Udaipur is the first city in Rajasthan that I have visited in a wheelchair. The city is adorned with multiple lakes, palaces, temples and gardens. The rich heritage of the Maharanas from the Mewar dynasty has been well preserved to give every traveler a surreal experience.
However, most people who have visited Udaipur opined that very few places are accessible in a wheelchair. Continue reading to find out about my adventures and accessibility in Udaipur.
Foundation of a capital city that is difficult to access
Udaipur was established by Maharana Udai Singh and get its name from him. It is located in a valley, surrounded by mountains, this made it easier for the rulers to protect the city from intruders and invading armies.
You will find that almost all of the noteworthy (a.k.a touristy) places are situated either on top of the mountains, in the center of the lakes or in the narrow lanes of the old city.
Since there was a clear objective when building the city, this line of thinking is also reflected in its various structures, especially the city palace. There are narrow passages inside the palace through which only one person can go at a time. Doors inside the palace are smaller in height so that the person entering has to bend to enter the next room.
I am glad to have the help of team Planet Abled and their local guide Mr. Ranvijay Singh who helped in planning my itinerary, did the groundwork about accessibility and made my tour full of adventures.
A date with Royalty at Udaipur City Palace
Udaipur’s City Palace is one of the largest palaces in Rajasthan. A part of the palace has been turned into a museum and is open to the public. Another part has been converted into two hotels. The palace belongs to the Mewar dynasty and their 76th generation still lives in a part of the palace.
This picture is a summary of everything that I would like to tell you about the city palace.
Notice the difference in designs of the structures, the different materials used on the left and the right side of this image. That’s because this architectural marvel, as stands today, took over 400 years to build and is a combined effort 22 Maharanas (aka King of Kings).
In the center of this picture, behind the white umbrellas, is Toran Pol (aka Toran gate). This is the way to go inside the palace.
The white structure, on the left-hand side, is a part of Zenana Mahal (aka Queen’s palace). This is the most accessible part of the entire palace. There are small ramps throughout to make access by wheelchair easy. Inside there are exhibits that display the elaborate costumes worn by the Kings and Queens, the palkis that were used by the queens to travel and so on. There is also a beautiful courtyard.
The yellow structure, on the right-hand side, is a part of Mardana Mahal (aka King’s palace). Towards the bottom of the image, is a ramp surrounded by a black and golden grill. This ramp leads to an ancient elevator that wheelchair users can use to go to the first floor of the palace. The elevator opens up to the Mor Chowk (Peacock Courtyard) where the walls are adorned with huge peacock murals made of glass pieces.
There are single steps to enter all rooms inside the Mardana Mahal. For example, if you want to see the colorful dining area of the Maharana up close or see the measuring scale used to weigh the Maharana with gold. Thankfully they have placed ramps making it convenient for wheelchair users.
We took this picture towards the end of our palace tour, sipping coolers at the Palki Khana restaurant. My wheelchair had to be lifted over four steps by their staff. There is an accessible restaurant in the palace campus, for that, you have to go to the area which has been converted into a hotel. Planet Abled team advised us to have lunch there, but we were not too hungry so settled for a quick bite at Palki Khana.
I am happy to see that the palace authorities have begun to take the right steps in making Udaipur’s City Palace accessible. Hopefully, in the near future, we will be able to visit more parts of the palace.
Ropeway to Karni Mata Temple at Doodh Talai
Being able to travel on a ropeway in my wheelchair was one of the top two reasons I was excited about coming to Udaipur.
To reach the base of the ropeway ride, you have to drive up a small hillock near Doodh Talai Lake. The ropeway takes tourists to the Karni Mata Temple situated on top of Machalla Hill.
The entire path from the car parking area, leading to the Gandolas (aka Cable Car) is 100% accessible in a wheelchair. Since the gondolas are suspended on a cable, there is a gap of approximately 6 inches from the floor, at the boarding point. This is the only juncture where the wheelchair will have to be manually lifted and placed inside the gondola.
On an average 4 to 6 adults can comfortably sit inside the gondola. However, when a wheelchair is placed inside, there is space for only 1 or 2 additional people. After boarding the shaky gondola I found the rest of the ride as smooth as silk.
Gliding over a lush green cover with a view of iconic monuments from the historic city and the sun sparkling on the Pichola Lake was breathtaking. After reaching the top, we spend some time at the adjacent restaurant and its viewing gallery. This was summer time, so gorging on ice cream was an obvious choice.
