Day's end is coming: a slow fade in wan light but always dramatic. And all eyes in Udaipur, India's city of lakes, turn toward the water. From the turrets of the City Palace, or the stacked balconies of ornately carved haveli mansions, or even humble rooftops lined with urns and dung, the view below shimmers. Oval and still, Lake Picholastudded with the cold-marble islet of its namesake hotelcould be a city green, except that it's blue. It is a source of reflection in all senses.
Anyone who can amble heads through stone gates to lakefront vantage pointsespecially after monsoon rains have helped replenish the waters. The hawkers and balloon sellers make a killing. Unlike the rest of Rajasthan, haunt of mustachioed marksmen, Udaipur is free of hulking battlements. No echo of ancient slaughters there. And unlike India's sacred rivers, Udaipur's lakes have nothing to do with the grim cycles of death and rebirth. Lake Pichola was one of the first of many artificial constructs in an entirely artificial capital started in 1559. The summer retreat of the Mewars, a fearsome dynasty of 1,400 years, it became their permanent seat of power after they were subdued by the Mughals and forced to fall back from their capital Chittor. When Prince Khurram, son of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, sought refuge in Udaipur after a failed rebellion against his father in 1623, the Mewars housed him in the island palace of Jag Mandir. Locals say that it helped inspire Khurram's own Taj Mahal.
From the start, Udaipur was a regal retreat meant to resemble one of those earthly paradises in a painting. But that doesn't mean it excludes the populace from its chief daily pleasurethe lakeside sunset. Dynasties may come and go, but at a waterfront snack shop the frothy tea and triangles of chapati come with a view that seems almost eternal.
by John Krich