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Monday, Feb 04, 2008

Metro Plus Chennai

Water, water everywhere…
Sheila Kumar visits the good old City Of Lakes

Royal splendour The Lake Palace on Pichola 

It’s a clear and crisp winter day, the third day of my Udaipur
 stint and I’m back in a boat. In Udaipur, I find, you sit in a
 boat for quite a long time. No great hardship though, since
 Pichola, the lake I am on, gleams a dark blue, the stunning
 white mass of the Lake Palace rises whiter than white in
 front of me, the isle of Jag Mandir sits stolid to my left,
and far on the horizon, the Sajjangarh fort rises from
a crag. Altogether pleasing to the eye, just about
 sums it up.

Udaipur, the White City. That it certainly is, because views
 of the place from any height show it to be a mass of
white-coloured buildings. Udaipur, City of Lakes. Well,
there’s the Fateh Sagar Lake (circa 1678) and then
there’s the famous Pichola, which is a pretty shallow
 man-made lake. There is the Jaisamand and the
Udai Sagar lake, as well as the Jiyan Sagar, all on
 the outskirts of Udaipur. Actually, the moniker
‘Place of Palaces’ too, will not sit awry on Udaipur,
 which boasts of the Jag Mandir (circa 1615), a
palace on Pichola Lake which once sheltered the
 young Shah Jehan; the jaw-dropping City Palace,
 an awesome pile indeed; the famous Lake Palace
also on Pichola (a hotel now, with its own Catch-22
situation: you need to book for a meal to visit but
 the hotel has a backlog of booking for three months);
 Devigarh, the fort palace- turned-star hotel that
served as an impressive location for the film
“Eklavya”; and the Sajjangarh Palace perched
atop a steep hill.

Dusty little town
Except, the 18th Century Sajjangarh is more fort
than palace and bordering just this side of dereliction.
 Perched dramatically on a crag, with amazing views
 of the rolling hills, inside you come across the usual
 regulation number of turrets, empty rooms, fading
 relics of ancient glory, one pretty trellis-worked
chatri set in the interior, and curiously enough, many
 TV antennae poking out of the rooftop of the building.
 Was there Ham radio training going on? Some secret
 society that communicated via airwaves?

Udaipur as a city is less than charming, a dusty little town
 with winding lanes crammed with stationary and moving
 vehicles, women in bright lehengas and thick silver anklets,
 men in colourful saafas, gold glinting in their earlobes.
The place is dotted with interesting little shops selling
camel-hide notebooks, art paper and the like. There is
the Sahelion ki Bari, an 18th Century garden with a lotus
pool hideously marred by a green statue of a woman, lush
 green lawns totally taken over by hordes of noisy tourists,
 marble pavilions all painted a deep grey for some
depressing reason.

The Maharana Pratap Smarak sits on a small hill and
 apart from an impressive statue of Pratap atop his
 famous horse Chetak, also holds a pictorial history
of both Pratap’s valorous deeds as well as a potted
history of the Mewar Ranas. The founding deity of the
 Mewars as well as the city, Eklingji, is tucked away
in a modest, ancient temple in the fold of dry and
dusty hills on the Ajmer Road, well worth a visit.

Palaces within a palace

The City Palace is, of course, the top draw. Standing on a
promontory of Pichola, the palace holds eleven palaces
within it, with all the balconies, towers and cupolas
affording some great views of the glinting Pichola. The
 son et lumiere showed up the magnificence of the
palace through a rambling account of the Mewar kings,
 their beauteous queens and their ongoing battles with
 the Mughals. One evening, we sit on the opposite bank
 at an Army mess, gazing at the lit palace…indeed, a special sight.

My personal highlight is the walk through the Crystal Gallery
 in the Fateh Prakash palace, just behind the City Palace.
You pay a ridiculously large entrance fee and you get to
 see a wide and varied collection of truly lovely crystal
items, all crafted by F & C Osler of England. There are
knick- knacks, bowls, fly whisk handles, perfume bottles,
 photo frames, lampshades, washing bowls, a brilliant
 emerald set of glasses made to hold a secret in-house
 elixir, a four-poster bed, sofa sets, tables, ornamental
chairs and some really huge chandeliers, seven in all,
all lit to hold the gaze for several arrested moments.
The prohibitive entrance fee also entitles you to a
cuppa tea … and nothing else.

Oh, another cliche comes alive. Udaipur is full of
 foreign tourists, the Crystal Gallery more so. And
 while the whites all got to sit sipping their tea at
tables with a view of Pichola, Indian visitors to the
 Fateh Prakash Palace were shown to tables in the
 interior, to sip their tea and gaze at waiters
 flitting hither and thither.

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