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The Silk Route - World Travel: Jain Temples, Ranakpur, India
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India: Ranakpur & Udaipur
February 2009

Ranakpur - the Jain Temples To Udaipur The Udai Vilas Hotel
Udaipur Jagdish Temple City Palace Saheliyon-Ki-Bari
India: Jodhpur, Ranakpur and Udaipur

In February 2009 we travelled to India and saw so much that the account for this holiday is split into several parts.

This is the fourth and final part devoted to the blue city of Jodhpur, the magnificent Jain Temples at Ranakpur and Udaipur with ultimate luxury at the Udai Vilas Hotel.

Ranakpur - the Jain Temples

Ranakpur Jain Temples

 

The road to Ranakpur was one of the poorest main roads we travelled on. It is single carriageway and exceedingly busy, being the main Delhi-Mumbai highway.

Ranakpur Jain Temples
Ranakpur Jain Temples
Shrines on the hillsides.

Lying in a remote wooded valley, this complex of Jain Temples is the largest in India.

Ranakpur Jain Temples
A shrine as a model building - the steps left front foreground are normal size.

Ranakpur Jain Temples

Jainism was founded in 500BC as a reaction against the dominance of priests in Hindu society. It rejects the caste system, avoids ritual and believes in reincarnation. Jains are strict vegetarians and revere all forms of life.

 

Ranakpur Jain Temples
An entrance to Chaumukha Mandir.

We arrived 40 minutes before the main temple opened at mid-day so we spent the time exploring some of the many little shrines on the surrounding hillsides and the exterior of the main temple. It was searingly hot!

Ranakpur Jain Temples

The shrines look like miniature buildings, with flights of steps and doorways and pillared porticos.

Ranakpur Jain Temples
Exquisite carving on marble blocks outside the temple.
;Ranakpur Jain Temples
Ranakpur Jain Temples
Ranakpur Jain Temples

The main temple built in 1439, Chaumukha Mandir (Four-faced Temple) is dedicated to the first tirthankara, Adinath. An inner sanctuary holds a four-faced image of Adinath. The interior composed of 29 connected halls is supported by a forest of 1444 pillars, no two alike in their carved decoration.

Ranakpur Jain Temples

The temple is absolutely stunning and very hard to do justice to in photographs. The carving throughout, both exterior and interior, is magnificent.

Ranakpur Jain Temples
I love the way the elephant on the right of this procession is looking out!
Ranakpur Jain Temples
Ranakpur Jain Temples
Ranakpur Jain Temples
Ranakpur Jain Temples
Ranakpur Jain Temples
Ranakpur Jain Temples
Ranakpur Jain Temples
Ranakpur Jain Temples

 

To Udaipur

cafe bar
cafe bar
An extremely dry land.

And so to the final, and most southerly, point of our journey through Rajasthan. Leaving the Jain Temples we encountered the worst roads yet, extremely poor in places, especially on a stretch where work was under way and we seemed to be driving on a quarry floor!

cafe bar
Banana flower.

We ate at a roadside café not far out of Ranakpur, still in the parched landscape. The café was completely open and the food served hot from pots ranged on a heating bar reminiscent of the kind to be seen in old Roman towns such as Pompeii. Very simple really, holes cut in the counter in which the cooking pots rest, heated from below.

Mid-afternoon we arrived at our hotel. We'd decided to end with a flourish and were spending three nights at the Udai Vilas. It was absolutely magnificent from the moment we arrived to the moment we left.

 

The Udai Vilas Hotel

udai vilas hotel
udai vilas hotel
One of two elephants at the entrance to the Udai Vilas Hotel.

 

We have stayed in some wonderful hotels on this trip but for sheer luxury and excellence of service this was the tops. Throughout India the service has been excellent, but here service achieved new heights - the staff really couldn't do enough for our comfort, always with a smile, nothing too much trouble. We settled in immediately for three days of pampering.

udai vilas hotel
Our room and terrace.
Udai Vilas Hotel
Udai Vilas Hotel on the north shore of Lake Pichola, seen from the City Palace.
udai vilas hotel
udai vilas hotel
udai vilas hotel

Our room, 128, was lakeside and the bedroom looked out over Lake Pichola - beautiful, especially early morning. We also had private access to an infinity pool directly from our terrace - fabulous! It was extremely comfortable and spacious, with beautiful decorative touches. The bathroom was luxurious - from both shower and bath were views out over the courtyard and pool to the wild life reserve and Lake Pichola.

udai vilas hotel
udai vilas hotel
udai vilas hotel

The wildlife reserve has many varieties of birds, including kites and peacocks, and also Indian deer. It was lovely to lie in the pool and just watch what was going on.

udai vilas hotel

 

Udai Vilas Hotel
Udai Vilas Hotel
Udai Vilas Hotel
Udai Vilas Hotel
Udai Vilas Hotel
Udai Vilas Hotel

 

udai vilas hotel
Udai Vilas Hotel

The hotel is fabulous in every way. The corridors are open and cool with pools and plants. The reception rooms are large and light and airy. We were welcomed in the cool bar with a very refreshing drink of rose-water ice tea. After the formalities and we'd settled into our room we ordered room service and soon were relaxing outside on our terrace. We didn't really move for the rest of that day, only showering and changing for dinner later.

udai vilas hotel
Udai Vilas Hotel
Udai Vilas Hotel

We ate all meals outside in the lovely restaurant, the first evening at one of the canopied tables. The food was superb. Excellent curries with a variety of breads, chapattis and rice.

The main courses were preceded by spicy dips, perhaps water melon and cottage cheese, a small cup of home made soup. Each evening at the restaurant there were musicians and dancers, the wide view over Lake Pichola an atmospheric backdrop.

