The first thing you must do upon your arrival in Udaipur is to leave Udaipur. The first act of Udaipur as a city is intertwined with the closing act of another city and therefore it will be grave injustice to start your travels at Udaipur. Head over the nearest bus or taxi, and be on your way to Chittorgarh located 115 km westwards. On picturesque smooth roads, it will take you only a couple of hours to get there. It is best to get an early start to the day and avoid the intercity traffic. Welcome to Mewar, the glory of Rajputs.
Chittorgarh is a city for the romantics, for those who believe in heroism and chivalry. It is a city that witnessed tragedies of epic proportions and survived many before finally crumbling to surrender. Today, in sharp contrast to the hustle and bustle of Udaipur, the abandoned ruins of a massive Chittor fort like in pensive serenity, a towering presence over the city, almost like a benign patriarch guarding its ward. As a city, Chittorgarh does not have much else to offer other than the fort. But then again, when you have a fort, which is the largest fort complex in India, built over nearly 700 acres surrounded with tall cliffs on all sides, there really isn’t anything else you need to see in the city. The fort has. It is best to retain your taxi or switch to an auto rickshaw here. You will have to go along narrow lanes and cross the new settlement to get the long winding way leading to the fort.
You will cross a number of pols or gates on your way up and if these gates could talk they will have quite a fascinating narrative. Many a warrior will come alive, the foremost being Jaimal and Kalla. Stories of their courage have almost taken mythical proportions today. Known to each child growing up in these parts, these two warriors have long since dropped off the radar of the larger Indian history but remain legends here. They had valiantly met Akbar’s ruthless Mughal army head on and rushed to their fatal encounter between the second and third gate of the fort- Bhairon Pol and Hanuman Pol. The story goes that during battle Jaimal was injured and lost both his legs. Looking at the burning desire in his friend to vanquish the enemy, Kalla, then lifted him up on his shoulders. Continuing to fight in this manner, their two bodies had become one with four hands determinedly hacking down the enemy. Akbar is said to have referred to them as the image of holy goddess Kali with her many hands each more damaging than the first. However Jaimal was struck down soon after and Kalla too was beheaded. So full of adrenalin and patriotism was he that his headless body continued its killing spree for some 100 meters before finally collapsing and passing on. So moved was Akbar by their valor and patriotism that he got statues commemorating their greatness and valiant death.
The fort itself is not one solid continuous structure but incongruous and broken with towers and temples liberally sprinkled across the landscape. One can either quickly move from one ruin to the next and cover the fort and check mark this on their to-do. Or one can spend an entire day here going over the architecture of the Stambhs (pillars) – Vijay and Kirti; listen to the songs that were once sung here by Meera in her temple for her beloved Krishna and hear the tales of palace intrigue plotted against her; imagine the women and children gathered in front of the jauhar fire ready to happily sacrifice their lives should the fort fall in the hands of enemies; dream of the Cleopatra like beauty of Rani Padmini and the architectural marvel that is here palace. Chittor has enough to offer you for a happy 4 – 5 hours. If you get a guide then this discourse will be more enjoyable and informative. Like the story of Jaimal and Kalla which was narrated by my guide – Harish. Of course, the guide will sprinkle enough masala to make history into folklore and legend. Like how Jaimal continues to enter the body of a Sadhu every Saturday and heals ailments of all those who visit him. While taking me through Chittor Harish mentioned that it will be easy for me to remember the history if I could see the resemblance to the current Indian politics – all the kings up to Rana Sanga were like Manmohan Singh; silent and quiet. And then came Rana Sanga who like Modi took the region by storm and changed history!
A trip to Chittor is incomplete without attending the Sound and Light show. Conducted daily in Hindi and English, I attended the one in Hindi. It starts at dusk and brings to life the journeys taken by the protagonist of this city. The show ends with a marvelously lit up fort and a word hanging heavy in the air – Udaipur. That is the city that was created once Chittor fell. That is the city that held all promises. That is the city from where the future heirs of Chittor waged unsuccessful wars to regain their land at Chittor. That is the city that is the next logical destination for this journey through Mewar.
If the previous day was spent in ruins of Chittor, today you can experience luxury in the multistoried Udaipur City Palace built on natural rock cliff. Resplendent is a word that comes readily to mind while going through the various palaces that together make the City Palace. From its various arched windows it commands a glorious view of the summer palace or the Lake palace as well as Jag Mandir both located in the middle of lake Pichola. Dotting the extreme side of the lake are several other luxurious hotel properties that form a part of many a Bollywood romance – real or reel.
