After travelling to the north–easternmost part of India, let’s change directions and go to its western end. We will be visiting the Indian state of Rajasthan in the next few posts.
What comes to mind when you hear the word Rajasthan? To me the word and the state has a very exotic flavour to it. When I hear this word, I conjure up images of palaces, sand, deserts, men and women in colourful attire and camels!
The name Rajasthan can be translated into “Land of Kings” and this state with its erstwhile many princely states is literally just that. The state came into being after India’s independence on 30 March 1949 when the various princely states merged into the Indian Union.
Rajasthan is located on the north-western side of India, where it comprises most of the wide and inhospitable Thar Desert and the state shares a border with the Pakistani provinces of Punjab to the northwest and Sindh to the west, along the Sutlej-Indus river valley. Elsewhere it is bordered by five other Indian states: Punjab to the north; Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to the northeast; Madhya Pradesh to the southeast; and Gujarat to the southwest.
The oldest reference to Rajasthan is found in a stone inscription dated back to 625 A.D. The print mention of the name “Rajasthan” appears in the 1829 publication Annals and Antiquities of Rajast’han or the Central and Western Rajpoot States of India, while the earliest known record of “Rajputana” as a name for the region is in George Thomas’s 1800 memoir Military Memories. Parts of what is now Rajasthan were partly part of the Vedic Civilisation and Indus Valley Civilization.
So with a brief history of the state done and dusted, let’s go visiting! I’ll be splitting up the state into two posts and today’s post will be about the cities of Jaipur and Udaipur, two of Rajasthan’s most famous cities.
Jaipur – The Pink City
Most tourists start their sojourn in the state from its capital city of Jaipur, the largest city in the state. Founded by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh in 1727 after whom the city is named. The city is also referred to as ‘Pink City’ for its trademark pink colour in the buildings across the old city. The best time to visit Jaipur is in the winter months between September and March as the summer months are extremely hot with temperatures reaching to highs of 40 degree celcius. The city forms part of the Golden Triangle in Indian tourism along with New Delhi and Agra. Some of the must-see sights in Jaipur include:
Amber Fort and Palace
Located 11 km north of the city centre of Jaipur with a bit of a hike to the fort from the town, this massive fort-palace complex built in hybrid Hindu-Muslim style dates back to Raja Man Singh and was the royal palace of the Kachwahas from 1600 to 1727. The name has nothing to do with the rather pretty pastel yellow colour; instead, the fort is named after the town of Amber, in turn named after the goddess Amba. The main sights within the fort include the Sheesh Mahal, adorned with thousands of mirror tiles on the walls and ceiling. The fort/palace grounds are sprawling and the information panels are somewhat limited, so it might be worth getting an audio guide or a real guide. Make sure you see the Amber Light Show.
The City Palace
Famed for being the seat of the Maharaja of Jaipur, the City Mahal, which lies in the heart of the Old City, includes the Mubarak Mahal and the Chandra Mahal which are popular for their excellent architecture. The ruler of Amber, Jay Singh II built the palace complex between 1729 and 1732. The palace is a delightful blend of Mughal and Rajasthani architecture and has a museum inside which is a must-see while exploring the palace.
Jantar Mantar Observatory
Adjacent to the City Palace is the Jantar Mantar, an observatory begun by Jai Singh II in 1728 that resembles a collection of bizarre giant sculptures. Built for measuring the heavens, the name is derived from the Sanskrit yanta mantar, meaning ‘instrument of calculation’, and in 2010 it was added to India’s list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The observatory has 14 massive astronomical instruments, Jantar Mantar is known for its clever use of geometrical patterns in the form of instruments. Paying for a local guide is highly recommended if you wish to learn how each fascinating instrument works.
Jaipur’s most-distinctive landmark, the Hawa Mahal is an extraordinary pink-painted, delicately honeycombed hive that rises a dizzying five storeys. It was constructed in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh to enable ladies of the royal household to watch the life and processions of the city. The main feature of the building are the 953 small intricately designed jharokas or windows. The top offers stunning views over Jantar Mantar and the City Palace in one direction and over Sireh Deori Bazaar in the other. An interesting feature of the building is that it does not stand on a foundation, with the structure leaning at a position of 87 degrees. The best time to visit the Hawa Mahal is during the early mornings when it is not so crowded. Also note that the museum in the building is closed on Fridays.
