The Udaipur that James Tod, the British Political agent to Mewar, set eyes upon in 1829, would have been significantly different from the Udaipur of today. Yet sitting up in one of the many rooftop cafes clustered around the old city, with the reflection of the lit up city palace dancing in the Pichola lake, it is easy to see what make Tod call Udaipur the most romantic city in continental India.
Set amidst lakes in the fertile Girwa Valley and surrounded by the undulating hills of the Aravali range that separates it from the Thar desert, Udaipur was founded by Maharana Udai Singh II in 1559, who shifted the capital of the Kingdom of Mewar here from Chittor.
We started our Rajasthan travels in Udaipur, spending many days unwinding, walking around the old city, eating leisurely meals in cafes around and using it as a base to explore the region around. It’s a lovely city with a fantastic vibe and we thought we would put together a short guide to help you get the best out of your time in the city of lakes.
What to See and do:
Wander the corridors of Udaipur’s City Palace:
The highlight of any visit to Udaipur has to be the sprawling city palace, the seat of the rulers of Udaipur and to date the home of the current members of the royal family. Like other royal families in Rajasthan, the Sisodia’s of Udaipur have managed to retain control of the City Palace and created the Maharana of Mewar charitable trust that now maintains the palace. This means that whilst the ticket for entry is a relatively steep INR 300 (for Indians) the palace is in impeccable shape. To have the best experience, we suggest you go early, before the crowds hit. The palace complex itself is massive, consisting of many smaller palaces built by the different Maharajas through it’s 400 year history and takes 2 – 3 hours to walk through. Whilst the Rs. 300 ticket gives you entry to the main complex museum, there is a separate Rs. 30 ticket to explore the area around and view the ramparts behind the palace, which is worth the money. There is also is a Rs 800 ticket which allows access to other areas like the crystal gallery and Durbar hall and yet another ticket if one wants to take a boat to Jagmandir, a palace and temple built in the middle of the lake besides the Lake Palace! It all adds up and can be a bit pricey especially if you are on a budget. The highlight of the palace for us was the Amar Vilas an enclosed garden on the highest point of the Palace full of trees providing shade, with a large quadrangular marble bath in the center and surrounded by arched pavilions on all sides.
Watch the sunset from Sajjanghad
There are many great spots to watch the sunset over Udaipur, including Gangaur Ghat, Ambrai Ghat opposite the City Palace and the Karni Mata temple, but our favourite was Sajjanghad. Also known as the Monsoon Palace, Sajjanghad is perched on a hill high above the city. Whilst the palace itself isn’t much to write home about, the setting, with the city and lakes laid out towards the east and the endless Aravalis on the west, is the perfect spot to take in a peaceful sunset with a cup of hot chai. Take a scarf, it can get extremely windy! To reach, take an Uber or an auto to the gate, from where you need to transfer to a shared Jeep, the ticket for which costs about Rs 50. The drive in the jeep up the Palace is quite an adventure in itself as you head up a crazy winding road with shrubby forests on all side.
Take a walking tour of the old city
We love staying in the old part of ancient cities wherever we travel, be it Udaipur, Ahmedabad, Banaras or for that matter even places in Europe. There’s a special charm to these places with narrow winding lanes, cool old buildings and hidden corners, legends and stories and the best way to explore them is on foot. We usually like walking these lanes on our own, leisurely, stopping where we want and going wherever serendipity leads, but off late we have also started joining walking tours run by locals which offer a different flavour of the place, some hidden insights and access to areas you may not otherwise have found. We took the tour offered by GoStops Udaipur which cost about INR300 per head; this is a daily group tour they offer but we were the only two people that day and it was a nice personalised tour. The walk took us through some of Udaipur’s oldest areas, bazaars and neighbourhoods arranged by trade and craft and in and out of the cities ancient gates. Through the walk we gained insights into how Udaipur’s sophisticated lake system worked, learned to recognise traditional Rajpur homes, and even gleaned the secrets of how to attend a local wedding uninvited!
Check out the super performance at Baghore Ki Haveli
This one is an old Udaipur favourite! Baghore Ki Haveli is located just besides Gangaur Ghat, the most well known ghat in the old city and was once the home of a court minister. The haveli itself is charming and hosts a small museum which you can visit. The museum is nothing special, though the room displaying different types of turbans, which offers an insight into Rajasthan’s complex caste based society and the weapons room are the most interesting. But what you can’t miss is the evening performance that happens everyday on the roof of the haveli. Featuring traditionally Rajasthani artists from all over the state, the performance gives visitors a flavour of the traditional dances albeit in a touristy setting. Now whilst such performance normally tend to be uninspiring, the one at Baghore Haveli is great fun, with the performers and the audience alike having a good time! Watch out for Jayshreeji, the 70 year old performer who closes the show with an incredible display of grace, balancing over 10 pots on her head whilst doing a little shimmy! That alone is worth your ticket money! Tickets go on sale around 6pm everyday and the show starts at 7. Go early as tickets sell out quick and the seating is on first come first serve.
