If you reside in Delhi NCR and yet, are unaware of this gem, well, it is not too late now. Are you wondering what is so special about it? Then read on!
P had visited the Mughal Garden earlier & had been wowed by its grandiosity. A visit to this Garden was a fitting gift for N who is also an anthophile. The Garden can be visited during Udyanotsav held every year between February to March.
Entry is free of cost, but you do need to register on the easy-to-navigate website. The Mughal Garden comes under Circuit Three. We received the Visitor Entry Pass after registering on the website. It contained a registration number, date of visit, time slot, our names & guidelines.
Do note that you may not get tickets for the immediate dates. (Considering the current pandemic, the Udyanotsav 2021 dates have not been announced.)
So, up and about on Saturday, we made our way to the Mughal Garden. We were returning to the Presidential Estate a little more than a year later. On our first visit, we had toured Circuit One; you can read about it here.
The architecture had fascinated us. This time, we were ready to be mesmerized by nature. The day we visited; the heavens had opened. We kept hoping rain would not play spoilsport & luckily, it did not. A light drizzle continued throughout our visit but nothing that could dampen our sightseeing.
Entry is allowed from Gate 35 only. Leave behind everything except your cell phone, wallet, identity card and the Visitor Entry Pass. After scrutiny of our identity papers & a physical search, we were inside the Mughal Garden.
What is a Mughal Garden?
To the credit of the Mughals, they had a keen eye for aesthetics. They blended architecture & nature beautifully using plenty of flower beds & water bodies. India has, architecturally, benefited from the import of the Charbagh design, i.e., using canals to divide a rectangle/ square into four distinct parts.
The Mughal Garden in the Presidential Estate
The Mughal Garden at the President’s House is one such garden. This Garden had not been built by the Mughals but by Sir Edwin Lutyens, taking inspiration from the Charbagh design.
While the name ‘Mughal Garden’ makes the Mughal inspiration evident, what is unknown is it also includes British garden art elements – flower beds on lawn edges & along pavements.
The Garden consists of rare species of flowers. If you want to see more than 70 varieties of seasonal flowers, head here. The lush greenery is eye-catching.
We had a wild desire to become President just to be able to live in this beezer house with this beaut garden!
The first garden we encountered was a Bonsai Garden. This Garden was Former President Ms. Pratibha Patil’s contribution. We had never seen so many bonsai plants under one roof (or one sky to be technically correct).
The petite plants glistened with the raindrops. The variety left us spellbound – upright, slanting, cascade, semi cascade – jade, rubber bush, fern, camachile, tamarind & many, many more!
We remember camachile (better known as jungle jalebi) from our childhood. It was an integral part. We picked these off the ground & ate the sour & sweet pulp inside the seed pod!
Next, we stepped into the Herbal Garden. This Garden was established by Former President Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam. The Garden has more than 30 aromatic & medicinal plants. The best part is – their use is depicted alongside them.
It was a treat to our senses to be able to see & smell herbs like Ashwagandha, Damask Rose, Geranium, Lemongrass, Stevia etc. Another part of the garden contained shrubs & small trees of Bay Leaf, Bel, Cinnamon, Clove, Gooseberry, Hadjod, Jamun etc.
The President’s Office frequently invites farmers to see the herbal plants & encourages them to grow these for their own as well as society’s benefit.
Our next foray was into the Spiritual Garden. This Garden had ~40 different plants of importance to different religions – banyan, coconut, fig, Krishna burgad, rudraksh, etc.
The Garden conveys the message of co-existence despite differences.
As we gazed at the greenery around us, strains of music reached our ears. On looking around, we saw a Musical Fountain. This Fountain was Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam’s initiative.
Being Dr. Kalam’s brainchild, it was only natural that the Fountain incorporated scientific elements of digital electronics, hydro dynamics etc. In the tranquil Mughal Gardens, this brought liveliness.
It played the tunes of Shehnai & Vande Mataram.
