Udaipur has verdant woods and valleys, lofty mountain peaks that seem to kiss the sky, ever-flowing gurgling streams, glistening lakes and a wide variety of fauna and flora. Studded with several lakes, Udaipur has a Venice like view and stands out in stark contrast with its desert neighbourhood. Quite a few sanctuaries with their unique features add to the attraction of the region.
The picturesque lake Picchola by Pichhu Banjara in 1362 during the reign of Lakha and named after him. It was later on enlarged by Maharana Udaisingh, the founder of the city. It was the first of the lake system of Udaipur. On the eastern bank of the lake lie important places like the splendid City Palace, the home of Mewar rulers, famous temples, beautiful bathing ghats like the well-known Gangaur Ghat and the historic embankment. The lake has two heritage island hotels in it. The Lake Palace hotel has played host to eminent personalities and still attracts elite tourists. The other one Jagmandir where Prince Khurram stayed for some
time and it is believed that some ideas from it were used in building the famous Taj Mahal. It now hosts celebrations like marriages and birthdays of the super rich from all over the globe.
Hemmed in, on three sides by the green Aravali hills and by Pratap Memorial Moti Magri on the fourth is the beautiful Fateh Sagar lake. Maharana Jaisingh built it in 1678 but it was damaged due to heavy floods in the reign of Bhim Singh. Later on Maharana Fatehsingh got it rebuilt and it was named after him. A lesser known fact is that the dam was inaugurated by Duke of Connaught, the third son of Queen Victoria, in the late 19th century and was known as the Duke of Connaught Bund for several years.
Called ‘FS’ by the youth this pear-shaped lake, is their favourite haunt. It has three islands. Nehru Park has a boat-shaped restaurant and a small zoo for children. The second island has brilliant water-jet fountains. On the third one is the famous Solar Observatory one of the rare ones located in a lake which takes photographs of the sun and passes them on to other observatories where the sun is out at a time other than that in Lake City.
Jaisamand lake one of the biggest man-made lakes and the second largest in Asia, was built by Maharana Jaisingh in the 17th Century. Exquisite marble ‘chhatris’ flank the embankment and beautiful summer palaces of the Udaipur Maharanas line both sides of the lake. The lake comprises seven islands some of which are still inhabitated be the Bhil Meena tribe who travel from one island to another through boats. They hunt with traditional arms and their main food is fish. On the hillock near the bank of the lake is a palace called Roothi Rani Ka Mahal built by Maharana Jaisingh from where one can have a beautiful view of the expansive waters of the lake.
Built by Maharana Rajsingh in 1660 the Rajsamand lake h as an interesting story related to it. It is said that the Maharana in a burst of defiance, built this beautiful complex after he married a Rajput princess Charumati from Kishangarh state, despite knowing that Aurengzeb too had proposed to marry her. The beautiful embankment has elaborately carved archways and pavilions called ‘nauchowki’. There are exquisite carvings of the sun, chariots, gods and birds. The history of Mewar is inscribed in 1017 stanzas, on 27 marble slabs, that are called Raj Prashtati. It has also been acknowledged as one of the longest etchings in India.
Udaipur can also boast of having several unique sanctuaries. About 5 kms from Udaipur is the Sajjangarh sanctuary which has Sajjangarh Palace or Monsoon Palace. Here is found the smallest cat in the world called Rusty Spotted cat which weighs 1.6 kilos and looks like a small panther. It gives birth to one kitten a time and can climb up trees. Among the carnivorous animals found here, the panther is the topmost predator besides hyena, jackal, jungle cat and common fox. Herbivorous fauna of this sanctuary includes a variety of deer, wild boar, common langur, civet, mongoose etc. Here can be found rare white napted teat, ‘laraku jhapta murga’, Alpine swift, fast running slender snake, the noctunal blind snake, heart-shaped barn owl and large fleets of small bats. The plants found here include 79 species of flowering and 4 species of non-flowering ones. There are a lot of ‘mahua’ groves and ‘gugal’ plants. Also seen here are birds like babblers, quails, parakeets, barbets etc.
The Kumbhalgarh Sanctuary has the distinction of being the origin of a river which starts in the west and falls into Arabian Sea as well as the another originating in the east and falling into the Bay of Bengal. This is so because the Great Water Dividing line falls in this region.
Besides the famous Kumbhalgarh fort, where Maharana Pratap was born, other important places in the sanctuary area are the famous Ranakpur temple, Muchhala Mahavir Jain temple, Foota Dewal temple and Parshuram Mahadev temple. The sanctuary spread our 6.11 sq.km. has the Jarga mountain, the highest Aravali peak second only to Guru Sikhar at Mount Abu. Kumbhalgarh fort has the longest wall measuring 38 km, second only to the Chinese Wall. Bear, panther, wolf, wild fowl, and four-horned stag can be seen here. The sanctuary with lofty peaks and valleys has a rare combination of flora of South India and Himalayan vegetation. Dhok is the main species of the forest. The other trees include ber, khair, gular, salar, neem, kumtha, ardu, khejri etc. At the higher attitudes bamboo, salar, khirni, siris, godal, thur etc. are a common occurence. During rainy season the sanctuary is full of zinia and other flowering plants.
Jaisamand sanctuary is about 52 km. from Udaipur. The lake is 14 km long and 9 km wide. The sanctuary includes Saladia Kot, Gamdhar Odi and Deemda dams. Rajas and Maharajas used to come here for hunting panthers. It houses famous temples like Rakeshwar Mahadev and Karodia Behron.
Due to the huge lake, there is a large variety of water creatures like, crocodiles, tortoise, various species of fishes and birds. Chinkaras in small groups can be seen here. Panthers, wild boar, snakes, peacocks, butterflies also are in abundance here. Sitamata the greenest sanctuary of Rajasthan lies about 100 kms from Udaipur. A mixed form of plateau of Aravali, Vindhyachal and Malwa can be seen here. It is said that Sita brought up her sons Luv and Kush at Valmiki Ashram near Sitamata temple. Near the Ashram there are two streams, one hot and another cold. The Jakham river and dam are worth seeing. A rare species of frog is found here. It lives in trees and lays its eggs there. It can jump over long distances and climb up straight walls. The sanctuary is also the abode of the rare flying squirrel which can glide from high trees. Long-billed vultures are present here in large numbers. Other creatures that inhabit the place include panthers, wild boar, wild cats, snakes, etc. There are famous ‘sagwan’ forests, huge ‘mahua’ trees and a large variety of rare plants and creepers.
Its enchanting lakes and facinating sanctuaries make Mewar is a great destination for tourists and nature lovers.