Visit the Ahar Cenotaphs
Ahar is the city of an ancient civilisation which is said to predate the city of Udaipur by 3500 years but nothing of that exists any longer. Instead in its place stands a park chock a block full of pristine white carved Cenotaphs and Chattris of Udaipurs’ ruling class. Chattris are memorials set up to commemorate Rajput nobility, similar to tombs and cenotaphs built by Muslim rulers in their memory. There are literally hundreds of little cenotaphs clustered together including 19 larger Chattris one for each of Udaipur’s Maharanas. It’s a lovely space to spend an evening walking amongst the Chattris, most of which are not in the best of shape, through that only serves to add to the atmosphere!
Please note the Cenotaphs close by about 5:30pm, and photography is officially not allowed inside, thought all this seems to be largely dependant on the caretakers mood!
Do a day trip around Udaipur
Once you are done with the city why not head out for a day trip. There are a number of easy day trips around including a visit to the nearby Eklingji Temple complex, one of the most important temples for the Udaipur royals and where the present Maharaja worships every Monday. There is also the stunning Ranakpur Jain temple, built all in marble with some of the most beautiful carvings you will see on a temple anywhere. If imposing Rajasthani forts are more your thing, make sure you check out Chittorghar and Kumbalghad, both of which are hugely impressive, were former seats of the Mewar dynasty and are now UNESCO recognised sites. Of the two Chittorghar is probably a nicer trip to do and the evening view of the fort is just stunning, but Kumbalghar has bragging rights as the fort which has the 2nd longest wall in the world. People sometimes combine Ranakpur and Kumbalghad as a day trip and you can do that, but be prepared for a long tiring day and we would recommend that you avoid that if you can. If you must do both in a day set out as early as possible. Whilst Chittorghad can be done as a day trip easily, if you have the time it is also a nice place to spend a couple of days. The old village of Chittor is located within the fort walls and the wonderfully restored Padmini Haveli, run by Sudhir and Parvati, is an excellent place to stay and learn the story of Chittor.
How much time to spend:
Whilst we spent a week lazing in Udaipur, 3 – 4 days should be enough to cover the city, take in a couple of day trips around and have plenty of time to relax by the lake. It’s a great short break with friends family or even solo, with convenient flights from most cities.
Where to stay:
To really get a feel of Udaipur you need to stay in the old city arranged around Lake Pichola. The area is full of charm with cute little bylanes and old havelis, all stacked cheek to jowl. There are accommodations to meet all budgets from 5 star properties like the famous Taj Lake Palace Udaipur, Lalit Laxmi Niwas Palace and Fateh Prakash Palace to upscale restored havelis like Udai Kothi (which we thought was simply beautiful), Amet Haveli and Jagat Niwas to hostels like Moustache, Zostel and GoStops to budget guesthouses like Panorma and Jheel, all by the lake! Phew. You could stay on either side of the lake, the east side with the city palace has most of the restaurants, shops and action, where as the west side is quieter and has lovely views of the Palace.
Where to eat.
The old city is literally littered with food options, with most cafes located on the top stories of narrow buildings accessed by endless flights of stairs! Get some exercise in before eating seems to be the theme! Whilst most places offer typical Indian staples and backpacker fare, there are a few options that stand out.
- Millets of Mewar: This has to be one of the best restaurants in Udapiur and our favourite. MoM offers a mix of Indian, Rajasthani and world food all prepared with organic produce, sourced from small farmers around the region. They also take pride in offering a number of vegan options. The best part of the food is that it is fresh, tasty and wholesome with generous portions and no hint of the pretensions that typically surround organic / vegan food. Don’t miss the blended lime and mint cooler and the excellent multi grain cookies. We might have bought several packets to carry for the journey onward.
- Udai Art Cafe: This one located just down from the main temple boasts of having the best coffee in Udaipur and we have to say its pretty damn good. Also great for salads and a nice big english breakfast if you are craving eggs, bacon and sausages.
- Jheel: Just down from the walking bridge on the City Palace side, Jheel offers seating by the ghat as well as on their terrace and serves up great sandwiches, pastas and potentially the best pizzas we have had in a smaller metro. The food is tasty and the portion sizes are great too.
- Upre: Located on the terrace of Lake Pichola Hotel, this fine dining restaurant offers an excellent view of the lake and the city palace by night and some mouthwatering authentic Rajasthani food. Our favourite was the Dungar Maas, a flavourful smoked meat dish in thick gravy. Best place for a romantic meal in Udaipur, though with big city pricing!
- Paps: This unassuming little stall by the walking bridge whips up a mean muesli and a variety of juices and fruit bowls. Super way to start your Udaipur explorations for a small sum.
Hit us up if you have any questions or thoughts and we’d be happy to help. We really liked the city and we hope you do too! Happy Travels 🙂