This Garden is right in front of the Rashtrapati Bhavan main building. Water canals divide the Garden into a grid of squares. Spanish Cherry trees are planted around this.
It has two main gardens – East Lawn in oblong shape & Central Lawn in square shape. The Central Lawn is where the President meets diplomatic community, media persons etc.
Terrace gardens flank the sides of the Rectangular Garden. The centers of these gardens have inward falling fountains, making wells. At the end of the terrace gardens, two gazebos stand handsomely, sheltered by Putranjiva trees.
Water chutes have been creatively designed through levels of steps and with carved fish motifs, giving an impression of fishes in water!
Dahlias, annuals grown here, lined up the sides of this Garden. Their colors & sizes were unbelievable!
Rows & rows of a variety of orange – the China Orange – were a delight to see.
Undoubtedly, this Garden is one of the most beautiful gardens in the world.
While the Mughal Garden has a variety of flowers, roses are the prime attraction. & while roses are a permanent feature of the Garden, the prime bloom is in February-March.
We next walked into the Long Garden or more popularly called ‘rose garden’. As soon as we entered this Garden, the sweet smell of hundreds of roses wafted up to us.
Is there any other place where you can see more than 120 rose varieties? Adora, Blue Moon, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Taj Mahal etc. Mind boggling! The rose beds are margined with dahlia, iris, oxalis, salvia etc.
A pergola stands on the central pavement of the Garden with elephant trunks carved on it. The enclosing walls of the Long Garden are covered with creepers like flame vine, garlic vine etc.
On exiting this Garden, we came across Sweet Pea flowers & were wholly enamored with them. The splash of color, their lush leaves, & their tendency to climb made them a favorite for us.
Our visit ended at the Circular Garden. This Garden is also known as Pearl/ Sunken Garden. A fountain concealed in a circular pond forms the center of the Garden. This has more than 30 varieties of seasonal flowers. We had a jolly time gaping at alyssum, marigold, phlox, viola, sweet William etc.
A distillation unit is installed here to distill essential oils of aromatic & herbal plants.
On the Rashtrapati Bhavan website, a statement is written that summarizes the entire Mughal Garden beautifully, better than we could have done –
“If the Rashtrapati Bhavan is a masterpiece of architecture, the 15-acre Mughal Garden is considered its soul.”
We’d been to Udaipur earlier but never together. When we were drawing up our itinerary for the Rajasthan road trip, we knew we’d to include the city of lakes. It was our second destination.
We left our Jaipur home stay after a hearty breakfast. Our first halt was Kishangarh (102 KMS from Jaipur). On our first visit to Kishangarh, we’d noticed the town was famous for marble products. Since then, we’d been wanting to buy a marble Ganesha idol for our home. It was time to tick that off.
After a few marble purchases, we continued towards Udaipur. We usually don’t drive > 300 KMS in a day but Jaipur to Udaipur was close to 400. Phew! Lunch was a quick affair at a Kishanpura dhaba.
While Kishangarh was a planned halt, Nathdwara (248 KMS from Kishangarh) turned out to be an impromptu one. On a whim, we turned inside from the highway to bow our heads to Shrinathji. We promise to write a super shot blog post on Nathdwara separately. For now, let’s continue onto Udaipur.
The First Evening
We were at our home stay in Udaipur (46 KMS from Nathdwara) by late evening. A cup of tea later, we were out dining. Zomato recommended Khamma Ghani to us for dinner.
The restaurant is on the banks of the Lake Rang Sagar. The first thing that struck us was the panoramic view. We settled down to a candlelit dinner with buildings on the opposite shore lit up & reflecting in the lake. The shimmer of the reflections made for a pleasant, relaxed & romantic ambience.
Service was great. The servers were cooperative & helpful. Our server was patient enough to answer even our touristy questions! While they serve multiple cuisines, we would recommend sticking to Rajasthani. Of all the dishes we’d, the Chicken Banjara Tikka & Mewari Maans Dhungar were outstanding!
