Friday, June 13, 2014

Royal White Beauty - Udaipur

Khama ghani!!!!

Any guesses where I had been this time??? You guessed it right.... I was in Rajasthan, to be précised Udaipur... I went there for my honeymoon and just fell in love with the splendor of the city.  It is a seductive city with havelis, palaces and temples at every turn, beautiful lakes lapping against white buildings and Aravalli hills closing in to savour the view.

We started our journey on 15th August 2012 early morning. Since we had booked seats on 11.00 am Air India, we had to leave early from home. We reached Udaipur at around 12 noon from where we hired a cab and went to Karohi haveli where we stayed from next 4 days. Udaipur airport is in the outskirts of the city, it took us about an hour to reach the main city. Our hotel was in the old city, we had to pass through small lanes lined by small shops on both the sides. I just loved it. Karohi haveli was actually a residence which was converted to hotel, however the authenticity still can be seen. That day we decided not to venture out and just relax.

Before I start with details of my trip, let me give you all a brief about the city. The city was founded by Maharaja Udai Singh II in 1559 as the capital of Mewar. As per the legend, Maharaja while hunting at the foothills of Aravalli, he came across a hermit. The hermit blessed the king and asked him to build a palace on the spot, assuring him it would be well protected. Udai Singh II consequently established a residence on the site. In 1568, the Mughal emperor Akbar captured the fort of Chittor, and Udai Singh moved the capital to the site of his residence, which became the city of Udaipur.

Udaipur is often called the "Venice of the East", and is also nicknamed the "Lake City". Lake Pichola, Fateh Sagar Lake, Udai Sagar and Swaroop Sagar in this city are considered some of the most beautiful lakes in the state.

Haveli had a good hotel on the rooftop and it was awesome to have a candle light dinner with Rajasthani music in the background. 

The next day i.e. on 16th August 2012, we decided to go to Kumbalgarh.  We hired a car to go to the kumbalgarh, which is situated at about 105Kms to the west of Udaipur. On the way we felt like having an proper rajasthani breakfast. Our driver Pradeep took us to Hathi Pol where we had kachori. Believe me when I say that it was the best I ever ate. After breakfast we continued our journey for next 2 hours to reach the fort. My first reaction on seeing the fort was "OMG this is huge". On entering through ‘Ram Pol’ gate I was mesmerized by the massiveness of the fort and its walls.

The fort, built in 15th century by Maharana Kumbha, is known for its great history and architecture. This fort is also the birth place of Maharana Pratap, the great king and warrior of Mewar. Standing majestically on 1180m high ridge and representing the past glory of the Rajput rulers, the Fort also provides a panoramic view of the countryside from the top. 

It is believed that the fort was built over the remains of earlier structure associated with Jaina prince Samprati of the 2nd century BC. Due to its strategic location it was the 2nd important fort of Rajasthan after Chittorgarh. The fort is defended by a series of bastions at regular intervals. Entered through Aaret Pol, Halla pol and Hanuman Pol from the south one can reach Ram Pol and Vijal pol, the main entrance of the fort. 

The fort is surrounded by a majestic thick wall which is approximately 15 kms long.  This wall is second longest only to the 'Great Wall of China'. It's serpentine 15 kilometres long wall is thick and road enough for eight horses to ride abreast.  The wall is a great example of architecture brilliance of Rajput Era. Its architectural brilliance is proved by the fact that in spite of being around 700 years old it is still intact and in a very good shape. This wall is not in a regular straight pattern but it runs through mountain cliffs and valleys. It has steep ascend and descend throughout its length, the wall has stairs and walk way.

This grand fort also has 360 temples within the walls, some of which are Vedi temple, Neelkanth Mahadeo temple, Ganesh temple, Parsvanatha temple and Golerao group of temples.

According to legend, in 1443, the Maharana of Kumbhalgarh, Rana Kumbha, initially failed to build the fort even after repeated attempts. A spiritual preceptor was consulted about the construction problems and advised the ruler that a voluntary human sacrifice would solve whatever was causing the impediment. The spiritual advisor advised building a temple where the head should fall, and to build the wall and the fort where the rest of his body lay. As can be expected, for some time no one volunteered, but one day, a pilgrim /  soldier /  spiritual preceptor  volunteered and was ritually decapitated. Today the main gate of the fortress, Hanuman Pol, contains a shrine and a temple to commemorate the great sacrifice. According to popular folklore, Maharana Kumbha used to burn massive lamps that consumed fifty kilograms of ghee and a hundred kilograms of cotton to provide light for the farmers who worked during the nights in the valley.

Now back to our experience. We decided to explore the temples before visiting the main fort. We started with the Shiva temple, which was the nearest to the right side of the gate. The temple was closed, however we got so mesmerised by the architecture that we ended spending almost 45 minutes in the temple vicinity.

