Udaipur, Still To Die For

March 3, 2010 at 9:33 am | Posted in Asia, history, India, lodging | Leave a comment
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by Ed Wetschler

Udaipur, Rajasthan, IndiaEveryone who’s ever visited India’s Rajasthan — or even just seen photos of the magnificent palace complexes in Udaipur — may have one primary question these days: After last summer’s drought, just how low is Lake Pichola, from whose shores and whose waters the palaces rise? Last summer, people could drive and play cricket on the lake bed.

A second question, inevitably, is about affordable lodgings in Udaipur. Unfortunately, the historic Taj Lake Palace, which costs a minimum of 33,000 rupees* a night, isn’t exactly within everyone’s budget.

The first of Udaipur’s palaces was built by Maharana Udai Singh in 1559 when he founded the city, and his successors built more on the west shore. This went on for scores of generations, so you might expect the 11-palace complex on Pichola Lake to be an architectural mess, what with stylistic elements from Rajasthan, the Mughal Empire, China, and Europe — and from different centuries, no less.

Yet it works, and that’s putting it mildly. Elements like silver, marble, paintings, inlay surfaces, and the very intricacy of the wall and pillar carvings somehow pull it all together. Visitors gain entry through heroic gates, towers rise 100 feet (30 meters) over the 800-foot-long (244-meter) complex, and balconies evoke images of Mewar Dynasty rulers looking out over Pichola Lake — their lake. Just listening to the names of some of these palaces, which are linked, tells you what you’re in for: Krishna Vilas, Palace of Glass, Palace of Pearls.

The Mewar family still controls all this, in part through a number of trusts. It has also encouraged the establishment of craft shops and a must-see museum within the complex, not to mention a bank and even a post office. Obviously, much of this is open to the public.

But the question remains: How romantic can the Udaipur palace complex be right now if views of it from the lake — or views of the lake from the palaces — show mud flats?

Right now Pichola Lake is, at best, half full. Yet this shouldn’t be a deal-breaker; the buildings themselves are unaffected by the drought, and when you visit, you spend a lot of time admiring the walls and artwork, not just the setting. Moreover, winter is the dry season, so there was never much chance that the lake would refill in early 2010. Most probably, this spring will bring some much-needed rain to Udaipur.

Even so, where to stay without spending money like a rajah? Udai Kothi occupies a white, multi-story, confection in a quiet spot just a few minutes outside the Old City. The amenities are modern (swimming pool, health club, spa, etc), but the décor conveys the romance of history. Rooms here start at just 5,000 rupees.

Meanwhile, Jigat Niwas, dating back to the early 1600s, is right in the palace complex, yet you can book a lovely room here for just 1,550 rupees. That said, I’d recommend upgrading if you can to a 2,550-rupee “Heritage Room,” with views of Pichola Lake — especially once that water level starts to come up again.

*at press time, about US$722 / £478 / €528 / CA$743 / AU$797 / NZ$1,043 / R5,418

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