The only dampener for me was that the duration of the cable car ride is just 5 minutes one-way. After going up and down once, I was left wanting for more.
Udaipur in 20 mins aka Boat ride at Lake Pichola
Pichola is the largest lake in the city. Thanks to a special arrangement with the Udaipur palace authorities, we were able to use their private ghat, that was equipped with a ramp, for boarding our chartered boat. The ramp ended in a floating platform to which the boat was anchored.
My wheelchair had to be lifted once to go from the ramp to the floating platform, and then again from the floating platform to get inside the boat. There was enough staff around to help with this.
During the picturesque boat ride, we got a view of most of the historical monuments in the city along with other beautiful structures built on small islands in the middle of the lake. The lake-side is lined with the City Palace, havelis of the nobles, most prominent being the Bagore ki Haveli. The boat ride provides a fantastic view of the distant monsoon palace- Sajjangarh perched on the top of a hill. We also went past the Taj Lake Palace hotel. Located on an island in the middle of the lake. It is also referred to as the most romantic hotel in the world.
What I enjoyed most was cruising through the middle of the lake, being so close to the blue waters and the wind going through my hair as the boat speed towards its destination. The magnificent structures along the lake looked brilliantly golden in the sunlight. It was a sight to behold.
Dining at Jag Mandir Island Palace
Our destination for the boat ride was Jag Mandir, once a lake palace now converted into a hotel. A floating platform greeted us when we reached Jag Mandir. My wheelchair was lifted out of the boat and off the platform with the help of the hotel staff.
Guests can stay overnight at this island palace. The rooms and their washrooms are spacious for a wheelchair to go around. However, there is one big step at the entrance of the room where the wheelchair will have to be lifted. They also have a small museum that displays different types of Dolis used by the Royals. Here as well, a wheelchair user will have to cross one big step at the entrance.
I freshened up in one of the rooms and set out to explore the property. Jag Mandir is also referred to as Lake Garden Palace. When you get off the boat, the garden is on the right-hand side. Here again, there are three steps at the entrance. After this, I went around the garden till the time there was a flat pathway. I did not see rest of the garden because I was tired of the many single-steps spread around. Even then I’d call this a good place to watch the sun go down and take pictures.
We had dinner at the Darikhana restaurant. It gave us a view of the lake but since it was dark we could only see reflections of the lights from distant monuments. The food and its taste are nothing to talk about. I also found it expensive at Rs 2000 cover charge per person. We were 5 adults and after ordering a round of drinks, one vegetarian and a non-vegetarian starter, we were close to exhausting the cover charge.
When returning, instead of a chartered jetty, we traveled back in a big ferry used by other tourists and the Jagmandir staff. This was more spacious.
Except for having a meal here, I would recommend you to visit Jag Mandir purely to enjoy its location in the middle of the lake. Just sitting in the garden or the open the restaurant, watching the calm lake and flock of birds making their way to their homes at sunset is peaceful.
Magical fountains at ‘accessible’ Saheliyon Ki Bari
Most of us are familiar with the modern light and sound shows that are put up with the use of musical fountains of varying length and breadth.
But this Saheliyon Ki Bari (aka Garden of the Maidens), built over 300 years ago, is nothing but pure magic. The Maharana specially created Fatehsagar lake so that it’s stored water can be used in this garden. Because of the higher elevation of the lake, water would flow into the fountains without the use of any motors.
They are a total of five fountains with one of them in the centre. At any time in the surrounding four fountains, if you start clapping rigorously, the strength of the water flow increases. It was a truly magical moment to see my family clapping and the intensity of water in the fountain go higher.
At the entrance is the Welcome fountain that goes along the pathway. Further down is Savan Badho. When you close your eyes and listen, you will feel like it’s raining. The Kamal Talai fountain pond is filled with Lotus plants. It is said that the king and queen would sit on opposite sides of this fountain and watch the artisans perform. The fourth fountain is in Raas Leela area where the royalty enjoyed playing Holi. The fifth is Bin Badal Barsaat that the Maharana created especially for his daughter. This is the only inaccessible place in the entire garden because of its steps.
Overall, there are pathways leading to all the fountains, except one, and through the beautiful flower gardens. This is clearly one of the most accessible places in Udaipur and no wheelchair user should miss this.
I hope that this article was able to bust all myths related to how accessible or inaccessible Udaipur is. Of all the historic cities in India, Udaipur must certainly be on the bucket list for wheelchair users.