By the time we left, we felt more like guests than customers! The restaurant can seem to be on the expensive side but it’s worth it. Ample parking available.
THE NEXT DAY
Fresh after a restful night, we were ready to explore Udaipur. After breakfast, we drove to the City Palace Museum & parked our car in its parking. We bought tickets for the Palace Museum as well as the Light & Sound Show at one go.
After the Museum, we advanced through the Hathi Pol Bazar to reach the Jagdish Mandir. We then went to the Bagore Ki Haveli. Once we’d seen the Haveli, we moseyed along the lakeside & landed at the Gangaur Ghat. We then climbed the Daiji Bridge & had lunch at Shamiana Rooftop Restaurant.
Post that, we took an Uber to Moti Magri & ascended to the Maharana Pratap Smarak. We took an Uber back to the City Palace Museum precincts where we went to The Sunset Terrace. Our evening was reserved for the Mewar Light & Sound Show, & dinner was decided at Ambrai.
City Palace Museum
Let us put a few words & phrases together. Corridors, entrances, galleries, insignia, jharokhas, legends, elephants, facade, frescoes, reflections, views, miniature paintings, private quarters, royal kitchens, kerosene-operated fans. What do these words make you think of?
The City Palace Museum is all these & more. When a grand palace is converted into a museum, you can be sure to find rich history in each corner. Corridors where you can walk only in a single file. Picturesque entrances to the private quarters of royalty.
Multiple galleries displaying buggies, silver, arms, clothes etc. ‘Jharokhas’ that take your breath away. Legends of Rajput horses wearing trunks so that Mughal elephants don’t attack them. Frescoes & miniature paintings of Indians gods & goddesses.
The moment we entered the Mardana Mahal under the Ganesha Pol, we knew we were in for a treat. We didn’t know what to click & what not to. It was a good place to understand the whole of Rajasthan & the Rajputana culture.
A few parts we loved:
Mor Chowk – It’s aptly named for its 19th-century glass peacock mosaics & the Surya Prakash glass work. 5k mosaic pieces & concave mirrors make up the peacocks. Radha Krishna miniature paintings in the inner court (also at Bhim Vilas)
Zenana Mahal – It’s a diverse array of art. But, more than that, the blue walls are soothing. Breathtaking chandeliers!
Chini Chitra Shala – European tiles. Exquisite blue & white ceramic-work. & oh, the city view!
Laxmi Chowk – As you emerge from Badal Mahal & Rang Bhawan, you’ll reach the Laxmi Chowk. Sprawling & vast. Its surrounding greens make for a sight not to be missed.
Manak Chowk – The Manak Mahal opens into the Manak chowk. The religious insignia of the Sisodia dynasty can be seen at the entrance.
Kanch Ki Burj (Mirror Palace) – Dazzling room with glass inlay work
Baadi Mahal – It’s a Charbagh layout but not connected to the Islamic Charbagh design. Alluded more to Lord Shiva’s abode, as is reflected by its older name, Shivprasana Amar Vilas Mahal. So pleasant!
You can see an ivory door here. While it’s beautiful, it made us wonder how many elephants would have had to give up their tusks for this door to be constructed.
Maharana Bhupal Singh’s room – In spite of a disability, the Maharana envisaged a life for himself & his people.
Surya Choupar – For the Sun sculpture. The Mewar dynasty is Suryavanshi (children of the Sun). Sun sculptures are found everywhere in the erstwhile Mewar kingdom.
Tripolia Dwar – If we’ve learnt one thing from visiting excessive number of forts, it’s that triple-arched gates are called ‘Tripolias’. Next to the Gate, there is an arena where elephant fights were staged.
The City Palace has many courtyards & buildings. Don’t rush your visit. There’s a lot of walking & climbing involved; so, wear comfortable shoes. Good idea to hire a guide so that you understand the place well. There are also several shops inside the compound where you can buy clothes, mementos etc.
