The City Palace of Udaipur

My first visit to the City Palace at Udaipur did not go very well.

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.

City Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan, Travel
View of the City Palace from Jagmandir Palace

City Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan, TravelIt 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 πŸ™‚

City Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan, Travel
This portion of the City Palace Complex displays Rajasthani architectural style with jharokhas and chhatris

The City Palace Complex is enormous and is considered to be the largest palace in Rajasthan. It is reportedly 250 metres in lengthΒ  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.

City Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan, Travel

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.

City Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan, Travel
Entrance to the Ganesh Deodi to the left and a fine example of the Mewari art on the right

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 !

City Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan, TravelCity Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan, TravelCity Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan, TravelOne 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.

City Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan, Travel
(L) Maharana Pratap’s chain mail armour and (R) the elephant mask

Every section of the City Palace Museum offers great views of either Lake Pichola or the city like the one below.

City Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan, TravelNearly every window in the City Palace is different from the other β€” 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.

City Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan, TravelThe 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.

City Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan, TravelEach room in the City Palace is decorated differently, but the blue room in the photograph below is the one I loved the most.

City Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan, TravelLike 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.

City Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan, Travel
A peacock mosaic at Mor Chowk

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.

City Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan, TravelMy 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.

City Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan, TravelThe 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.

City Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan, TravelIt 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.

City Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan, TravelAnd 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.

47 thoughts on “The City Palace of Udaipur

  1. I loved that picture of all the royal crests and symbols..takes you to a completely different era eh? Only you could notice such stuff and get them on the blog πŸ™‚

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    1. Thanks, RM. There was an entire room full of these royal coats of arms and when I saw them I remembered these lines from my history book – Before the British, India was a made up of various princely states. πŸ™‚

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  2. lovely post, Sudha! i absolutely agree with you re audio guides, esp after hearing that story of the princess. we didnt hear that one at all! and god! what a story that was! i am now wondering about the people who decided that killing off the princess was easier than answering to two princes… assuming of course, that the story was true and not simply a figment of someones imagination πŸ˜€ i had a much better experience at the city palace. we took the combined ticket which also included the crystal gallery (which, incldentally had an audio guide integrated with the entry ticket). we also went for the sound and light show…. and enjoyed it too… which reminds me that i have yet to write about it!

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    1. Thank you, Anu.

      I didn’t see the crystal palace as I didn’t know there was one ! 😦

      The story of the poisoned princess is true and I believe it happened in the 19th century. The versions I have read or heard, however, say that the princess poisoned herself as she could not decide on whom to marry !

      And please write about your experience soon πŸ™‚

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  3. Fantastic pictures and nice post about Udaipur. We need more people like you to tell others about what we have in India. Thanks.

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  4. Awww… Such beautiful photographs ! Many of them remind me of what I missed to capture 😦

    But I thoroughly loved it, both the post and the photos πŸ™‚ .. I need to learn a lot more

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  5. Am I glad that you took the audio guide and so we could enjoy the painting and sculpture galleries with you. The Krishna painting is so true to life and the elephant looks as if it is really rushing off with whoever is sitting on its back! The peacock of course is stunning.

    The story about the princess is not hard to believe though as Anu has pointed out, it could well have been made up too. As for the management being indifferent inspite of getting so many visitors, maybe it is that way BECAUSE of the very fact that it is a popular tourist spot!

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    1. Audio-guide or no audio-guide, I would have found my way to the sculpture and painting galleries πŸ™‚

      I think the story of the poisoned princess is true, though the versions I have heard or read say that the princess poisoned herself as she could not decide on whom to marry !

      I have not mentioned it in my post, but the City Palace is geared and attuned only to the foreign tourists. Indian tourists are at best tolerated. 😦

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  6. The story of the princess is so sad, but interesting.

    Loved the pics, especially that of the Mewari painting of the elephant, the blue waters in the first one, and that of the peacocks in Mor Chowk.

    What a fascinating snippet about Maharana Pratap’s elephant mask. Did it really fool the elephants? πŸ™‚

    I understand the significance that events like weddings would have for an institution like this, considering that they do not receive any kind of government support. However, as you say, a bit of better management would have gone a long, long way. 😦

    Loved what you have said about the audio guides. I do not use them, usually, though I haven’t really been to many places that have them. In fact, I do not use local guides too, mostly, and prefer exploring at my own pace. You make me feel like I miss out on so much information that way. 😦 Maybe I should try out exploring with guides the next time I am visiting some place like this!

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    1. Thanks, TGND

      I was introduced to audio guides in London as tickets to all special exhibitions came with an audio guide. I loved the experience of being able to listen at my pace, replay something that interested me, and of course shut ut the noise around me. After my return to India, I have been taking an audio guide wherever possible.

      Guides are tricky business and in the course of my travels I have met quite a few β€” from one who mixed up Shiva and Vishnu to another to identified the rocks incorrectly to one raved and ranted about invaders destroyin our culture to sexist remarks to guides who have been really knowledgeable and passionate and were able to separate recorded history and local legend. Guides are a lottery and I wish you luck πŸ™‚

      Maharana Pratap is revered and has a god like status in Mewar. Even the mask was not sucessful, nobody was going to say that, were they?

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  7. Y’know, when the time comes to settle accounts there are going to be several things that one wishes that one could have done. For me, next best to actually seeing a place is reading your blog. Well done!

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    1. There are always going to be things one could have done, places one could have visited, people one could have met and books one could have read. There is really no end to it.

      Thank you for your very kind words πŸ™‚

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  8. Your article is very exciting and informational. Rajasthan is a great destination of amazing tourists places, Udaipur is one of the most fascinating travel destinations. Thanks for sharing … Hope more people will read this article!!!

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  9. I wonder who it was that suggested to the king that no princess = no dilemma. And how did he explain to his daughter why she had to die? The things people do in politics 😦

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  10. Hello sudhagee.. I am from Hyderabad.. I have so much interest in knowing new places.. udaipur palace is amazing and the princess story is cool with some sad.. From your posts i am getting Interesting information which i dnt knoe.. Thanks for posting.. sudhagee once visit hyderabad…

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  11. It’s very interesting I like it a lot even if I didn’t went there ohhh i sooo wish to go there but princess story was sad I can’t believe this happened:-( but the rest lovely love the pics you took:-))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))

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  12. Its an amazing blog about rajasthani culture. The content of the blog is pretty good and I loved reading it. Keep up the good work

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