Ashwa Poojan: Festival of Worshipping theHorses
Ashwa Poojan is a festival performed each year at the City Palace Complex, upholding the traditions of the House of Mewar, the world's largest-serving dynasty.
Ashwa Poojan is held on Navami, the ninth (and last) day of Navratri. It is on Navami that Rajputs honor and worship the horses who have played such an important role in their history. The horses participating in the pooja are part of an internationally recognized breed, Marwari. The name comes from their area of origin, part of current day Rajasthan. These sure-footed horses are at ease on both hard, rocky terrain and the sands of the desert.
The pooja ceremony itself was so colorful and fascinating. It is held in the front courtyard of the decorated palace. The ceremony is performed by Shreeji Arvind Singh Ji Mewar, the present Maharana of the royal family.
The regal festival starts with a procession of the horses. The Maharana arrives and guided by the priests of the Palace, he conducts the prayer ceremony, observing the rites and rituals. The horses are beautiful. They are dressed in jewels and come up to the Maharana one at a time for the blessing.
After the horse ceremony, there is a traditional ceremony (Nazaraana) for the noblemen of Udaipur. Then all of the guests have an opportunity to meet the Maharana. All of that is followed by a dinner buffet.
We called to reserve our tickets when we arrived in Udaipur and they were brought to our hotel. We were given a sheet with details of the ceremony which recommended not bringing phones, backpacks/purses, etc. which would subject to a search. It was also mentioned that cameras were prohibited. Well.....after so much experience in India, I should have known better. I did not bring ANYTHING: certainly not a camera, not even a phone. Of course....there were no searches and most people had a camera. I was really ticked. :-) At least a site was provided for access to free photos from the ceremony, some even taken from a drone flying overhead and that's where all the photos here are from.
In any case it was a wonderful evening and I highly recommend going if you are lucky enough to be in Udaipur on Navami!
5.00 pm - Assembly of guests at the Manek Chowk, The City Palace
5.00 pm - Arrival of the Royal Horses dressed in regalia
5.40 pm - Arrival of Mr. Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar of Udaipur
5.45 pm - March of Regal Procession from The Royal residence with Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar of Udaipur, the 76th. Custodian House of Mewar
5.50 pm - Arrival of Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar of Udaipur in a 1905 vintage 'Royal Landau Six-in-Hand'
5:55 pm - Maharana Salute to be played by The Palace Band on arrival
6:00 pm - Commencement of the Pooja ceremony
6:30 pm - Conclusion of the Pooja ceremony
6:40 pm - Nazrana at Khush Mahal
6:55 pm - Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar of Udaipur meets guests at Khush Mahal
7:15 pm - Refreshments at Khush Mahal Chowk
- Castles and Palaces
Celebrating Eid al-Adha
Eid al-Adha - the Festival of Sacrifice - is celebrated by Muslims throughout the world at the end of the Hajj - the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. It is during the Hajj that Muslims honor Abraham. Allah had commanded Abraham to kill his only son. When Abraham was prepared to kill his son, Allah told him that his true sacrifice had been fulfilled by his willingness to kill his only son. Abraham had proven his love for Allah.
Today Muslims remember Abraham's willingness to sacrifice by themselves slaughtering an animal such as a goat or sheep. Allah had allowed Muslims to eat meat but only by saying his name at the time of slaughter are they reminded that life is sacred. The meat from the sacrifice is then divided into thirds: one-third is eaten by family, one-third is given away to friends, and one-third is given away to the poor.
In the days leading up to Eid al-Adha, you will see boys/men at the local markets selling goats.
- Religious Travel
Bond, James Bond OR The Octopussy Connection
One of Udaipur's claims to fame is that the 1983 James Bond movie Octopussy was filmed in and around Udaipur. Roger Moore played James Bond, Maud Adams played Octopussy, and Louis Jourdan played the villain, Kamal Khan. Bond's hotel was the Shiv Niwas Palace, Monsoon Palace was the residence Kamal Khan, and the Taj Lake Palace and Jag Mandir Palace doubled as the home of Octopussy.
You will frequently see references to the movie around the city and there are many restaurants that play the movie pretty much non-stop! I know I've seen it years ago but now that I have visited Udaipur, I'm going to check it out again. It might be fun to watch it before you visit.
- Budget Travel
We were lucky to arrive in Udaipur during the celebration of the Hindu festival Navaratri. Navaratri means nine nights in Sanskrit. During the festival Hindus worship nine different forms of the Goddess Durga. It is a major festival celebrated differently in different parts of India. (We had just come from Mumbai where Navratri is celebrated with the famous Garba and Dandiya-Raas dance - great fun!)
In Rajasthan, most people dress in new clothes. Rituals observed may include fasting and offering prayers to the Goddess. There is likely to be dancing as well! Festivals and fairs in India are great fun and the colorful clothing and dancing of Navaratri should not be missed!
An Udaipur Highlight!
