‘The most romantic spot on the continent of India’ was Colonel James Tod’s assessment of Udaipur in the 1820s, and even today, despite the hordes who come here each winter, his assessment still holds true. Set against a hinterland of bare brown hills, the city is spread around the shores of shimmering Lake Pichola. Tiers of ghats (sacred steps), whitewashed havelis and temple towers rise to the pale-ochre walls and domes of the Sisodia dynasty’s exquisite City Palace, whose cusped-arched windows and high terraces gaze west across the water to one of the most spellbinding sights in India: that of the Jag Mandir and Jag Niwas palaces seemingly afloat on the glassy surface of the lake.
Shah Jahan once spent a dreamy sojourn in one of the summer retreats here and it is said he was so taken with the beauty of the architecture that he used it as a blueprint for the Taj Mahal. Today’s visitors divide their time between explorations of the warrenous old city to the east, and tours of the City Palace, with its richly ornamented mahals. Sadly, the iconic Lake Palace Hotel (Jag Niwas) is no longer open to non-residents, but you can still catch a boat out to its sibling, the Jag Mandir, while some extraordinary views over the water and its environs are to be had from a vertigo-inducing cable-car ropeway.
Udaipur also boasts a bumper crop of breathtakingly beautiful palace hotels, and these provide regal bases for day trips to the many monuments scattered among the nearby Aravalli Hills, which include an eagle’s nest Monsoon Palace – one of Rajasthan’s great viewpoints – and a lively folk village, where top artisans from across the northwest gather to sell their wares, while troupes of musicians and dancers perform in front of reconstructed Rajasthani houses.
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