From there we went to Neelknath Mahadev temple (image A) which enshrines a Shivlinga in the garbhagriha. It has an open pillared mandapam all around the garbhagriha.

Next were the Nirandhara Jaina temples (image B) which were built on high jagati having garbhagriha, antarala and mandapa. The temple is rectangular entered through a plain doorway crowned with a domical ceiling which is restored. Again architecturally it was beautiful and jaw dropping.

                                              Image A                                                             Image B

The path leading to these temples were pebbled. The paths were too cute and passes through the canopy of trees.  But as we went to the interior parts we couldn’t see any tourists so we decided to return back after visit the Golerao group of temples. The Golerao group of temples consists of 9 shrines enclosed by a circular wall. 4/9 temples are dedicated to Jaina Tirthankars and rest to hindu gods. The shrines are adorned with beautiful carved sculptures of gods and goddesses on its exterior. 

Visiting all the temples would take about 3 days as per the guides. On visiting few temples, we decided to have lunch, post which we visited the main place. The palace is a two storied structure. It consists of two rooms, a corridor in the middle and open spaces. The rooms are provided with jharokas and windows in stones. Our entire day was spent there and still we felt that we haven’t seen anything. So you guys now understand how beautiful the place would be. I wish to spend more time in that place so I will definitely go back there to explore how much ever I can. On our way back, we spent sometime riverside. 

On 17th, we decided to hire a bike and visit Eklingji Temple which is positioned at a distance of 22 km in the north of Udaipur, on the national highway no. 8.

Eklingnath Temple is dedicated to the Lord Shiva of the Hindu religion. Eklingji has been the deity of the royal Mewar family since the time of Bappa Rawal, founder of the Mewar dynasty. Ek means 'one' while ling means 'lingum or the life giving phallic symbol of Lord Shiva'.   klingji is a complex   of 108 ancient temples, incised out of sandstone and marble. The temple, built in AD 734, to propagate the blessings of Lord Shiva, worshipped as the Ultimate Reality, the supreme power, and the wholesome one - Parabhrama, is venerated by the Mewar household.

One of the legends relating to Ekilngji is that after killing Vrakshasur, Indra had meditated and prayed to Eklingji in repentance and to be free of the curse. According to another legend, Bapparawa had seen the Shivlinga in his dream when he was in trouble and when the problem was solved, he constructed the temple and later build Mewar.

Though we decided to visit the temple, our luck ran out by the time we reached there. The temple was closed and would open only in the evening. It was difficult for us to stay back there as we would have been got late to reach back to udiapur. So we decided to skip this place and enjoy the bike ride. The national highway was beautiful with luscious green on both the sides of the highway. The ride was pleasant. We decided to go to Nathadwara. But again, hard luck as there was some pravachan happening there and the place was overcrowded.

We returned back to Udaipur and then went to Monsoon Palace.  Perched on the top of a distant mountain range like a fairy-tale castle, this neglected late-19th-century palace was constructed by Maharaja Sajjan Singh. Originally an astronomical centre, it later became a monsoon palace and hunting lodge. I went there, with great expectations, but was disappointed. There is nothing to see apart from empty rooms. However the sunset view is beautiful.

On 18th we visited Ranakpur as we had heard a lot about the place. Also our haveli manager had suggested the place to us. As a result we zeroed on the place and went there. Ninety kilometres north of Udaipur, Ranakpur is another incredible feat of Jain devotion.  Carved from milk-white marble, the complicated series of 29 halls, supported by a forest of 1444 pillars (no two alike), is the finest in Rajasthan, and one the most important in India. The devotion of its builders is encapsulated in the intricate carving. The temples were just breathtaking and jaw dropping, and the story behind the making of the temple is inspiring.

There are 3 jain temples, the main temple dedicated to Adinath, and a small Sun temple outside the temple vicinity. Firstly we decided to go to Parasvanath and Neminath temples. The temples have exquisite figures similar to Khajuraho sculptures. I was quite surprised to see khajuraho sculptures in a jain temple. What i liked about this place other than the scultures and architecture is that you enjoy reflecting deeply within yourself while watching the aravalli ranges, in an cool and quite atmosphere. 

After spending time appreciating these two temples we visited the Chaumukha Temple which is the most important temple dedicated to Lord Adinath, who is the first 'Tirthankara' of the Jains. 

The temple is known as chaumukh as the temple has four gateways which are exactly same architecturally. The temple has three small shrines, twenty four pillared halls and eligibly domes supported by over 1444 marble pillars bearing most exquisite carvings. It is said that no two pillars are alike in the carving. Also, it is said that not even a single person has managed to count the pillars. The four faced image of Adinath Bhagwan also symbolizes the Tirthankara's quest for the four directions and ultimately the cosmos. The image is surrounded by many small shrines and domes. One more range of cells with separate roofs encircles these shrines and domes all over again. The five spires elevate above the walls and around 20 cupolas rise from roof of the pillared hall. Each spire houses a shrine and the largest shrine is the important one that addresses the central altar. The temple ceilings are festooned with foliate scrollwork and geometric patterns.

