A trip to the land of the Royals! – By Mrs. Mangala Pai

August 10, 2011 4 comments

Udaipur, known as the Lake City or the White City, is one of the most beautiful cities of Rajasthan. Famous for its lakes and palaces, it was founded by Maharana Udai Singhji II of Mewar, of the Sisodia Rajput clan. Legend has it that Maharana Udai Singhji of Mewar, during one of his hunting expeditions in the foothills of the Aravalli , met a hermit who blessed him and asked him to build a palace on the very spot, assuring him that it would be well protected. Thus Maharana Udai Singh II built a complex of palaces on the bank of the Lake Pichola, called the City Palace, a magnificent architectural piece which was developed by the subsequent Maharanas over a period of 300 years and more.

City Palace, Udaipur

Considered to be the largest palace complex in Rajasthan, this palace formed the last capital of the ruling Sisodiya clan of Udaipur.

Suraj Gokhda, Mor-Chowk, Sheesh Mahal, Moti Mahal, Krishna Vilas, Dilkush Mahal, Shambu Niwas, Bhim Vilas, Amar Vilas, Badi Mahal, Fateh Prakash Palace and Shiv Niwas Palace are some of the structures within this complex.  The Fateh Prakash Palace and Shiv Niwas Palace have been converted into luxury hotels. It takes a couple of hours to walk through the part of the palace which has been converted to a museum. Every evening, there is a light and sound show at dusk, which takes place on the grounds of the Manek Chowk, which seeks to recreate the glorious past of the Mewar dynasty. The show encases the rich history of the royal family right from the founder, Maharana Bappa Rawal, to Princess Padmini’s Johar at Chittor, Princess Karmavati’s Johar, Panna Dayi’s sacrifice, Maharana Pratap Singh’s valour, to the present Maharana Sri Arvind Singhji Mewar.  It is a must-watch and do remember to opt for the terrace seats instead of the garden seats.

Lake Palace

The Lake Palace which is now a luxury hotel, and Jag Mandir are two other beautiful palaces which have been constructed on islands on Lake Pichola.

One can also visit Jagdish Mandir and Bagore ki Haveli which are at walking distance from the City Palace.

Udaipur is also famous for its gardens, especially Saheliyon ki Badi.  It is an ornamental garden with a lotus pool studded with water fountains and guarded by four marble elephants. This was constructed for the female members of the royal family.

Saheliyon ki badi

Moti Magri or Pearl Hill overlooking the Fateh Sagar Lake is a memorial dedicated to the Rajput hero, Maharana Pratap Singh.  It has a bronze statue of the Maharana astride his favourite horse, Chetak.  Chetak holds a special place in the Mewar history as he had loyally taken his master, the Maharana, to safety in spite of being fatally injured in the Haldi Ghati battle.  He proved his loyalty until his very last breath.

Maharana Pratap Singh Statue

Special mention is given to Hakim Khan Sur who was a loyal assistant to Maharana Pratap Singh during the Haldi Ghati battle.  Hence there is a statue of Hakim Khan Sur at Moti Magri.

Hakim Khan Sur

Shilpgram, an artisan’s village built at a distance of around 5 km from the city, is a government initiative to promote rural and tribal culture and art from the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Goa, and Maharashtra.  Talented artisans are given an opportunity to stay at Shilpgram for 15 days at a time, with a stipend, to promote their rural and tribal art and culture.  Various groups selling wares ranging from pottery, traditional jewellery, block-print textiles, footwear etc, and various folk music and dance groups form the essence of this village setting.  It is a delight to watch the puppet show, the Gujarati folk dance, the Rajasthani folk dance etc.

Monsoon Palace or Sajjangarh Palace is situated atop a hill overlooking Lake Pichola. It gives a panoramic view of the city of Udaipur. It is said that it was built by Maharana Sajjan Singh of Mewar to watch the monsoon clouds and also to enable him a view of his ancestral palace at Chittorgarh.

Vintage car collection of Udaipur.  It is a collection of all the vehicles owned by the Maharanas since the last several decades, including the 150-year-old buggy, horse-driven carts, as well as vintage cars like the Cadillac, Rolls Royce, Chevrolet etc.  There are two types of tickets for the museum. One, which includes just the car exhibit and a pack of fruit juice, and another which in addition to the car exhibit and the fruit juice, includes a traditional Mewar luncheon at a little extra price.

