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City Palace, Udaipur

The City Palace in Udaipur is a blend of stern Rajput military architecture on the outside and lavish Mughal-inspired decorative art on the inside. Set on a hill overlooking Pichola Lake, the City Palace is a sprawling edifice made up of at least four separate, interconnecting palaces, built over a period of nearly three centuries. The entire palace is oriented to face the east. The earliest parts of the City Palace are reminiscent of the architectural style of Chittorgarh, but subsequent additions show an interesting evolution of style, although this is sometimes disguised by later remodeling. You enter the palace through two great gates, Bari Pol and Tripolia Pol, and carved torana archways. The maharajas used to be weighed here, and their equivalent in gold was then distributed to charity. Through Ganesh Deori, dedicated to the god of fortune, with its kitschy Japanese tiles, you come to Raj Angan, built in 1559, the oldest part of the palace. Legend says this was the very spot where Rana Udai Singh II met the sage who suggested this local for his new capital, and that the first thing he built was the Dhuni Mata Temple you see here.

Climbing a flight of steep steps you come to Bari Mahal, a delightful garden, nearly 90 feet above ground. Around the garden is a marble courtyard with a square, central pool and fluted columns, reminiscent of the Mughal style. This was once a royal playground. Old miniature paintings portray the maharajas at play with the ladies of their court, sprinkling them with colored water during Holi. Looking down from here you can see the courtyard below, where Udaipur’s great elephant fights were once staged. Beyond this lies Dilkhush Mahal (Palace of Joy), originally built in the 1620s, with two splendid chambers, Kanch ki Burj and Chitran ki Burj. Kanch ki Burj is a 19th century Sheesh Mahal, with elaborate gray and red mirror-work walls and ceilings, set off by a carved ivory door. Chitran ki Burj is a little 18th century masterpiece, its walls covered with frescos of hunting scenes, festivals and court life in princely Udaipur.

Next you see the 18th century Chini Chitrashala (Porcelain Painted Gallery), with its striking blue Dutch inlaid tile work, and amusing European influence that suddenly appears to compete with the Rajput and Mughal styles of the rest of the palace. Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace) is another Sheesh Mahal in the City Palace. Its walls are decorated with plates of mirror-work and colored glass, creating a magical interplay of reflections. Beside it is Bhim Vilas, a small prayer room with fine murals depicting episodes from the life of Lord Krishna and Radha. Across the courtyard is Priyatam Niwas, the simple apartment where Maharaja Bhopal Singh used to live, right up until 1955. You can see some of his memorabilia here, including his wheelchair. Below these apartments is the grand Mor Chowk (Peacock Courtyard), its wall covered with a dramatic mosaic relief of dancing peacocks. Nearby is another well-known feature of the palace, Surya Gokhra (Sun Window), from where the maharajas would appear to the people during times of misfortune.

Manak Mahal (Ruby Palace) was built in 1620 as a dining room. It has walls inlaid with ornate mirror-work and colored glass. Inside it are the amusing mosaics of 18th century Englishmen being served wine by Rajput maidens. The City Palace museum contains a wonderful collection of old Rajput weaponry. One of the weapons looks like an ordinary sword, but is actually a traditional two-swords-in-one scabbard (which you would draw simultaneously so you have a sword in each hand). Somewhat more dangerous looks are the old maces and an arrow with a large crescent-shaped arrowhead (allowing you to aim for the throat and slice off your victim’s head). Other historic pieces include Maharaja Pratap’s suit of armor and the war bugle and drums of Rana Sanga.

City Palace, Udaipur

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