We exited from the Badi Pol & reached the Hathi Pol Market. We collect fridge magnets on our travels. Shops in the Market had good collections of fridge magnets of not just Udaipur but of other Rajasthani cities too. Beyond this was the Jagdish Mandir. It was at a busy intersection (i.e. no parking).
A steep flight of stairs from the road took us to the main temple. There was space outside to remove & keep footwear. We were awestruck with the stone carvings. They reminded us of the Ranakpur temples. The spire was quite high; it dominated the Udaipur skyline.
It was gratifying to get a glimpse of Lord Vishnu in the temple.
Bagore Ki Haveli
Bagore Ki Haveli is a restored 18th century haveli. It was built by Amarchand Badwa, the Prime Minister of Mewar from 1751 to 1778. After the City Palace Museum, the Haveli may seem like an anticlimax, but we must remember that while the former was the abode of kings, the latter was home to the prime minister.
Bagore Ki Haveli has been painstakingly restored. In fact, there was a room which shows the condition prior to the restoration. A room in the Haveli houses marionettes. It was quite lively. We’d a good time fooling around in this room.
Another section of the Bagore Ki Haveli houses turbans. This has (supposedly) the world’s biggest turban. The turban is made in such a way that its left side represents Gujarati farmers, the right Madhya Pradesh & in the middle is the Rajasthani style.
Also catching our fancy at Bagore Ki Haveli were arches, terraces, red colored rooms, & stained-glass windows. The Haveli was almost empty when we visited except for a handful of foreigners.
Despite there being so much to see, Udaipur can also be just about calm lakeside strolls. We found ourselves on the Gangaur Ghat, right next to the Bagore Ki Haveli. This is a primary ghat on the Lake Pichola & hosts festive rituals. We spent a few minutes here, absorbing the beauty of the lake.
We also spotted the Lake Pichola Hotel on the opposite bank. We didn’t visit it but can say that a meal on its rooftop restaurant will be worth it.
Without a doubt, the Gangaur Ghat can be cleaner but if you ignore the dirt, it’s a decent place to click photographs.
Daiji Bridge is a foot way bridge over the Lake Pichola. If you want to go to the Ambrai Ghat from the Gangaur Ghat on foot, this is the path that will take you there. Once you stand at the midpoint of the bridge, you get a terrific 360-degree view of Lake Pichola & its surroundings. Quite a camera-ready situation to be in!
As we took in the view, we couldn’t decide if the blue of the sky or the blue of the water was better. We got reminded of what Rudyard Kipling wrote in Letters of Marque – “If the Venetian, owned the Pichola Lake, he might say with justice, ‘see it and die’”.
Sadly, the bridge is quite dirty with cow dung. You’ve to be careful where you step.
You can spot the Mohan Mandir from the Daiji Bridge. The Mandir is a small gazebo – kind of structure in the middle of Lake Pichola. In the earlier days, royalty would watch Gangaur celebrations seated here.
It was time for lunch. We looked for a place that would afford a view of the Lake Pichola & found one in Shamiana Rooftop Restaurant.
Shamiana Rooftop Restaurant
This is the place if you want to have a relaxed meal. The rooftop gives an unobstructed view of Lake Pichola & the skyline on the opposite bank. & let us say – the view is LIT!
Regarding food & beverages, we drank Cosmopolitan & LIIT, & ate Create Your Own Pizza & Murgh Soola. The F&B was okay – neither great nor bad.
The service was good. Be prepared to climb a couple of floors to get to the rooftop; we didn’t spot an elevator here.
Moti Magri is a hill near the Fateh Sagar Lake. The hilltop offers a view of the Aravalli range & the Lake. On top of Moti Magri is the Maharana Pratap Smarak.
We didn’t want to take our car out from its comfortable parking. So, we called an Uber! We got one near Chand Pole. (Try to explore these lanes of Udaipur too; a different world altogether!)
