Beside shimmering Lake Pichola, with the ochre and purple ridges of the wooded Aravalli Hills stretching away in every direction, Udaipur has a romance of setting unmatched in Rajasthan and arguably in all India. Fantastical palaces, temples, havelis and countless narrow, crooked, colourful streets add the human counterpoint to the city’s natural charms. If Jaipur is the pink city and Jodhpur the blue, Udaipur is the city of cream, rose and honeysuckle hues. The huge, cupola-crowned City Palace lines the eastern shore of Lake Pichola, with its balconies gazing out at Udaipur’s other famous landmark, the Lake Palace – a fairy-tale confection that seems to float on the lake’s waters, gleaming by day and spotlit by night. Eastward, away from the lake shore, extends a tangled inner city of lanes lined with homes, temples, shops and businesses that is fascinating to explore.
It’s tag of ‘the most romantic spot on the continent of India’ was first applied in 1829 by Colonel James Tod, the East India Company’s first Political Agent in the region. Today the romance is wearing ever so slightly thin as Udaipur strains to exploit it for tourist rupees. In the parts of the city nearest the lake, almost every building is a hotel, shop, restaurant, travel agent – or all four rolled into one. Ever-taller hotels compete for the best view, too many mediocre restaurants serve up near-identical menus, and noisy, dirty traffic clogs some of the streets that were made for people and donkeys.
Take a step back from the hustle, however, and Udaipur still has its magic, not just in its marvellous palaces and monuments, but in its matchless setting. Allow yourself a few days to enjoy the tranquillity of boat rides on the lake, the bustle of its ancient bazaars, its lively arts scene, the quaint old-world feel of its better hotels, its scattering of genuinely good restaurants, its endless tempting shops and some lovely countryside to explore on wheels, feet or horseback.
The old city is bound by the meagre remains of a city wall, with the train station and bus stand both just outside the city wall to the southeast. Udaipur’s aesthetically challenging urban sprawl ranges out beyond.