India’s “City of Lakes” often gets overshadowed by the more popular Jaipur, but Udaipur has a charm and elegance that is beyond description. With royal palaces, and garden islands in the middle of its clean and clear lakes, it is a welcome respite from the hectic bustle of the rest of Rajasthan. The winter months are the best time to visit the city, when the days aren’t oppressively hot and you can spend time outdoors.
Udaipur’s list of places to visit is brief but impressive. There is the cluster of lakes, of which Lake Pichola, Fateh Sagar and Jai Samand are most popular. As a tourist, you will invariably spend most time on and around Lake Pichola: either taking boat rides, brunching by its shore, or just gazing at it from your room at one of the many gorgeous hotels and havelis on its banks. You will also get a spectacular view from the City Palace Museum, the other star attraction. The palace takes you back in time and traces the history of the Mewar dynasty through its warren of rooms, mahals, and durbars, all preserved immaculately. From here, head to the beautiful Saheliyo ki Bari, the erstwhile pleasure palace of the royals in the middle of the lake. Today, it doesn’t serve the same purpose, but is no less enchanting with its manicured gardens and tinkling fountains. Back on shore, book yourself a ticket for the evening show of local folk dance and puppetry at the Bagore ki Haveli.
At the other end of the city, Fateh Sagar lake pulls in more tourists, with its garden island and jet-ski rentals. It is one of the most popular Udaipur tourist places. From here, take a trip to the mountain-top summer palace at Sajjangharh Fort, for a spectacular sunset. The taxi drivers who ferry you from the base to the top can be aggressive, so try and arrange your own vehicle. Finally, back on ground, spend the evening at one of the many ghats on Lake Pichola watching the lights dance on the waters and the temple bells tinkling from the other shore. Many tourists also travel from Udaipur to Mount Abu for a hilly retreat.
Udaipur is underrated as a food destination: from hip cafes that serve single-origin coffees to roadside stalls that churn out excellent sweets and savouries, the city has it all. At the top end of the spectrum is Ambrai, the lakeside restaurant at Amet Haveli, where just the view is worth the tab. Also recommended is 1559 AD, run by Arjun Shaktawat, the man behind the wildly popular Upre, at his family’s Lake Pichola Hotel. While 1559 AD features coffee, a bakery and an al fresco dining area, the latter is a lakeside eatery that serves Rajasthani, Indian and continental fare. For a full Rajasthani spread, stop by at the Bedla family’s Royal Repast, where the ambience and the food come together to create the most memorable dining experience. Coffee lovers should visit Jheel’s Ginger Coffee Bar and Bakery or Udai Art Café (which claims to make the best coffee in India), both of which make a strong cuppa, and where the conversation flows across tables. If you’re looking to treat yourself, look no further than Sheesh Mahal, the fine-dining option at The Leela Palace Udaipur, which features an excellent lal maas and bati dal. If all that local food gets to you, make your way to Wok by the Lake, at the Radisson Blu Udaipur Palace Resort and Spa, which serves up some simple but sumptuous Chinese food.
Rajasthan is known for its block printed fabrics and crowded markets. Any first-time visitor should be sure to visit the aptly named Bada Bazaar, where you’ll find everything from silver trinkets and jewellery to bolts of fabric, camel bone artefacts to leather bags and more. Don’t forget to bargain before you leave with your spoils for the day. Other bazaars worth checking out are Bapu Bazaar (where the street food will see you fill your stomach, as you empty your wallet), and the collection of shops around Chetak Circle for local pottery, puppets and more. When it comes to individual shops, men should make a beeline for Sandouk, The House of Fashon, where you’ll get the snuggest fit for your made to measure suit. Also interesting is The House of Things, where you will find curios for your home - like furniture, tableware and more. A little outside the city is Shilpgram, a ‘living’ museum that sells an array of craftsmen’s products from all over the state. Spice lovers should visit Indian Spice Box, where you can get everything you need to stock your pantry - like tea leaves, spices and oils.
Just because Udaipur’s steeped in history doesn’t mean that there isn’t some off the beaten path stuff to do in the city. Millets of Mewar promotes itself as the city’s first health food store and their menu features organic food, with gluten free options. For those looking to take a cycle tour of the city, ask LetsTrip to organise one for you. Depending on your fitness level, they can take you a little outside the city, or offer you a slow city tour. Art lovers should check out Bougain Villaea, which presents art and sculpture including in marble and bronze. Autoheads should also make it a point to check out the royal family’s vintage car collection at the Vintage and Classic Car Collection Museum on the premises of the Garden Hotel. Get there before lunch to ogle at the sleek machines before sitting down for a meal at the hotel’s famed Garden Restaurant, which forgoes a menu in favour of a decadent thali.
|NH 76, Dabok, Udaipur, Rajasthan 313023||UDR|