Recommendations:

  1. Avoid accommodation in the old city as it is thronged by foreigners and so the old city has adapted itself completely to the foreigner’s liking be it in food or shopping.
  2. Hotel Ram Pratap Palace overlooking the Fatehsagar Lake is a great place to stay.
  3. Engage an auto to go about the old city as the lanes are narrow and it is easier to get around by auto.
  4. Hotel Berry’s, a multicuisine restaurant, opposite Chetak Circle offers great food, both veg and non-veg.
  5. Shopping at Shilpagram is highly recommended both for quality and the reasonable prices.

By: Mrs. Mangala Pai

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Arctic Scuba Diving Adventure!!!


“Diving in Arctic waters will be warmer than when we dived in the Antarctic”, my buddy said, “because the warm Gulf Stream current, travels far north and warms the polar region”.  That prospect sounded inviting so I signed up for the adventure.  True enough, it was warmer diving in the Arctic, but only by 2 degrees, as my dive computer registered 30 degrees in Svalbard, an archipelago of islands far above the Arctic Circle, about 500 miles from the North Pole.

Using connecting flights through London and Oslo, I reached Svalbard’s largest town, Longyearbyen, home to about 2500 inhabitants, which is on Spitsbergen, the major island of the archipelago.  Coincidentally enough, the town is named after an American, John Longyear, who was the main shareholder of a company that mined coal from 1905.  Coal reserves dwindled and now mining is no longer the major industry, being replaced with tourism as the main engine of the town’s economy.  By the way, high on a hill, near the Longyearbyen Airport, one can see a drab concrete structure which appears to be some sort of an entrance.  Indeed, this is the site of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, where millions of the world’s seeds are stored in permanent deep freeze, in case, humans might need them in the future, as protection against natural and human disasters.

We boarded the modernized MV Plancius, along with a hundred other passengers for one week of exploration among the many Svalbard islands.  Fifteen of us paid extra to scuba dive.  Unlike the 20-foot swells we experienced crossing the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula, our Arctic foray was like plying the waters of a placid lake.

Wildlife is plentiful with frequent sightings of polar bears, walruses, fox, seals, whales, and thousands of birds fluttering around breeding cliffs, swarming like bees around a hive.  Every zodiac is armed with flares and a rifle to warn, ward off and, if needed, subdue any menace from polar bears as Svalbard is home to the largest population in the world of these magnificent creatures.

In six days, I completed 8 dives. Water temps varied from 30-39 Fahrenheit and visibility anywhere from 5 feet to 50 feet.  Coldest dive was 30 degrees and longest was 61 minutes.  As in the Antarctic dive duration was limited, not by the amount of air in our 80cf steel tanks, but by our capacity to endure increasing pain, from the frigid waters, which first accost the hands and then the feet.  A few brave souls utilized wet gloves and were usually the first out of the water.  Some, with dry gloves, experienced leaks and had to call their dive within minutes. Having dived both Polar Regions, I must applaud the Dive Concepts dry glove system.  Knock on cambium of course, but these dry gloves have not failed a single time in hundreds of dives.  They are so easy to snap on and off, I cannot see why others struggle with other less functional glove systems that continually fail and produce great frustration.

At most dive sites, there was a surprising thicket of kelp, among which flourished amphipods, stars, snails, tunicates, anemones, crabs and other crustaceans and a few fish, the largest a dark sculpin-like fish at 8 inches.  We did one bottomless, open-water dive at the edge of an ice sheet, where buoyancy was difficult to manage due to the constant mixing of fresh and salt waters.  Here, ctenophores were plentiful, many like the Beroe which resemble inverts in our own Southern California waters.  Of particular interest was the pelagic opisthobranch, yes, a sea slug that lives in the water column, the Sea Angel (Clione limacina).

Certainly a dive trip to remember!  Will post photos soon.

Hello world! Welcome to Just BackPack!!!

July 24, 2011 2 comments

Just BackPack is for those who want to “Get Lost” in the wilderness of Mother Nature. Who want to explore the unexplored? For who time, religion, boundaries have no meaning.

Just BackPack is for those, who don’t travel with their egos or designation. Who like to learn about new culture, food and end up as a local rather than live as a tourist.

Just BackPack is for those who don’t run during their journey, as you aren’t a tourist but an explorer. You end up creating your own itinerary & choose your own stay…

So just BackPack as you are about to be transferred in a virtual backpacking world …