Continuing my post on the trip to Rajasthan (Click here to go to the first part https://shwetravelogues.wordpress.com/2016/06/15/the-rajasthan-road-trip-leg-1-of-2/)
After being treated like royalty, we left Jodhpur to make our way to Udaipur with a stop-over at Kumbalgarh about mid-way. In most cases, you always get a glimpse of your destination, you know what is to come, Kumbalgarh however was one such exception. Built at an elevation of 1100 metres above sea level on the Aravalli Hills, the fort was made in a manner such that it could not be seen by any enemy until they actually knock on their Ram Pole (i.e. the name they have given to the entrance gate). Pretty inconvenient for invaders huh?
We took a guide who walked us through the battles of Kumbalgarh, the tales of victory and defeat.The place is famous for being the birthplace of the popular Maharana Singh Pratap and was built by Rana Kumbha. A Mewar Fortress with a wall over 38 kms long outlining the periphery of the fort, it is the second longest wall in the world, coming second to the Great Wall of China. The fort separated the Mewar and Marwar communities and has been a refuge for all Mewar rulers during crucial times of war.
As we were exploring the castle, we came to the chambers of the Queen and the women folk and I was quite aghast with the way the Queen in a kingdom was treated. In every fort that houses the queen, the gateway always opens up to a passage or a hallway of sorts and the actual entrance would always be an L shaped passage, which essentially means no one can actually see inside until you enter the door and are allowed inside. Essentially meaning that no unapproved audience (I don’t think I need to mention approved by whom! ) was ever allowed at the Queen’s court. As if the isolation was not enough,even at the rooftop of the Queen’s boarding is built in the manner where she can look out but not one other person can see her, essentially meaning she cannot have eye contact with any other human being apart from those who are allowed in her premises which means she is allowed no contact with any other person of the opposite sex apart from the king. Talk about autocratic! Turns out this was not just Maharana Pratap’s problem, this was the story behind all Rajasthan forts (I found out to my astonishment later). And here we talk about feminism, freedom of speech and equal rights. However, the maintenance of the palace is very shoddy and tourists should really be careful to not worsen it by dirtying it further.
We then moved ahead to Udaipur, the part of the trip I was most excited about. The city of lakes. At first sight you actually get scared, driving down those narrow lanes with people moving in just about any direction they please, but we bravely fight our way through the city and reach our hotel just in time by the sunset. We had booked a lovely hotel, Hotel Panna Vilas Palace, right opposite FatehSagar lake and boy was it lovely! One of the more reasonably priced hotels and absolutely comfortable hotel with the perfect view of the Fateh Sagar Lake. Would definitely recommend it for anyone looking to stay away from the throngs of tourists (they are usually a big turn-off for me) near Lake Pichola. We went for a lovely stroll by the lake and enjoyed a lovely meal at the roof-top restaurant at the hotel.
Next morning, we were clearly instructed by the receptionist to leave the car at all costs and to take a tuk tuk to head over to the city palace and we were glad we paid heed to his instructions. The lanes were even more narrow, much more congested and I’m not even going into parking. For a minute it almost felt like being back in Mumbai!
Avoiding digressing, we went into the City Palace and there is one noticeable difference as we walk in, you can make out which fort has the money almost right away. Sure, the fact that the entrance ticket was 29 times higher should have been a good enough indication but well, 5 seconds into the palace is also good enough. One part of the palace still remains the residence of the descendants of Uday Singh – Arvind Singh Mewar, and is not open for public. One of the most regal palaces in terms of grandiose in structure, paintings, palanquins, jewelry and architecture. Not much history to the palace, nothing as interesting as Kumbalgarh but the opulence of the palace would definitely leave you spell bound.
The biggest trouble in Udaipur, the whole city is so commercialised, be completely weary of being ripped off. Of course, I am talking with personal experience. Here are few lessons I learnt the hard way:
Ground Rule No. 1: Do not buy anything inside the City Palace grounds. They tell you its available only there, its one of a kind, its rare! Believe me merchandise in Udaipur is anything but rare. Every Tom, Dick or Harry is trying to sell the same stuff at a much higher price than the one before.
Ground Rule No. 2: Do not buy anything on the road lined with shops right outside the City Palace. They are more of the same.
Ground Rule No. 3: Bargain. Bargain like your life depended on it! Every price quoted is atleast 3 times costlier than the actual price/ worth of the goods.
Having said that, I did buy the loveliest Meenakari artifact outside City Palace in one of the stores, a small 3 piece set of an Elephant (for strength), horse (for power) and camel (for wealth). I did pay a little more than the actual price for it, but the quality of the work and finish was like no other. The best place if you want to do shopping is Jaipur, everything you need from Rajasthan can be found in a little market called Bapu Bazaar in the heart of the city. So save some money and lots of shopping to Jaipur always.
After getting royally looted, we made our way through the narrow lanes to go to the lake to get a better view of the lovely Taj lake palace in the middle of Pichola. In our search for the lake, we came by this lovely little café Jheel by the waters of the lake serving the best cappuccino and chocolate milkshakes. That’s what I call the perfect drink with the perfect view. We then headed back to the hotel, got our car and went for a lovely drive around the perimeters of the Fateh Sagar Lake. The lake is much cleaner than Pichola, however, there is nothing you can do apart from standing and enjoying the view. There are a couple of seating benches, however, they are too few and far in between.
As evening was setting in, we rushed to the Monsoon Palace, said to have the best view of the sunset in all of Udaipur. Set on top of a hill at the highest point in the city, you can only go up in the jeeps at the center who shuttle tourists up and down the palace. There are usually limited trips of this shuttle so be sure to reach there one hour before sunset. We reached by 5, but we had our share of palaces by then, the structure/architecture were nothing fascinating, it was the view that was amazing! You could see the entire city fan out in front of you and the wind could well just blow you away. I wanted the best seats to view the sunset, so we rushed up and found a huge window facing the setting sun and got ourselves comfortable. It was a view to die for, with the setting sun in the backdrop of 2 mountains and the view of the city in the opposite side, it was the perfect romantic setting. It definitely goes on my list of Best Sunsets Ever!
As we headed further, we went down to Jaipur, our last leg of the trip and I must say one of the dull parts of Rajasthan. Jaipur being the capital, is more of a city hub that has lost its historical significance over time atleast for me. I guess seeing McDonalds in every third street let me down a little. However, Amer Fort, Hawa Mahal were no less significant in terms of architecture or history. We also had a chance to have a delectable Rajasthani Thali in the Virasat Restaurant, they give you the complete experience with delicious food, Rajasthani folk music and dance. (Please note, they have a means of extracting maximum from tourists, the ground floor they serve you the same food in silver cutlery for three times as much the cost, the same experience is available for commoners on the top floor of the restaurant).
And so ended the much awaited trip to Rajasthan, I was not nearly done with it, but I definitely managed to get an excellent flavour of the entire culture.
Links to the hotel
Panna Vilas, Udaipur: http://www.hotelpannavilas.com/
Jheel Cafe: https://www.zomato.com/udaipur/jheels-ginger-coffee-bar-bakery-chandpole
Virasat, Jaipur : https://www.zomato.com/jaipur/virasat-bais-godam/info