A highlight of a visit to Udaipur is a boat ride on Lake Pichola. Surrounding the lake are beautiful havelis, gardens, ghats, temples, and the City Palace Complex. You'll get close to the (Taj) Lake Palace Hotel that sits in the middle, and will pass Jag Mandir Island or stop there, depending on which boat ride you choose. We made 2 trips, one in the morning when we caught glimpses of people washing clothes and bathing in the lake, and once later in the day when the light was a little warmer. (I expect if we had gone just a little later - at sunset - the light would have been golden.)
There are several operators and different types of boats - as well as different places to catch a boat. We took one from Rameshwar Ghat (the City Palace Gardens), which was a very popular location. You have to pay a small fee to go through the City Palace to get to the ghat. The boats here held more people than the other one we went on and had a canopy covering. This boat stops at Jag Mandir Island and you can re board to finish the trip around the lake once you've finished exploring the island. The cost is about Rs 300.
The other boat we took was a smaller boat from Lal Ghat. The canopied boat made the 30 minute trip around the lake without any stops for about Rs 200. (The Ghat was just below our hotel, Jaiwana Haveli.)
Both trips were very good and from both boats, the views of the City Palace Complex were amazing. From the water you can really appreciate its size. This was one of my favorite things to do in Udaipur and I'd definitely do it more than once.
- Sailing and Boating
Shilpgram: Arts & Crafts Village
Shilpgram, which literally means Village of Arts and Crafts, is part of a series of arts and crafts villages set up by the Indian government. It was set up to promote music, crafts, and architecture of the tribal people of western India.
There are replica houses and huts from various Indian states, musicians, puppeteers/puppet shows, dancers, potters, weavers, magicians, etc. While some people find it touristy, it is an interesting place to visit, especially if you may not have the chance to explore more of India. I enjoyed the different dances, the puppet show, and the Folk Medicine Garden.
Most of the village is outside and it can get very hot so try to get there in the morning. There are stalls to purchase crafts; my favorites are the miniature paintings.
Each December a large fair/festival is held at Shilpgram.
- Arts and Culture
Not-to-miss Rajasthani Dance Show
A Rajasthani dance show called Dharohar is held each night at Bagore Ki Haveli, a beautiful 18th century haveli at the edge of Lake Pichola. Having seen my fair share of cultural dance shows in India over the years, I didn't expect this one to be too much different. I was happy to find that this show was absolutely delightful. In fact, it ranked as one of my favorite Udaipur memories.
The hour-long show starts at 7 p.m. The show is held in an open-air terrace. Seating is on backless benches and on mats on the floor around the stage. Get there early (at least by 6:30) to secure a good seat. Patrons arrived - a pretty even mix of foreign and Indian tourists.
An informative introduction, the beating of a drum, the blowing of a conch shell, and a song started the show. We saw several types of dances and a delightful (string) puppet show. The dancers were wonderful - very skilled - and smiling genuinely - throughout the performances. The costumes - as expected from a Rajasthani dance show - were so colorful. The hour flew by and everyone was invited up on the stage for some dance lessons.
Some of the dances we saw:
Chari Dance: women dance with ignited brass pots on their head. (Traditional dance from the northern Rajasthan community of Gujjar.)
Terha Taal Dance: Women tie manjeeras (musical instruments) on different parts of their body and play it in 13 different styles. (Traditional dance from the Kamada Tribe of Rajasthan.)
Gumar Dance: colorfully dressed woman with their faces covered by a veil circle around and dance
with the rhythm. The music rises and the dancers twirl faster. Lovely to watch. (Traditional dance of Rajastahni royal families; performed at weddings, usually not in front of men.)
Bhavai Dance: a dance that represents the gratification of a woman when she gets water in the desert after walking so long while carrying many vessels on her head. This was my favorite dance. A single dancer started out with two earthen pots on her head and ended with 11. During the dance, she danced on the edges of a metal plate and in broken glass, all while keeping the pots on her head.
A rickshaw/auto can take you up the narrow lanes to the venue. You may want to make arrangements for him to wait and take you back to your hotel since there will be quite a few people exiting and trying to get a rickshaw.
Since the show is outdoors, you may want to put some mosquito repellent on as well. We weren't overwhelmed by them, but there were some.
Admission: Indian National: Rs 60, Foreigner: Rs 100, Child: Rs 30
Camera: Rs 100
- Arts and Culture
- Family Travel
Udaipur Magic: Not So Magical
I had taken a tour with Mumbai Magic a few years ago. They were highly rated and I wanted to check them out. When we picked up the guide she had us booked for the wrong tour. Once we got it straightened out, the tour continued and was....okay.
I decided to give the Magic tours another chance and booked a day trip to Ranakpur and Khumbalgarh Fort with Udaipur Magic. The Magic tours are more expensive than hiring a driver/guide on your own so my expectations may be a little higher.
Our driver and guide were good and overall our tour was good but I felt that it was very rushed particularly when we got to Ranakpur. Had we known it would be that way, we would have changed the itinerary or started earlier.
I think I'll pass on the Magic from now on and go on my own.
