WORDS: CHERYL-ANN COUTO
GREAT FROM: Delhi
GREAT FOR: An intoxicating mix of good weather, unparalleled luxury and history that doesn’t leave you
Dry, sandy Rajasthan doesn’t exactly scream “monsoon getaway”, but Udaipur in the south brings the goods. Surrounded by the Aravallis that section it off from the Thar desert, the City of Lakes is shrouded in greenery, with clement weather, dramatic topography and soul-satisfying local comfort food. At The Oberoi Udaivilas, Udaipur, you get to add unfettered luxury to this already winning mix.
Built across what used to be the royal hunting grounds in the 18th-century, the opulent hotel overlooking Lake Pichola simulates a Rajasthani palace with its seamless blend of Mewari and Mughal design. Wandering across (a fraction of) its 30 acres – taking in its sprawling gardens, lofty domes, vivid wall murals, and glinting thikri (the local glass art) decor – is its own kind of sightseeing. But, if you never made it that far…if you just skipped it all to stay in your kitted-out suite, you’d be forgiven. Sometimes pulling on a pretty block-print bathrobe, ordering gourmet room service and dangling your feet in the warm blue of your private pool while you wait (not long) for your food, is the right thing to do.
Those who do venture out, away from the organised luxury and into the comely clutter of the Old City, should start at the City Palace. It’s been 400 years since Udai Singh II, who founded the city, began its construction, and many whimsical rulers after him added to it, but the labyrinthine fort palace is a surprisingly cohesive assimilation of Mewari, Mughal and later colonial styles. Soak in the ingenuity of its military design, conjure up entire worlds from the delicately preserved vestiges of its inhabitants’ lives and times, scrunch your eyes at the illusory tricks of its incredible miniature paintings, and preside over the city from the high balconies.
Hours later, stroll back down into the Old City, wending your way through its narrow, clogged streets. Drive north towards Saheliyon-ki-Bari, a lovely early 18th-century ornamental garden commissioned by Sangram Singh II for the revelry of the 48 women attendants who arrived with a princess as part of her dowry. Fountains (not all functional), marble statuary, a lotus pond, herons and sparrows, and erratic outbursts of bougainvillea and hibiscus from amid thick swathes of green, populate this former girls-only paradise. Schedule an entire afternoon for the cooking and devouring of traditional delicacies at Bada Mahal, the only original structure from the Maharana’s hunting times. Under the patient eye of the hotel’s chefs, watch yourself expertly smoke laal maas (spicy Rajasthani mutton curry), which bubbles angry red from its high content of nasal-clearing Mathania chillies – a Jodhpuri staple; and stir yoghurt curry swimming with potato-stuffed banana chillies (mirch kadhi). Cool the spicy onslaught with a rich, creamy gulabi kheer and proceed to become horizontal for the next couple of hours.
By evening, as the rain clouds gather, drive towards that faraway palace, high in the hills, that you’ve been staring at since you got to Udaipur. The late 19th-century Sajjangarh, was intended to be an astronomy centre but remained incomplete when its founder, Sajjan Singh, took ill and died. The decrepit edifice, currently government-run, cuts a melancholy figure against the overwhelming views of the clouds, lakes, hills and palaces. For once, you’re happy for the noisy chorus of phone cameras.