of Lake Pichola, is located on Jag Niwas Island. The Lake Palace was built by Maharana Jagat Singh in the 17th century.
The Maharana was friendly with Emperor Shah Jahan and was inspired by the splendor of the Mughal palaces. He soon went on to create this magnificent structure, which features several decorative turrets and battlements, courtyards, pillared terraces, fountains and gardens. The Lake Palace served as the summer palace of the Mahranas and was enhanced and expanded on by successive kings. Today, the palace complex hosts a hotel, the residence of the current Maharana and a museum.
The City Palace is the largest palace complex in Udaipur. Maharana Udai Singh initially built this palace, which is located on the banks of the Lake Pichola, and it was enhanced and expanded on by his successors.
The palace complex encompasses 11 different palaces which each have their own attractions. Prominent points of interest at the City Palace include palaces like Manak Mahal (Ruby Palace) which is known for its collection of fine crystal and porcelain, Bhim Vilas which offers exquisite murals and paintings of Lord Krishna and his consort Radha, Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace), which is known for its exquisite interiors and Sheesh Mahal, which is decorated with thousands of mirrors. Other attractions at the palace include tall imposing gates like ‘Bara Pol’ (Great Gate), which is the main entryway to the City Palace, the Tripolia (a triple arched gate) and Hathi Pol (the elephant gate).
The palace complex also encloses various temples, the most prominent of which is the Jagdish Temple. This temple was built by Maharana Jagat Singh, who ruled Udaipur from 1628 to 1653. The temple, which is dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, is a magnificent piece of architecture which features intricately carved pillars, ornate ceilings and halls.
The Jag Mandir Palace
The Jag Mandir Palace is situated on one of the islands of Lake Pichola. This beautiful palace was built of yellow sandstone and marble in the 17th century by Maharana Karan Singh. The palace has an intriguing story associated with it, for it is believed that it was here that Maharana Karan Singh gave refuge to a Mughal prince, Prince Khuram (who later went on to be known as Emperor Shah Jahan).
Prince Khuram was born to a Hindu mother and hence when the prince rebelled against his father, Emperor Jahangir, he sought refuge with his Hindu relatives. Prince Khuram was housed in the Gul Mahal section of the palace, a building that sports the Islamic style of architecture and is crowned with a crescent (the symbol of Islam). A small mosque was also built within the palace boundaries for the prince and his family. Today, the palace has been converted into a luxury heritage hotel by the present Maharana.
Family-friendly activities in Udaipur
Take a trip to Chittorgarh Fort
The Chittorgarh Fort is the largest fort in India. This fort is located on a hill near the Gambheri River at a distance of 112 kms from Udaipur. This battle-scared fort, which extends over 700 acres, was built by the Maurya rules of Chittor in the 7th century.
The fort was used by the Rajputs to thwart the many Muslim invaders who tried to conquer their lands and quell their spirit. The fort has a long history of romance, courage and determination associated with it and it stands today as a powerful symbol of Rajput valor.
Take a safari to the Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary
The Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary is located at a distance of 65km (40 miles) from Udaipur on the Udaipur –Jodhpur Road. The sanctuary extends over an area of 578sq.km in the Aravalli hills and encircles the fort of Kumbalgarh. This nature preserve is home to various native animals of Rajasthan like the Nilgai, the Chausingha (a four horned antelope) and Chinkara gazelles, though it also offers sightings of animals like the sloth bears, jackals, hyenas and jungle cats. The sanctuary is especially known for its wolf population and offers frequent sightings of these fearsome canines.
Visit the Udaipur Solar Observatory
The Udaipur Solar Observatory is located on an island in the city’s Fateh Sagar Lake. This observatory was constructed in 1975 and fashioned on the lines of the Solar Observatory at Big Bear Lake in California. The observatory is equipped with various instruments that are designed to study the sun and its movements and is an interesting and somewhat modern attraction of this ancient city.
Visit the Gulab Bagh and Zoo
The Gulab Bagh and Zoo is situated within a rose garden which was laid out by Maharaja Sajjan Singh on the banks of the Lake Pichola. This rose garden, which extends over one hundred acres, is the largest garden of its type in Udaipur. The garden encloses several other sights, like a library, which houses ancient handwritten manuscripts and books, and a museum, which offers displays of various antiques and artifacts. Also located within the Gulab Bagh is a small zoo that is home to animals like tigers, leopards, Chinkara gazelles and even Australian emus.
Go horseback riding or take a camel safari
Aside from sightseeing, Udaipur also offers opportunities for active pursuits like horseback riding and camel safaris. Several tour operators in the city, such as Princess Trails and Krishna Ranch, offer these facilities.
The Karni Mata Ropeway is a relatively new addition to Udaipur’s collection of attractions. The ropeway links two hills which are situated on the banks of Lake Pichola. Visitors can ride the gondolas that traverse the length of the 387 meter (1279 feet) long ropeway which is suspended at a height of 99 meters (324 feet). The ropeway offers gorgeous vistas of the many attractions of Udaipur, like Lake Pichola, Fateh Sagar Lake, the City Palace and more.