- Historical Travel
- Castles and Palaces
Sunset at Monsoon Palace
Sajjangarh, also known as Monsoon Palace, was built as a summer (monsoon) retreat for the royal family. It sits very high on a hill and a steep and winding road leads up to the palace about 1,100 feet above Udaipur. Planned by Maharana Sajjan Singh the palace was supposed to allow the royal family to watch the monsoon clouds sweep across Udaipur below, which sounds incredibly wonderful! Unfortunately Singh died suddenly before the palace was finished. His successor, Maharana Fateh Singh did finish the palace. Unfortunately they were not able to pump water up to the palace, and it was abandoned.
Sadly it has been neglected but I found it fascinating to explore, almost missing the sunset we had come to see. The front of the palace overlooks Udaipur and the Aravalli Hills. We went up in the late afternoon and spent time wandering around. Unfortunately the sky was rather hazy (not sure what from) and my photos
of Udaipur and the sunset were not as nice as the view must be on a clear day. (I actually thought the sunset was nicer from the rooftop restaurant at our hotel.)
James Bond Octopussy connection: The Monsoon Palace was used as the residence of the villain, Kamal Khan, an exiled Afghan prince.
- Castles and Palaces
World's Most Romantic Hotel?
The Lake Palace, also known as the Jag Miwas, sits in the middle of Lake Pichola. The stunning white marble palace was built between 1734 and 1751 and was once a royal summer retreat.
Today as a Taj Hotel, it is considered one of the world's greatest hotels as well as the most romantic. With the Aravalli Mountains as a backdrop or lit up at night, the Taj Lake Palace is a beautiful hotel. A hotel room with a lake view starts at around $700, depending upon the strength of the rupee.
It is a also popular location for film shooting, the most famous being James Bond's Octopussy.
There seems to be conflicting information as to whether or not you can visit for tea or a meal as a non-guest of the hotel. In any case, since we were traveling with a 4 yr old and an elderly MIL, we didn't check any further.
The hotel's boat will take you from the jetty at the City Palace to the hotel.
- Food and Dining
- Luxury Travel
Jag Mandir: the Inspiration for the Taj Mahal
Jag Mandir sits in the middle of Lake Pichola. This island palace was built in 1620 and is also known as the
Lake Garden Palace or Garden of Heaven. During a conflict with his father, Mughal Prince Khurram sought refuge in the palace in 1623 and 1624. The Prince later became Emperor Shah Jehan. It is said the palace was his inspiration for the Taj Mahal, which the Emperor built in honor of his wife.
Today the island is a resort with yoga and meditation classes. Weddings and other events are held here as well. The island has some lovely gardens but my favorite part of our visit were the life size stone elephants that guard the entrance.
There is also a restaurant where we had lunch The food was really not very good and I would skip eating there. Unless you have a lot of free time in Udaipur, I'd enjoy the Jag Mandir from the boat and not get off at the island. There really isn't much to do and the wait for another boat can be a little long.
You can reach Jag Mandir by taking a boat from the City Palace jetty. The views of the City Palace and Lake Palace hotel are excellent from the boat or from the balcony above the restaurant.
- Sailing and Boating
City Palace, Udaipur.
The City Palace, is by far the most prominent monument in the city with good views of the ensemble to be had from the riverside after Daiji bridge. Built in 1559 by Udai Singh and taking over 300 years to complete, the palace is in fact 11 different palaces woven together by galleries and passages including the Manak Mahal and the Moti Mahal palaces(Ruby and Pearl). The Jagdish temple is also part of the ensemble. The main part of the palace is now conserved as a museum with many exhibits and decorations. Built on a hill access is gained by a series of gates and steps up to the Tripolia gate where you'll find the ticket office. Through Tripolia you'll find yourself in the garden where elephant fights used to take place.
Entry fee is 115 INR for foreigners with concessions for children, students etc, but there is a hefty 225 INR to pay for any sort of camera used. There is a garden further along after the main one but costs extra to go in.
Views and walk around Pichola, Udaipur.
With the water sparkling under the sun, it became a bit of fun and a game to get the best "reflection" photo. It is also a very nice walk from the Gangaur ghat along the lakeside, across the Daiji bridge and then along the street and lakeside opposite the City Palace. We spent a full half-day enjoying the walk, the other side of the bridge is a lot quieter than the City Palace side and it was also over there that I got my best exchange for euros (84.30 INR per €). Just to the right hand side of the bridge there is a nice little café to stop and watch the world go by or watch the women on the ghats.
Along the ghats, Udaipur.
All around the lake Pichola you can find the women doing their washing or even washing themselves. The colours do make for some fascinating photo-ops, but please be discrete, If somebody says no don't insist, there are plenty of opportunities out there.
Performance at Bagore-ki-Haveli, Udaipur.
Right on the waterfront at Gangaur ghat is the Bagore-ki-Haveli and every eveninggenerally at 19h00 in one of its courtyards called Neem Chowk, there is a representation of traditionnal Rajasthani dances and also a puppet show set to music. This lasts around an hour with a selection of 5 different dances, one with flaming pots, another with knives and the last dance is a woman that starts with two earthenware pots on her head and finishes with eleven!!!!! Quite spectacular with the courtyard bathed in colourful lighting, started off an enjoyable evening.
Price is 100 INR for foreigners. Tickets can be bought during the daytime but just as easy to go 30 mins before the show. Here is a short clip taken from youtube.
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