I had gone buy tickets for the evening sound and light show at the Palace, only to be told that the show had been cancelled. I was surprised as there was no information posted about this on the board outside the ticket office. When I asked for the reason behind the cancellation, the ticket clerk mumbled something like “a function in the palace”. And when I asked as to why there was no advance information put out, he wouldn’t even look at me. When I asked if the sound and light show would be on the next day, he only gave a non-committal shrug, which could have meant anything. I had to be satisfied with that and leave disappointed.
My second visit was different.
I was back at the City Palace next day morning, this time to explore the areas accessible to a visitor. So, once I had paid for the entrance fee, the museum fee, the camera fee, and the audio guide fee and collected the various tokens, I set off for the palace complex with the hope that this visit would at least take away some of the disappointment of the previous evening.
It is a longish walk from the ticket office to the entrance to the City Palace Museum, which got extended further as I just felt like stopping now and then to look at the calm blue waters of Lake Pichola, on whose banks the Palace is constructed, and the hills beyond.
What would have ordinarily been a leisurely 5-7 minute walk to the palace complex entrance turned into a 15-minute stroll 🙂
The City Palace Complex is enormous and is considered to be the largest palace in Rajasthan. It is reportedly 250 metres in length and the oldest part of the palace dates back to 1567. This was constructed by Maharana Udai Singh when he moved to Udaipur from Chittorgarh.
Over the next 400 years or so, successive kings of Mewar added to the City Palace leading to the development of a Palace Complex exhibiting a mix of architectural styles. This should have looked strange, but the uniform pale beige external paint unifies all the styles and the result is an imposing citadel, especially when viewed from Jagmandir Palace across Lake Pichola.
The external walls of the City Palace are not plain, but have the most delicate art painted on them in muted shades of grey and blue. There are spots of bright colours in these paintings, which enhance the artwork rather than overwhelm it.
Today, while the central part of the Palace Complex is the City Palace Museum, other portions have been converted into hotels. Part of the City Palace is also home to the royal family of Udaipur.
The City Palace has its own story of a human sacrifice, but of a different kind.
There was once a Maharana of Mewar who had a beautiful daughter. When she came of age he instructed his ministers to find a suitable prince for her. Due to an ‘administrative goof-up’ [this was the term that the audio guide used] alliances were sent to the princes of Jaipur and Jodhpur simultaneously. Both the princes accepted and arrived in Udaipur to marry the princess.
The Maharana fell into a dilemma. Accepting one prince over the other would mean a certain war with the rejected suitor. Rejecting both would be even worse. There was only one solution to the ‘problem’: the princess had to die. No princess = no dilemma. It was decided that the kindest way to kill the princess was through poison. The story goes that the poison was not very effective and it took a couple of days for the poison to act and for the princess to die a painful death.
I entered the City Palace Museum through the Ganesh Deodi Gate, which further led to a maze of galleries, passages, rooms, steep and narrow staircases, terraces, apartments… I kept track of where I was till I saw the sculpture gallery and then gave up. Even though all the rooms were labelled, the exhibits proved too distracting for me to note or remember all the details.
The photographs that follow present some of those exhibits/impressions that intrigued or fascinated me.
One of the first things that I noticed is the royal crest of Mewar, the sun, which is repeated in different forms in various parts of the complex. There is even a rare sculpture of Surya, the sun-god, in the sculpture gallery of the City Palace Museum. Note how the Mewari interpretation of the sun-god gives him a moustache and definite Rajput features. In comparison, the sculpture looks almost lifeless !
One of the first set of rooms in the Museum is devoted to Maharana Pratap memorabilia. I was fascinated by his chain mail armour, which reportedly weighs 20 kilos, and the ‘elephant mask’ he devised for his horse, Chetak, to fool the elephants of the enemy army into thinking that his horse was actually a baby elephant.
Every section of the City Palace Museum offers great views of either Lake Pichola or the city like the one below.
Nearly every window in the City Palace is different from the other — either they are covered with stained glass or stone jaali work or both. My favourite was the one below as the geometric designs reminded me of the kolams that my mother draws outside our front door every day.
The Amar Vilas has a large breezy courtyard that made me feel like I was in a Mughal-style garden. The fact that this ‘garden’ is situated at the 4th or 5th level of the City Palace made it that much more special and interesting.
Each room in the City Palace is decorated differently, but the blue room in the photograph below is the one I loved the most.
Like the sun, peacocks are a recurring motif the City Palace Complex in frescoes, paintings and sculptures. Mor Chowk, originally built in 1620, was decorated with mosaics of dancing peacocks by Rana Sajjan Singh in 1874.
The final parts of the Museum pass through the private apartments of the last Maharani of Udaipur, and then into a large gallery of paintings, before opening out into the Lakshmi Chowk or the courtyard of the women’s quarters. The painting gallery not only has a fantastic collection of miniatures, it also has pictorial representations of the entire Shiva Purana and the Hanuman Chalisa done on a single canvas. Another fascinating collection in this gallery are crests, emblems and royal coats of arms of royal families from across the country.
My favourite painting from the gallery is the one below depicting Krishna and Radha (or is it Satyabhama?). Painted on a wooden door, it depicts Krishna’s possessive arm around Radha (or Satyabhama?) and he is pointing to something outside the picture frame. The colours, expressions and detail are stunning.
The interior walls of the City Palace too are painted the light beige like the external walls, but the paintings here are quite different. These walls are the perfect canvas to exhibit the Mewar style of painting that Udaipur is so famous for. Note the sun emblem in the painting below.
It took me just two-and-a-half hours to walk through the various rooms and passages in the Museum with the audio guide. I am a huge advocate of the audio guide as it helps you pace out the exploration instead of getting caught up in the crowd. Besides, the information given in an audio guide is always something that is not found in most guide books and or told by guides. In fact, I noticed that the audio guide at the City Palace took me to portions in the Museum that was not frequented by tourist groups and their guides (for instance, the sculpture and painting galleries, which were practically empty). Another big advantage is that the audio guide mutes out the babble of fellow tourists. And this was needed in a place like City Palace, which, if the crowds were any indication, receives hundreds of visitors in a day.
And in spite of such large numbers of visitors, the attitude of team that manages the City Palace complex leaves a lot to be desired.
Just as I discovered that the sound and light show had been arbitrarily cancelled the previous evening, I found that certain sections in the Museum were closed to the public that day. I wouldn’t have known about this if not for my audio guide, which directed me to go there: for example, Lakshmi Chowk. I found out that these portions were closed as there was a wedding happening later that evening. Lakshmi Chowk itself had tables arranged in readiness for the evening function.
The City Palace is managed by the royal family and gets no government support for its upkeep and maintenance. Therefore, I appreciate that the Palace has to generate revenue from visitors and from renting out space for events. The latter probably nets the Palace more money in one evening than revenue generated from ticket sales in a month ! And yet, cancelling shows without prior notice, and suddenly making certain areas inaccessible to visitors without informing them in advance does not reflect well on the management. The least I would have expected was an apology for the inconvenience caused, but none was offered.
It is unfortunate and I wish that it were not so, but I will always remember my visit to the fantastic City Palace of Udaipur with a touch of disappointment.