Once again, it is advisable to take a guide along on your tour. Authorized guide are available at the ticket counter itself. The City Palace also has the audio guide facility but really now, nothing can replace the good old human touch (metaphorically speaking of course!) My guide, Hansraj was a funny chap. He quipped all morning and played the popular trick where there is a fake door which looks just like actual door and asked me to push it to test my strength and giggled when it didn’t move. But he displayed true wit when we came to the Zenana mahal. In more recent times, it has been converted into a banquet hall. He mentioned some big names from Bollywood who had get married at this venue and how it was all very expensive and royal to got married here. Everything, he said, was charged be it the venue, catering or any other fancy deals you may get. Then very solemnly he said that there was one thing however, which was absolutely free here. When I eagerly asked what, his eyes twined as it said, the phone number to call for the bookings – that was toll free!
Evening time should be reserved for a boat ride on Lake Pichola that takes places around sunset. The timing though coincides with the City Palace Sound and Light show. Choices are never easy especially when they are both alluring. Fortunately the Chittor Sound and Light show stayed with me that evening (and for a few days to come as it turned out), so I skipped the City Palace and went off on the boat. The rain clouds started appearing on the horizon and the sun melted into the far away Aravalis, and as if on cue the Maharaja’s band gathered by the lakeside. That is right. The royal band came out to where I was awaiting the boat, to practice their melodies. All of us gathered there were happy witnesses to their show. It was almost as if the performance was solely for our viewership. Then the rain gods showered their favors upon us. Nice cool breeze began to blow and we could see the Monsoon Palace in the distance hide behind dark skies. Since I was blissfully unaware of the exact route of the boat or duration, I was pleasantly surprised to go right across to the other extreme, past the grandeur of the Lake Palace. When, it finally stopped at Jag Mandir palace, I was joyous. This was a royal surprise. The palace premises are beautiful. Big rooms on the outer periphery with a huge central courtyard, complete with fountains and terrace overlooking the City Palace. As the sun set the lights came on and the beauty of the palace got enhanced. Pigeons flying home, the gentle breeze, the soft domes of the palace, the panoramic view from the middle of the lake, the elephants carved at the sides of the palace, all of this was enough to make me feel like a princess. Every princess needs her evening tea especially when the breeze is cool. So rather like royalty I ordered hot cup of tea for 200 rupees. Why not!
No trip to Rajasthan is complete without a culinary trail on the side. The history is as much in the forts and palaces as it is in the food that is cooked and served here. And one of the oldest and most sought after dish is the spicy Laal Maas. The best place serving this in Udaipur is Ambrai or Ameth haveli. Even in a small city like Udaipur it is best to book a table here such is the popularity of this restraint. An evening meal overlooking the shimmering City Palace on one side and the marble white pristine Lake Palace on the other, is a must do. A walk through the narrow lanes of the market around the City Palace will so throw up some tasty surprises like steaming hot gulag jamuns being made right there in front of you or some delicious kachoris in the more savory taste. This is the best time to get some shopping done as well. Banded saris ranging from 100 rupees to a few tens of thousands will be available under one roof. Solid silver jewelry in all antique designs will have you mesmerized. And the variety of camel leather products is a must carry. Even if there is no shopping to be done, the winding lanes with their myrid of shops will keep an onlooker busy the whole afternoon.
Since I had visited Udaipur earlier, there were a few things I could skip on this trip. However, Udaipur has many other things to offer for longer stays. There is the Monsoon palace with its view of the two lakes, the majestic statue of Maharana Pratap with his horse Chetak, the unparalleled vintage car museum, or the picturesque Bagore ki haveli. If time permits then the Shilpgram with its village structures and handicrafts is an interesting afternoon spent. For the more leisurely traveller, surely a drive to the nearby Jaisamand Lake should also be on he radar.
It is best to treat Chittorgarh and Udaipur as twin cities and visit them as such. They will compel you to step back into an era long forgotten. However, even amidst romancing couples at Chittorgarh, the romance of the bygone times continues to thrive. Take some time out and go here to experience a slice of history that is otherwise only in some obscure text-books; be a part of Mewar.