Udaipur

Breakfasts were wonderful: freshly squeezed fruit juices - pineapple, orange; eggs any way you want them - I'm rather partial to eggs benedict. A stack of pancakes comes with maple syrup, rhubarb compote (particularly good!), whipped cream and blackcurrants.

Several times the chef came to ask if everything was to our liking - both at breakfast and dinner.

The hotel has a boat dock and the views from here and also from the lawns below the restaurant across Lake Pichola to the Lake Palace Hotel and the City Palace are superb. The lake was low - most bodies of water in Rajasthan seemed to be suffering from several poor monsoon years.

Udaipur

Video: Lake Pichola from Udai Vilas.

The animals in the wildlife reserve are fed in late afternoon so this is a good time to see them. We only really saw Indian deer and lots of different varieties of birds.

 

Udai Vilas Hotel

 

Udaipur

Udaipur
City Palace and Lake Palace Hotel from Udai Vilas Hotel lake shore.

 

Udaipur was founded in 1568 by Maharaja Udai Singh II as the new capital of Mewar after the Mughal Empreror Akbar had sacked Chittorgarh. On his death in 1572 he was succeeded by his son Pratap who became a legendary hero, defending Udaipur valiantly from Mughal attack.

Udaipur remained fiercely independent, fighting off not only the Mughals but later the Marathas from central India. The battles finally came to an end in the early nineteenth century when a treaty was signed with the British who pledged to protect Udaipur. The treaty endured to independence in 1947.

Udaipur
Lake Palace Hotel seen from the City Palace.

The old city of Udaipur on the banks of Lake Pichola is a romantic setting. Almost marooned in the lake is the Lake Palace Hotel, a former eighteenth century royal summer palace which was extended and converted to an hotel in the 1960s.

 

Jagdish Temple

Udaipur Jagdish Temple

Udaipur Jagdish Temple
Udaipur Jagdish Temple
Udaipur Jagdish Temple

This wonderfully carved Hindu Temple was built in 1651 and is dedicated to Lord Jagannath, an aspect of Vishnu.

When we entered there was a service in progress. Prayers began and our guide said we should stay and watch as it's not possible to predict when prayers will be said so it was lucky we were there at this time and we would find it interesting.

One man in front of the sacred statue waved a flame in the air while a succession of men flicked what looked like large fly whisks and a very loud bell tolled. It was fascinating, and drew in people from outside until the temple was packed.

This is a very beautifully carved temple with endlessly fascinating figures, many figures unashamedly naked, some mildly erotic. There are lots of musicians and dancers, elephants and horses.

 

Udaipur Jagdish Temple
Udaipur Jagdish Temple
Udaipur Jagdish Temple

 

Udaivilas Jagdish Temple

 

City Palace

Udaipur City Palace

The palace begun by Maharaja Udai Singh II in 1559 was extended over the following 300 years by later maharajas so that it now comprises 11 royal palaces.

Udaipur City Palace
Inside the Tripolia Gate.

 

Udaipur City Palace
Udaipur City Palace

It sits on the eastern shore at the north end of Lake Pichola, a massive marble and pale garnite edifice visible from afar. It has influences from all over the known world in its design: Mughal-style canopies to its turrets and Chinese and Dutch tiles on its walls.

Through the Tripolia Gate, where legend has it that maharajas were weighed in gold and silver which was then distributed to the citizens, is a large courtyard where elephant fights took place, though our guide told us they were more like a tug-of-war. The last of these was in 1955.

Udaipur City Palace
Udaipur City Palace
Sheesh Mahal

Some of the palace rooms are opulently decorated, mirrors used extensively and here, also, tiling is favoured.

Udaipur City Palace
Krishna Vilas
Udaipur City Palace
Fabulous Mor Chowk.
Udaipur City Palace

Krishna Vilas is dedicated to a 16 year old princess who committed suicide by poison to avoid choosing between the sons of Jodhpur and Jaipur and thus avoiding war. It is a beautiful room, covered with incredible miniature paintings.

Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace) and Sheesh Mahal (Glass and Mirrors Palace) are also particularly impressive with more ornate mirrorwork and intricately inlaid panels.

Mor Chowk (Peacock Court) has fabulously colourful peacock mosaics - the peacock is a favourite Rajasthani bird, a bringer of good luck; we saw many wild peacocks on our travels.

Udaipur City Palace
Moti Mahal
Udaipur City Palace
Udaipur City Palace
Udaipur City Palace

 

Udaipur City Palace
Udaipur City Palace
A fabulous ceramic peacock, protected behind glass.
Udaipur City Palace

We left through Laxmi Chowk, with its tiger cage and impressive pillared stables and through the massive elephant-spiked gate.


 

Saheliyon-Ki-Bari

Udaipur Saheliyon-Ki-Bari
Udaipur Saheliyon-Ki-Bari
Udaipur Saheliyon-Ki-Bari
The fountains of water spout from the trunks of the elephants around the pool.

 

These tranquil gardens with cooling fountains were built by Sangram Singh II in 1710 for 48 female attendants who came to Udaipur as part of a princess's dowry.

Udaipur Saheliyon-Ki-Bari

The gardens are surprisingly lush, planted with well-kept specimens of indigenous species.

Udaipur Saheliyon-Ki-Bari

There are many beautiful fountains here but unfortunately they are no longer permanently in operation. For a small payment we got an attendant to switch them on - well worth it!

Udaipur Saheliyon-Ki-Bari

 

Udaipur Saheliyon-Ki-Bari
Udaipur Saheliyon-Ki-Bari
Udai Vilas Hotel