In the temple there is one beautiful carvings made out of a single marble rock for eg, the 108 heads of snakes and numerous tail with Adinath standing below it. A masterpiece not found elsewhere and in it you will not find the end of the tails and their face is seen pointing in all four directions.

The temple is a masterpiece of architecture and boasts of not less than four additional shrines. It has 24 pillared halls with 80 domes that are supported by 400 columns. The upper and lower parts of the domes are linked by brackets that have deities' sculptures. Above all, you would be amazed to see at a height of 45 feet engraved nymphs playing the flute in various dance postures. Each column is intricately carved and it is surprising to know that no two columns have the similar design.

In the mandap (prayer hall), the two big bells of 108 kg each produce a harmonious sound on the movement. Chaumukha temple is formed like a Nalinigulm Vimana (heavenly aircraft) and provides this whole structure a celestial appearance. Conceivably, it is due to the intricacy of the structure that the temple took approximately 65 years to complete.   

According to the legend, there was a minister in the court of Rana Kumbha named Sety Dharnasha. A devi appeared in Dharnasha’s dreams and showed him the Nalinigulm Viman, a celestial vehicle of the twelfth heaven. From that day onwards, the seth was driven by a desire to build a temple in the shape of that Viman. He hired an architect named deepaka who made the dream of seth come true. He built the temple structurally symmetrical. Instead of earning money he requested sethji to allow him to sculpt a palm size image of himself. He sculpted himself in such a way that he could see Adinath bhagwan all the time. Sethji’s fame touched the sky as a result of which the king got jealous and decided to build a pillar more beautiful and intricately sculpted inside the temple. The pillar never got completed because everytime he decided to build it, the pillar broke.  The pillar now is known as ‘Ardhastambh’  

We got lost appreciating and soaking the beauty and intricacy of the pillars. There is no electricity inside the temple. The temple is built in such a way that the sunlight enters the temple during the day and in the evening the temple is lit up with diyas. After spending time here we headed for Surya temple. The temple has innumerable wall projections with circular structure. The sight of Lord Surya driven in his chariot of seven horses is truly pleasing.

Visiting Ranakpur was the most spiritual and beautiful experience ever.

The next day i.e. on 19th August, we decided to visit City Palace. The palace is enormously big and beautiful. But I must suggest something, please visit city palace before visiting Kumbalgarh and Ranakpur, because the city palace loses its charm. The same thing happened with me as well. After visiting the other two places, I didn’t find city palace very beautifully constructed, although it has its own charm. Located with the picturesque backdrop of rugged mountains, beside the Pichola lake on its shore, the city palace complex painted in gleaming white colour looks beautiful.

The city Palace was built concurrently with establishment of the Udaipur city by Maharana Udai Singh II, in 1559 and his successor Maharanas over a period of the next 300 years. According to the legend, the selection of the site for the palace was done on meeting a hermit whily on hunting trail in the Udaipur hills. The hermit was meditating on top of a hill above the Pichola Lake and Maharaja sought the hermit’s blessings. The hermit advised the Maharana to build his palace at that very spot and that is where the palace complex came to be established at Udaipur.

The palace complex has been built entirely in granite and marble. The interiors of the palace complex with its balconies, towers and cupolas exhibit delicate mirror-work, marble-work, murals, wall paintings, silver-work, inlay-work and leftover of coloured glass.

Erected in the complex, after entering through the main Tripolia (triple) gate, are the Suraj Gokhda (public address facade), the Mor-chowk (Peacock courtyard), the Dilkhush Mahal (heart’s delight), the Surya Chopar, the Sheesh Mahal (Palace of glass and mirrors), the Moti Mahal (Palace of Pearls), the Krishna Vilas (named after Lord Krishna), Shambu Niwas (royal residence now), the Bhim Vilas, the Amar Vilas (with a raised garden) that faces the Badi Mahal (the big palace), the Fateprakash Palace and the Shiv Niwas Palace (the latest addition to the complex); the last two have been converted into heritage hotels.

The meeting room and the views are breathtaking. Be prepared to spend a couple of hours inside as there are loads to see. It is impossible to get lost, despite the size of the building, as there are arrows pointing to the right direction and the route is well planned. One thing is for sure, exquisite work of City Palace cannot be bounded in words, one must visit this palace to understand and capture the real picture of the palace.

We did a little shop and returned back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and go to the airport. We visited this place for 4 days and we are craving for more. Very soon we will visit this place again and soak more of this royal tradition and architecture.

Here’s me signing off.. Bubye!!!! Wait for my next travelogue.....