Limpid and large, Lake Pichola reflects the cool grey-blue mountains on its rippling mirror-like surface. It was enlarged by Maharana Udai Singh II, following his foundation of the city, by flooding Picholi village, which gave the lake its name. The lake is now 4km long and 3km wide, but remains shallow and dries up in severe droughts, when you can walk to Jagniwas and Jagmandir, its two major islands, and camels and buffalo graze around the exposed foundations of the seemingly shipwrecked Lake Palace.
The lake is allegedly home to a handful of crocodiles, believed to reside near uninhabited sections of the shore(making it an unappealing option for swimming and wading); occasionally, the waters get choked up with water hyacinths.
The City Palace complex, including the gardens at its south end, extends nearly 1km along the lake’s eastern shore. South of the palace gardens are a smaller, separate lake, Dudh Talai, and the Sunset Point garden. To the palace’s north, you can reach the lakeside through the narrow old-city streets at two or three bathing and dhobi (laundry) ghats, or cross to the western shore by the pretty Daiji footbridge.
Boat rides leave roughly hourly from Rameshwar Ghat in the City Palace gardens. Note that you also have to pay ₹25 to enter the City Palace complex. The one-hour trips (including sunset trips) make a stop at Jagmandir Island.
The world-famous Lake Palace hotel island of Jagniwas is about 15,000 sq metres in size, entirely covered by the opulent palace built by Maharana Jagat Singh II in 1754. Once the royal summer palace, it was greatly extended and converted into the Lake Palace hotel in the 1960s by Maharana Bhagwat Singh, and is now in the hands of the Indian-owned Taj hotel group. One of the world’s top luxury hotels, with gleaming courtyards, lotus ponds and a pool shaded by a mango tree, it has been largely responsible for putting Udaipur on the international tourist map. You may also remember it from that classic Bond movie, Octopussy, along with the Shiv Niwas Palace and the Monsoon Palace. The Taj Lake Palace doesn’t welcome casual visitors: the only time nonguests might be able to experience its magic is during the quietest seasons (eg May and June) when the hotel sometimes accepts outside reservations for lunch or dinner.
The palace on Jagmandir Island, about 800m south of Jagniwas, was built by Maharana Karan Singh 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 (small) hotel. When lit up at night it has more romantic sparkle to it than the Lake Palace. It’s said that the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (then Prince Khurram) derived some of his inspiration for the Taj Mahal from this palace after staying here in 1623 and 1624 while leading a revolt against his father, Jehangir. European women and children were sheltered here by Maharana Swaroop Singh during the 1857 First War of Independence (Indian Uprising). With its entrance flanked by a row of enormous stone elephants, the island has an ornate 17th-century tower, the Gol Mahal, carved from bluestone and containing a small exhibit on Jagmandir’s history, plus a garden and lovely views across the lake. As well as the seven hotel rooms, the island has a restaurant, bar and spa, which are open to visitors. The one-hour boat trips from Rameshwar Ghat call here, or you can get a boat direct to the island (adult/child ₹300/150 return) from the same jetty.