Built in 1734 and extended in 1868, this sturdy fort overlooks the city from a sheer ridge to the north. The story goes that the fort was named after Nahar Singh, a dead prince whose restless spirit was disrupting construction. Whatever was built in the day crumbled in the night. The prince agreed to leave on condition that the fort was named for him. The fort is the smallest of the three forts surrounding Jaipur and has glorious views over Man Sagar lake and the vast sprawl of Jaipur. The fort also houses the (relatively) compact Madhavendra Bhawan palace, although its former splendour is fading fast under a new layer of graffiti and pigeon droppings.
A 1 km walk uphill from Amber Fort, the Jaigarh or Victory Fort was never conquered in battle and was considered the strongest of the three forts in the area. It is best known as the site of the world’s largest cannon, the Jaivana, which was test-fired only once — according to legend, despite using only the half the design amount of gunpowder, the cannonball flew 35 km! A better reason to visit the fort, though, are the scenic gardens at the other end and the spectacular views over the Amber Fort and the hills around. The remains of the foundry where the Jaivana (and many more) were cast are also in the fort grounds.
Government Central (Albert Hall) Museum
This museum is housed in the spectacularly florid Albert Hall, south of the Old City. The building was designed by Sir Swinton Jacob, and combines elements of English and North Indian architecture, as well as huge friezes celebrating the world’s great cultures. It was known as the pride of the new Jaipur when it opened in 1887. The grand old building hosts an eclectic array of tribal dress, dioramas, sculptures, miniature paintings, carpets, musical instruments and even an Egyptian mummy.
Piercing the skyline near the City Palace is this unusual minaret, erected in the 1740s by Jai Singh II’s son and successor Iswari. The entrance is around the back of the row of shops fronting Chandpol Bazaar – take the alley 50m west of the minaret along the bazaar or go via the Atishpol entrance to the City Palace compound, 150m east of the minaret. You can spiral to the top of the 43m minaret for excellent views.
Galtaji is an ancient Hindu pilgrimage site situated 10 km from Jaipur on Jaipur-Agra highway near Sisodia Rani Garden. The main temple here is temple of Galtaji in constructed in pink stone. The temple has a number of pavilions with rounded roofs, exquisitely carved pillars and painted walls. This temple is one of the most visited temples in the city and The temple is surrounded by natural springs and reservoirs that are considered holy .There are also seven tanks or kunds here.
Galwh Bagh (aka The Monkey Temple) and Suriya Mandir (aka The Sun Temple)
Both the temples are located on the eastern edge of the city. Both locals and tourists come here to feed the surprisingly tame monkeys, use the temples, and enjoy the views. You can climb to the top of the hill and then down into the valley to see the Monkey Temple, all the while enjoying the company of countless monkeys, goats, and other animals. At the top of the hill, you turn right to reach the Sun Temple for one of the best views of the city, especially at sunset. Monkey food is available for purchase at the bottom of the hill.
Govind Devji Temple
For Vaishnavites, particularly followers of Lord Krishna, this is the most important temple in the world after Vrindavan. The statue of Lord Krishna presiding in the temple was brought to Jaipur from Vrindavan during the Mughal era. According to popular legend, Lord Krishna’s idol in the temple looks exactly like Krishna’s form during his incarnation on Earth. The temple is located in the City Palace complex.
Udaipur – The Lake City
Moving on from Jaipur, lets make our way to Udaipur, which is located around 350 km southwest of Jaipur. The city is also called the The City of Lakes or the Venice of the East. A truly exotic city snuggled under the Aravalli hills beside the tranquil lake Picchola. Fantastical palaces, temples, havelis and countless narrow, crooked, timeless streets add to the city’s natural charms. Geographically, Udaipur is located in the southernmost part of Rajasthan, near the Gujarat border, surrounded by the Aravali Range, which separates it from Thar Desert.
Udaipur was founded in 1553 by the Sisodiya Rajput Ruler Maharana Udai Singh II. The Mewar Rajputs founded the city to relocate their capital from Chittor to a more secure location. Today, most of the palaces have been converted into hotels, thus attracting a huge no. of tourist crowd to this city.
