Thursday, June 13, 2024

A Timeless Escape

Nestled in the heart of Rajasthan, India is the white, marbled city of Udaipur that is steeped in history. On a flying visit to Udaipur, FARIDA MASTER learnt a lesson or two on the fine art of hospitality, that makes every tourist feel so special.

As you step out of the aircraft, the first thing that strikes you about Udaipur is a wonderful sense of pride that everyone takes in welcoming you to the city.

From the crew at the airport to the taxi drivers, the receptionist and concierge at the hotel, tourist guides, shopkeepers, and strangers you’ve just met, have one question to ask: ‘How do you like our city?’

You get the impression that each person you meet is a self-appointed, personal ambassador with an ingrained sense of hospitality embedded in their DNA.

This uniquely endearing quality seems to work wonders for the huge influx of tourism to the City of Palaces, lakes and white marble, known as the Venice of the East.

The new hotels on the block are also designed to look like ornate retreats that treat you like royalty!

As our very friendly and chatty taxi driver drove us to the Radisson Blu Udaipur Palace Resort & Spa, he not only briefed us on the must-visit sights but also highly recommended restaurants we should visit, the delicacies we should try and cautioned us against tour guides luring unwitting visitors to buy expensive linen. A warning we didn’t heed to, much to his disapproval. But we’ll keep that for another day.

Instead let’s talk about the warm, traditional welcome we were greeted with as we stepped into the marbled arch of the sprawling palace resort. A gaggle of pretty girls draped in silk saris and sunny smiles, smeared our foreheads with a vermillion dot and gave us garlands of marigold flowers, sprinkled us with petals, rice and rose water.

An exotic welcome drink with cookies, chocolates and bottled water was on offer, as we settled in the reception area, while the hotel staff got busy with our check-in process.

Much as we were enjoying the luxe treatment, we decided to make the most of our shot break and head straight for the renowned City Palace, that stands on the east bank of Lake Pichola.

Built over 400 years, the majestic structure has several palaces within its complex built by a succession of kings of the Mewar Dynasty. Intricately designed with domes, towers and balconies, the City Palace instantly transports one to a bygone era. Built atop a hill, it offers a panoramic view of the bustling city.

Taking us on a wander through the pages of history, was our tour guide who showed us around the Sheesh Mahal (Palace of Glass and Mirrors), art gallery and the Palace of Pearls. He led us through secret corridors – an escape route for the king and his trusted chiefs. Apparently, the extremely narrow corridors served to ward off surprise attacks from big-built soldiers of the enemy camps.

Overlooking the tranquil Lake Pichola is the regal, white marbled Lake Palace, an 18th century Mewar summer retreat that was transformed into the most exclusive Taj Lake Palace Hotel. The luxury hotel provided a perfect setting for the famous James Bond movie Octopussy.

Another popular tourist attraction is the Saheliyon ki Bari (Garden of Maidens), landscaped gardens adorned with lotus ponds, rain fountains and marbled pavilions. The story goes that the lush gardens were specially created by King Sangram Singh 11, for his beloved queen and her entourage of 48 maidens – that came along as a wedding gift. The Garden of Maidens was where the women had a good time.

Apart from the architecturally beauty of palaces and landscaped gardens, Udaipur is also known for its temples. The hub of spirituality has devotees arrive from different parts of the world to visit the sacred sites.

One of the temples we visited was the famous Ranakpur Jain Temple, a grand, white marble structure supported by exquisitely carved 1444 marble pillars. We were told that no two carved pillars are the same. The temple was built with 84 underground chambers to protect the sacred idols from the enemy attack, in days of yore. Fervent prayers are offered by pilgrims from far and near.

A visit to Udaipur is not complete without visiting the bustling local markets of Hathi Pol and Bada Bazaar. Local arts and craft, fabrics, mirror work, spices make it a sensory experience.

All in all, while the sights and sounds of Udaipur make it a perfect holiday destination, it is the warmth and caring of the locals that make it a truly unforgettable experience.

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