Unlike the more recent Udai Bilas, the Old Palace or Juna Mahal as it is locally known, is no longer occupied. It is still owned by the family and can be visited only on invitation. Almost as old as the town itself, the construction of the palace was started sometime in the turbulent 13th century amongst the superb natural defenses of a rocky peak some 1500 ft. from the sea level.
This seven-storied structure resembles a fortress with crenellated walls, turrets and narrow entrances and passage-ways to slow down the enemy. Inside, one will see the most colorful and vibrant palaces embellished with frescoes, miniature paintings, glass and mirror inlay work. The city palace can be reached by vehicle on a road which winds through the narrow lanes of the town, a scenic drive through villages and countryside, or simply by trekking across the well wooded hill tracks.
Dungarpur district is the stronghold of the Bheels, a tribe whose history of occupancy in the Aravalli range is said to date back to 4000 BC
Besides visits to the many unspoiled Bheel hamlets in and around the town, you can look forward to special shows of tribal music and dancing at the palace itself. Bheels from this region and from the neighbouring states of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat can be seen at their best during the annual tribal fair at Baneshwar temple around 70 km from Dungarpur where they assemble in large numbers. More information on their festivals can be provided on request.
Excursions can be arranged to the 8th century AD ancient temple ruins of Arthuna ( 80 km), the 14th century temple of Rishabdeo noted for its intricate carvings and precious stone-studded idol of Lord Kesariyaji (45 km), the impressive white marble Muslim shrine at Galiakot, the Mecca of the Bohra sect of Islam (60 kms), the 12th century temple of Deo Somnath (25 km) and many temples in Dungarpur town itself.
A Bird Watcher’s Paradise
Nature lovers can expect visits to the Sitamata Wildlife sanctuary, a 423 – sq km forest which abounds in bird life and animals such as the leopard, four horned antelope, spotted deer, sambar and even the giant brown flying squirrel ( 140 Kms) Another sanctuary is at Jaisamand which spreads around one of the largest artificial lakes of India (90 Kms).
Udai Bilas Palace is a round-the-year paradise for bird watchers. The cooler months from November to February are the best to see winter migratory birds and the monsoon season, from July to October, is the nesting season when birds can be observed in attractive plumages. One can see from the Palace itself at remarkably close range egrets, night and pond herons, white necked and painted storks, coots and winter or resident ducks among others, depending on the season of your visit.
Birds are also plentiful in the woodlands where one can hope to see the Grey Hornbill, Grey Partridge, Green Pigeon, Peafowl, Paradise fly-catcher and the Golden backed woodpecker, to name a few representative species. Saras Cranes and Wading birds are abundant at marshes en-route from Udai Bilas Palace to Old Palace ( 4 kms). Nature lovers are welcome to spend hours rowing on the lake or trekking in the forest to get a close look at the birdlife. Bird-watching trips can also be arranged to nearby lakes.