It’s about 5pm in the evening and we are finally through with our meetings for the day. I just have about a couple of hours in hand to explore a local attraction before I join my group again. I can hardly do justice to the City Palace which is by far the most sought after attraction of Udaipur. Most museums start closing by 6. Besides, having been locked indoors all day, I decide I could do with some greenery and head to ‘Saheliyon ki Badi’ near Fateh Sagar Lake. Firstly, the pronunciation and the meaning of the words ‘Saheliyon ki Badi’ - the last word is enunciated exactly like baadi or home in Bengali, but literally means a garden or courtyard. This courtyard that dates back to the 1700’s, was built by and for the royalty – to be precise, for the many royal women, their mates and companions as well as their female servants collectively called Saheliyon. Legend has it that the King of that time, Maharana Sangram Singh II, felt that there should be a private space which his Queen should have exclusively to herself; where she could be free from the protocols and compulsions of the court and enjoy her leisure hours. Since the Queen was accompanied by 48 maids in her marriage, an expansive garden was conceived and indeed designed by the King for this exclusive purpose and it acquired the name ‘Saheliyon ki badi.’ The peak tourist season is at least a month away and there are many ‘guides’ loitering around the gate, offering their services. Even in this digital 24*7 connected age I opt for the services of a guide wherever I can. It is interesting to hear them narrate exaggerated versions of anecdotes and stories, to hear the local language and chat with them about their town and its life. My guide, Mahes and I enter the once palatial gardens and he starts rolling off all the Wikipedia facts. Built in which year, by whom, for whom and so on. The entrance is indeed impressive with rows of fountains and a wide walkway bounded by lush greenery on both sides – quite a contrast to the otherwise dry lands of the state. There are a total of four pavilions, each laid out beautifully and in perfect symmetry. All very clean too, I’m pleased to note. Finely chiselled marble fountains, pools filled with water lilies and ornate gardens greet you at every step. Particularly eye catching are the stunning white marble elephants, a popular selfie spot. My guide asks me to clap my hands loud and firmly near one of the elephants and watch carefully – the water fountain is synced to the sound of a clap and its height and flow increases in response to it! Quite a remarkable feat of architecture which is intact even after 300 years. “Yeh tab ka bulutooth hae,” he quips. (This was the Bluetooth of that time). Further down, I spot a carved marble throne in one corner, offering a wide view of the garden. The throne was the King’s seat on the rare occasions that he decided to pay the Queen a visit. The light is just right as the sun has set, adding a warm glow to the fountains and arches that could well do with a scrub. Birds are bound homewards and parakeets cast green patterns in the horizon. Couples, mostly locals and young children make the most of the charming gardens and the ambience. As I start walking towards the exit and the lights of the entire garden including the courtyard come on, I can’t help but smile. Could Maharana Sangram Singh ever have imagined that his prized gardens designed for royalty would be accessed 300 years later by us ordinary folks for a charge of Rs.20/- each!

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