Udaipur's Mewar dynasty survived many enemy battles over time. However, it was the flourish of a pen that ultimately had the power to destroy the dynasty. When India became a democracy in 1947, royal rulers had to give up their states and fend for themselves. The tourist has benefited greatly from this. In order to generate an income, the Mewar royal family has developed the Udaipur City Palace Complex into an all encompassing tourist destination, focusing on heritage tourism. You can even stay in an authentic palace hotel there.
Udaipur City Palace Museum
The City Palace Museum is the jewel in the crown of the Udaipur City Palace Complex. It's there that you can immerse yourself in the history of the Maharanas of Mewar, and really get a feel for their culture and how royalty lived. The museum comprises both the Mardana Mahal (King's Palace) and Zenana Mahal (Queen's Palace), which make up the City Palace. Constructed over four and a half centuries, starting in 1559, the City Palace Museum is the oldest and largest part of the City Palace Complex. The architecture, and many galleries containing personal royal items, are its main highlights.
Plan your visit and see inside the Udaipur City Palace Museum.
A sound and light show narrating the story of the mighty Mewar dynasty takes place nightly in Manek Chowk, the main courtyard of the City Palace. This one-hour show commences with the devotion of the dynasty's founder Bapa Rawal more than 1,500 years ago, continues on to the glory of the dynasty's erstwhile capital at Chittorgarh, and concludes with the establishment of Udaipur in the 16th century. The show is held in English during the tourist season from September to May, and in Hindi from June to August. It starts at 7 p.m.
The imposing Durbar Hall is situated adjacent to the City Palace Museum and forms part of the Fateh Prakash Palace hotel. Its foundation stone was laid by the Viceroy of India, Lord Minto, in 1909. Once used for royal audiences, Durbar Hall now serves as a venue for banquets and special functions. Its dramatic ambiance is enhanced by grand portraits of the Maharanas of Mewar and other historic artifacts.
The Crystal Gallery, located above the Durbar Hall, is said to be the largest private collection of crystal in the world. It certainly is extensive and contains some incredible pieces. Among them are a crystal footrest and the only crystal bed in the world. The entrance fee to the Crystal Gallery is 700 rupees for adults and 500 rupees for children (including a guide). It's open from 9 a.m. to 6.30 p.m., daily. Tickets also provide entry to the Durbar Hall. Unfortunately, photography of the Crystal Gallery is prohibited.
Even if you're not a car fan, you're likely to still find this extensive vintage car collection interesting. The collection, which was opened to the public in early 2000, is housed in what was once the royal garage. There's even an antique petrol pump there. The cars in the collection were imported by the grandfather of the current Maharana. Some of them are over seventy years old, with each painstakingly restored to working order. Highlights include a 1924 Rolls Royce, a 1938 Cadillac, 1946 Buick, 1947 Chevrolet bus used for transporting children to the Maharana's school, the first Rolls Royce jeep, as well as the car that was used in the James Bond Octopussy movie.
The Vintage Car Gallery is about a 10 minute walk downhill from the City Palace Complex via Lake Palace Road. The entrance fee is 400 rupees for adults and 250 rupees for children. It's open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Jag Mandir was the first palace to be constructed in the middle of Lake Pichola. It was built in the 17th century and used as a pleasure palace by the Maharanas of Mewar. Recently refurbished, it has a fine dining restaurant and bar that face towards the City Palace Complex, a rare heritage exhibition called Jagriti, and guest accommodations. The way Jag Mandir is lit up at night is magical. It's not exaggerating to say that it feels like part of a fairy tale. The island can only be accessed by boat from Rameshwar Ghat Jetty at the City Palace.
Shiv Niwas Palace Hotel
The Shiv Niwas Palace hotel sits on the far left side of the City Palace and is one of two authentic palace hotels in the Udaipur City Palace Complex. Built in the early 20th century during the reign of Maharana Fateh Singh, the Shiv Niwas Palace served as his residence for a while. It was later used to accommodate royal guests. The hotel found fame in the James Bond movie, Octopussy, where part of it was filmed. You can save 50% on rates during the summer and monsoon season, from April to September. It's a great deal!
The Fateh Prakash Palace hotel sprawls below the City Palace Museum and is the other authentic palace hotel in the Udaipur City Palace Complex. Also built in the early 20th century, it's named after Maharana Fateh Prakash who reined during its construction. Originally, the Fateh Prakash Palace served as an exclusive venue for royal functions, where the Maharanas of Mewar held court. The Fateh Prakash Palace hotel isn't as famous as its counterpart, the Shiv Niwas Palace hotel. However, it's more modern and opulent. India's luxury Taj hotel brand took over the management of the hotel in January 2020, and improved it to match their immaculate standards.
Check out this photo tour of the Fateh Prakash Palace hotel.
There are several restaurants at the City Palace, which are convenient for grabbing a bite to eat after visiting the City Palace Museum or for a special regal meal. Shiv Niwas Palace Hotel has two options -- Paantya for local Mewari cuisine created for past kings by their personal cooks (north Indian and Continental dishes are available as well), and The Pool Deck for light snacks and candelight dinners with live music. Informal Palki Khana cafe, in the main courtyard of the City Palace, serves contemporary global food from around the world. Plus, coffee and heritage liqueurs. There's both indoor and outdoor seating. At Fateh Prakash Palace hotel, the Sunset Terrace provides a fabulous view across Lake Pichola to the Lake Palace Hotel.