Ngo Quang Minh

Discover the Indian city of Udaipur, famous for its ancient white palaces and lakes

Perhaps Mark Twain did not overstate when he said: “India is the cradle of the human race.” He must have been drawn to the country’s unique religious culture, architecture, and colorful, vibrant lifestyle. As well as bustling, noisy, and sultry cities, there are calmer and more peaceful places. Among those is a romantic city located in the state of Rajasthan, Udaipur, also known as the City of Lakes or India’s Venice.

A bird’s eye view of Udaipur

Udaipur nestles at the foot of Mount Aravalli. Built nearly 470 years ago, it once served as the last capital of the Mewar dynasty, one of the oldest in India. Founded in 728, the Mewar Kingdom existed as an independent Hindu state before merging into the Indian confederacy in 1949. The Mewar royal family then cleverly transformed their old capital into a Palace – Museum – Hotel complex in Udaipur, both to preserve generations of royals’ achievements and to contribute to the development of heritage tourism in the whole region. Thanks to this unique approach, Udaipur has become a famous destination that attracts visitors to resorts located around its elegant and luxurious lakeside palaces.

Udaipur has five major lakes including Lake Pichola, the most famous

The first and most impressive destination is the City Palace Museum, located on the east bank of the crystal-clear Pichola Lake, the biggest of the five lakes in Udaipur. This emerald lake reflects the majestic architectural complex, emphasizing the harmonization of the Mughal style (an architectural blend of Islamic, Persian, and Indian styles) and Medieval European style. The massive facade stands over 30m high and hides an inner palace area that contains 11 buildings that now serve as exhibition spaces, such as the Ruby Palace (Manak Mahal), the Pearl Palace (Moti Mahal), and the Palace of Mirrors (Sheesh Mahal). Visitors will feel amazed and lost in a colorful world as they explore different rooms in these magnificent palaces, which are decorated and painted in a variety of patterns and colors. The palaces of City Palace gently embrace the immense hanging gardens of Amar Vilas, highlighted by an open, airy green space and romantic fountains, as well as rows of marble pillars that glow with a pinkish hue in the sunlight. In addition to admiring royal objects on display in the City Palace, visitors can feast their eyes on large, colorful mosaics depicting the region’s traditional arts. Udaipur is also known for its exquisite miniature paintings on paper, ivory, and camel bones. To create these painstaking artworks, artists use hairs from squirrels’ tails or camels’ eyelashes as brushes, while the colors are made using crushed minerals. The subjects range from ancient battles and Hindu gods, to iconic landscapes of Rajasthani cities.

Sas Bahu Temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu

In contrast to the magnificent royal palace, just outside the gate lies the city’s vibrant and joyful everyday life. White is the predominant color in Udaipur, earning it the moniker “White City” alongside other cities associated with colors on India’s tourist map, including the Pink City Jaipur, the Blue City Jodhpur, the Orange City Nagpur, the Silver City Cuttack, and the Golden City Amritsar.

Every path and corner of Udaipur is clean and gracious. Alongside the distinguished colors of the main gates, lively drawings adorn the white walls. Due to the Mewar dynasty’s influence on palace design, the residential areas also feature large central courtyards and stairs leading to various rooms and halls.

Students line up in the morning

Udaipur does not have as many temples as some other cities but visitors who admire spiritual architecture must take a tour to Sas Bahu, situated 20 km from the city center. Built in the 11th century, this temple is a typical representative of India’s powerful and sophisticated medieval architecture. Unlike many structures in North India, which fell victim to time and destruction when dynasties changed or locals found new religious beliefs, this area has been well preserved over thousands of burning summers, as evidenced by the unimpaired lines of the arches, temple roofs, and pillars in the halls. Sas Bahu was built in honor of the god Vishnu, and the temple grounds hold two large halls and smaller temples. In the fading light at sunset, observant visitors can pick out the exquisite reliefs that share many similarities with those of the Champa culture in Angkor (Siem Reap, Cambodia) and the Cham Towers in Ninh Thuan, Vietnam. Despite the geographical distance, the cultural crossover between these ancient sites is vital and palpable.

For anyone who associates India with noisy and bustling places like Delhi, modern and vibrant cities like Mumbai, ancient historical sites like Varanasi, or majestic and freezing landscapes like Ladakh, “the White City” of Udaipur is a pure and peaceful spot full of cultural heritage, surrounded by mountains and lakes. It adds a memorable highlight in the heart of a country bearing values that Mark Twain once described as “older than history, older than tradition, and even older than legend”.