Dubbed “the most romantic spot on the continent of India” by British administrator James Tod, Udaipur is a tourist destination and is known for its history, culture, scenic locations and the Rajput-era palaces. It is popularly known as the “City of Lakes” because of its sophisticated lake system. It has seven lakes surrounding the city.
As with other destinations in Rajasthan, the best time to visit is in the cooler months between September to March. So let’s visit the attractions in Udaipur.
City Palace Complex
Constructed in the year 1559 by Maharana Udai Singh II and surmounted by balconies, towers and cupolas towering over the lake, the imposing City Palace is Rajasthan’s largest palace, with a facade 244m long and 30.4m high. Situated on the banks of the Pichola lake, the palace complex is a conglomeration of structures (including 11 separate smaller palaces) built and extended by various maharanas in a blend of European, Medieval and Chinese styles, though it still manages to retain a surprising uniformity of design.
Created in 1362 and extended by Maharana Udai Singh II, the founder of Udaipur, Lake Pichola is named after the village Picholi in which it is situated. Originally created for drinking and irrigation purposes for the village, today the lake sits on the shore of the city palace, limpidly reflecting the blue-grey Aravalli mountains on its mirror-like surface. You can also go boating on the lake, which is a popular haunt for both locals and tourists alike.
Fateh Sagar Lake
An artificial lake constructed by Maharana north of Lake Pichola in 1678 and to the northwest of Udaipur. Within the confines of Fateh Sagar Lake, there are three small islands. The largest of these is Nehru Park. The second island houses a public park with an impressive water-jet fountain, and the third is the address for the Udaipur Solar Observatory. Every year the Hariyali Amavasya Mela (Green New Moon Fair) is organized at the lake precincts in the month of August/September.
Bagore ki Haveli
A mansion built in the 18th century on the waterfront of Lake Pichola at Gangori Ghat by Amir Chand Badwa, the Prime Minister of Mewar it is now a museum. The Haveli became the residence of Maharana Shakti Singh of Bagore in the year 1878 and hence the name Bagore Ki Haveli. It has over a hundred rooms, with displays of costumes and modern art. The building has a large and exquisite collection of Mewar paintings and glassworks. There is a nightly one-hour long dance performance at 7pm.
Perched on top of a distant hill like a fairy-tale castle, this melancholy, neglected late-19th-century palace was constructed by Maharana Sajjan Singh. Originally an astronomical centre, it became a monsoon palace and hunting lodge. Now government owned, it’s in a sadly dilapidated state, but visitors stream up here for the marvellous views, particularly at sunset. It’s 5km west of the old city as the crow flies, about 9km by the winding road.
The palace on Jagmandir Island, about 800m south of Jagniwas, was built by Maharana Karan Singh II in 1620, added to by his successor Maharana Jagat Singh, and then changed very little until the last few years when it was partly converted into another (smaller) hotel. When lit up at night it has more romantic sparkle to it than the Lake Palace. As well as the seven hotel rooms, the island has a restaurant, bar and spa, which are open to visitors.
Built in the year 1651, Jagdish Temple is Udaipur’s largest temple. An estimated 1.5 million Indian Rupees were spent on this stunning Indo-Aryan architectural marvel. It is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and also houses other shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva, Ganesh, the Sun God, and Goddess Shakti. This temple should be visited not only to oer your devotion but also to witness beautiful wall carvings, elephant sculptures and for the stunning architecture.
Nathdwara is an important hindu pilgrimage site for Lord Krishna devotees and is commonly called Shrinathji, after the presiding deity. This place is around 45 km from the centre of Udaipur. A famous legend is associated with the Shrinathji temple here and therefore throngs of devotees come every day to pay their respects to the lord. Apart, from being a pilgrimage site, Nathdwara is famous for a specific style of paintings dedicated to Shrinathji as well as mouth-watering cuisines. The cultural beauty of town has led to it being called ‘The Apollo of Mewar’
Get some respite from the scorching summers in Mount Abu, the only hill station in Rajasthan which is 163 km from Udaipur. Mount Abu is also the place to Five Unique Temples of Dilwara, which are famous worldwide for their architectural beauty. It’s picturesque beauty is also something to look forward to if visitors are looking for a laid back vacation with some stunning viewpoints.
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