Given their penchant for bright dyes, voluminous turbans and decked earlobes, the men in Rajasthan might just be the most colourfully dressed and bejewelled males in the world. Perhaps in an attempt to outshine them (heat be damned) the women clad themselves daily in the shrillest-coloured saris and ghagras, adding borlas, nuths and lac bangles that pile up to their armpits.
We had naively imagined journeying four hours from Jodhpur to Udaipur, but the people we saw along the way — from a Devasi goatherd to a bridegroom’s party — were nothing short of arresting, and we just had to keep slowing down and stopping to take the sights in.
LAKE PICHOLA AT NIGHT
Leaving the filigreed Ranakpur temples and the wooded Aravali hills behind, we arrived in Udaipur to an onslaught of marble warehouses, with the precious stone garnered from the surrounding areas. Udaipur was made capital of the Mewar kingdom in 1567 by Maharana Udai Singh, and as our guide pointed out, the Sisodia clan is known to be “the world’s oldest surviving dynasty spanning 1,500 years and 76 generations.”
The city stretches its arms around four man-made lakes and on the banks of the largest one, Lake Pichola, nestles the sprawling City Palace and Museum ensemble. The iconic Lake Palace and the smaller Jag Mandir are like white lotuses afloat in the middle of the lake. While the kings of yore created a spectacle indeed, modern day hoteliers have given a further fillip to the Udaipur experience, and it has now become one of the prime venues for destination weddings in India.
After sunset, a boat ride in the serene Lake Pichola is nothing short of entrancing. Soft, golden lights from the heights of the City Palace, and the lower Jag Mandir, Udaivilas, Leela and myriad other sources cast shadows on the rounded cupolas, vertical indents and arched windows. The boat stirs their reflection in the water, making the dark lake shimmer.
Udaipur’s narrow and bustling backstreets are full of surprises where you might find workmen creating a delicate mosaic from glass and mercury known as thikri work. At Amet Haveli restaurant, the flavours of ker sangri, gatta and makki ki roti were just as pleasant as the views. Nearby, a local woman stepped into the lake and gave herself a good scrub, fully clothed.
To visit the City Palace Museum early had been sound advice, as it did get crowded later. In the beautiful setting, our guide brought stories of Mewar’s legends to life; Panna dai, the wet nurse from the Gujjar tribe who sacrificed her baby to save the life of Udai Singh by switching them in the cradle. Meera bai, a bhajan-singing Krishna devotee from Nagor who had bravely stood up to her detractors.
An utterly riveting painting depicted scenes from the battle of Haldighati in 1576, where the brave and ingenious Rana Pratap fought Akbar’s army. He disguised his horse, Chetak, with an elephant’s mask to avert the wrath of the war-trained elephants whose tusks wielded swords. Chetak, although badly wounded, ran his master across the river to safety before he died.
“Rajput valour was never in doubt,” said our guide over tea at the Crystal Palace. “Their tactics were brilliant and fortifications impressive. They remained unconquered by the Delhi Sultanate, but succumbed to the gola barud, the cannon ball brought by Babur. If it wasn’t for that, India’s History would have been very different.”