I first came to Udaipur in 1959 as a student of Maharana Bhupal College. Udaipur is a historical city founded in 1559 by Maharan Udai Singh, ruler of Mewar. Mewar was continuously at war with the Mughals. It did not have cordial relations with its neighbour either. Chittorgarh, capital of Mewar, had become vulnerable to attacks. So, the Maharana shifted his capital to Udaipur. He built himself a palace at a hill on the spot where he met a sage who blessed him. Subsequent rulers kept making additions to it. They are inter connected with maze-like labyrinth, at places so narrow that only one person can pass. The complex is known as the ‘City Palace’.
The City Palace is not the oldest structure of the area though. My class mates told me of what they called a prehistoric site just out of city limits. Together we rode on our bicycles to visit the place. There was a large baoli (step well) with carved stone steps leading to the bottom and numerous stone statues scattered all over. (If I had the sense, I should have picked up a few). I marvelled at the architectural talent of prehistoric man. Now, of course, I know better. It was a place called Ayad and was probably the first capital of Mewar as early as the 8th century.
I was spell bound by the beauty of lake Fateh Sagar which I saw within a couple of days of my arrival. Surrounded by hills on all sides Fateh Sagar presents an unparalleled a panorama. Sajjan Garh, an abandoned palace then, built on top of one of the hills overlooks the lake and the city beyond. A beautifully manicured garden and lovely havelis of rajas and rao-rajas can be seen on the periphery of the lake. Some of these havelis are converted into hotels. We had the pleasure of staying a few nights in one.
The other well-known lakes in the city are Pichola and Swaroop Sagar. All the three lakes are interconnected. Two palaces, Jag Mandir and Jag Niwas stand in the middle of lake Pichola. I had the good fortune of visiting both before Jag Niwas was converted into a heritage hotel and out of bounds for the like of me. (James Bond film “Octopussy” was shot here.)
Sahelion ki bari (garden of maidens) is a picturesque garden believed to have been conceptualised by Maharaja Sangram Singh himself in the early 18th century. The garden was created for recreation of the queens and their retinue.
The old city of Udaipur was protected by a wall which had seven gates. Suraj Pole, Hathi Pole and Chand Pole are the better-known gates (poles). Like other old cities, Udaipur has many other old structures waiting to be discovered and their history explored.
In 1685, Maharaja Jai Singh built a dam across river Gomti creating the largest artificial lake, as big as a small sea, named Jaisamand. The dam is over 1200 feet long and nearly 120 feet high. It is almost 50 kms from Udaipur. It is difficult to imagine that a manmade lake can have an island big enough for a 40-acre resort on it. And it is not the only island in the lake.
Chittorgarh, Mewar’s capital before it was shifted to Udaipur, is a world heritage site. Tomes have been published about the fort and one can learn all one wants from the net. But one has to know the intimate stories like the one of Panna – the nurse maid – who sacrificed the life of her infant son to save an infant prince, the future Maharana Udai Singh, from being murdered.
India is dotted with historical sites, a lot many still undiscovered. One such is Nautal which we happened to run into while returning to Delhi about two decades ago. We saw a large reservoir with carved steps and cenotaphs around it. We stopped to explore. The locals told us that it was called Nautal because everything there was in sets of nine. We took some snaps and no further notes. I was not aware enough then. I wish I had kept a record of its location at least.
India! Incredible!! Really incredible!!!