The Uber dropped us at the base of the Moti Magri. After that lunch, we felt climbing on foot would be a good exercise. (Truth be told – the cab refused to go inside & uphill!) There are two ways to reach the Moti Magri top on which the Maharana Pratap Memorial is located – a winding road for vehicles, & a flight of stairs. We opted for the stairs; it killed our knees, but we took less time.
When all the stories of legends come back rushing to you, you know you’re at the right place! Perched atop Moti Magri, with sweeping views of the city below, the Smarak is a statue of Maharana Pratap atop his beloved horse, Chetak.
Legend has it that Chetak got injured in battle but crossed Haldighati (on three legs carrying his master. The horse gave us its life to save Maharana Pratap. The Memorial immortalizes the bravery of both & evokes emotions of courage. It has plaques narrating history.
The Moti Magri top is calm & away from chaos. The view from the top is beautiful & serene. There are a couple of paths leading down to other statues. Food options are available as are plenty of photo-ops.
On our way down, we halted at Hall of Heroes & enjoyed murals & portraits of Mewari kings & other notable personalities. We also admired mannequins dressed for war & large models of old cities & battlefields.
The Sunset Terrace
We descended the Moti Magri through the winding road & called an Uber to take us to the City Palace Museum precincts. It was time for some sunset watching. We’d been recommended The Sunset Terrace for a great sunset view. It’s an al fresco restaurant in the Taj Fateh Prakash Palace.
We perched ourselves at The Sunset Terrace a little before sunset & made ourselves comfortable with LIIT & Masala Chai. The service was good but a little aloof. The view, of course, is breathtaking. As the Sun disappeared behind the combination of Taj Lake Palace + Lake Pichola + Aravalli, we could only sigh at the sight.
City Palace Museum Light & Sound Show
As soon as the Sun went down, we finished our drinks & hurried inside the City Palace for the Light & Sound Show. The Show is a good way to explore centuries of Mewar history. It’s narrated by Shriji Arvind Singh, present custodian of the House of Mewar. What a baritone!
After an English performance, there’s one in Hindi as well. The beauty of the performance & the melodic sounds offer an enjoyable experience.
This must be the busiest restaurant in Udaipur. We’d to book our table a night in advance. But we understood the fuss once we got here. Located on the Ambrai Ghat with a view of the City Palace Museum across Lake Pichola, this must be one of the restaurants in India that give a romantic experience.
Our table was lit with only a tealight but the twinkling lights from the monuments across the Pichola provided all the bokeh we needed. Our server took really good care of us.
We drank Fire & Ice and LIIT. We ate Daal Tadka, Murgh Dhungar, Maans K Sula Kebab & Steamed Rice. Usually, restaurants with views compromise on food. Not Ambrai. The food was as good as the view. The restaurant is expensive but VFM we would say.
The Last Morning
It was time to head to our next destination but only after a hearty breakfast & clicking photographs of our home stay!
Chandra Niwas Home Stay is a homely & safe place to stay. It’s well located from the heart of Udaipur – near enough to reach Lake Pichola in 10 minutes, yet far enough from the hustle bustle. Samvit, the host, was helpful right from the time of the booking.
His team members took good care of us during our stay. Our breakfast was included & was simple but delicious – aloo paratha & idli sambhar with standard items like bread, fruits etc. We could park our vehicle right outside the house.
The best part for us was that the home stay was economical. We didn’t want to spend too much on accommodation as we intended to be out sightseeing the entire day. Chandra Niwas fit perfectly that way.
While coming from Jaipur by road, we’d a bit of a tough time reaching the Home Stay because of Google Maps pushing us into dingy lanes. We became apprehensive seeing the surroundings, but our fears turned out to be unfounded.
The room allotted to us was on the roof & extremely sparsely furnished. Ditto for the bathroom. If the rooms are made a little cozier, it will be great.
P.S. We feel Chandra Niwas Home Stay is better suited for backpacking/ budget travelers, or people like us who don’t mind staying in the most basic of accommodations.