Rattling into Udaipur on a public bus, tired after around five hours of weaving through random traffic and over broken dirt roads, it was hard to believe that Udaipur was the beauty that everyone raved about.
Our bus coughed and wheezed into the chaotic public bus station and we stiffly stepped out to be swamped by the usual hoard of enthusiastic tuk tuk and taxi drivers. This is one of the huge advantages of travelling in a group with a guide. Ankita haggled and hassled until we had our four tuk tuks lined up and we were soon back, weaving through the choking traffic once more.
My sense of direction, usually pretty damn good even if I do say so myself, was completely shot in India. So many narrow streets with twists and turns, and I just had to relax and trust that we would eventually be delivered safely to the correct hotel.
The streets started to change from suburbia to obviously more touristic areas as the prevalence of trinket shops, cafes, and restaurants increased. We seemed to be working our way deeper into the old city. The streets narrowed even further, turned to cobbles, and the buildings were often in a much more original state. It was only as we got to within metres of our hotel that we glimpsed the jewel that Udaipur is known for, Lake Pichola.
We could not believe our luck as we threw on our backpacks and walked a few short steps into the hotel. The Narayan Nivas, a heritage haveli, is only about 50m from the very edge of the lake and has stunning views over the water from its rooftop restaurant. The four storey high hotel has rooms located around a central courtyard. This is ideal for air circulation, but not so ideal for noise transfer. I needed to temper my usual vocal enthusiasm and less than delicate footstep. Our rooms were sparse and simple, but we were rewarded with relative peace and tempting glimpses of the water. Happy travellers.
Udaipur was designated as a three-night stay and our days were free. Just perfect after having been on the go and on the road for ten days. The lake and streets just begged to be explored leisurely, and the outlets and their touts begged to be shopped.
My first priority was a simple sunset cruise on the Lake. The colours glowed golden as the full glare of the sun diminished and slowly slipped down the horizon. Wearing very unattractive, but compulsory, life jackets we grabbed our seats on the boat to maximise the best views. And they were the best. Udaipur is stunning from the water and the scale and magnificence of the City Palace is more obvious when distance gives you a little more perspective and the ability to take it all in. Unfortunately there was no commentary explaining what we were seeing, it was just a boat ride, but a pleasant one all the same.
The City Palace is a true highlight of Udaipur. With no time limit on me, I was able to indulge my love of history and wander (and wonder) unhurriedly through the sumptuous halls and hallways of the Palace. Again it was a riot of colour, mirrors, tiles, paintings, carvings, friezes and coloured glass. It just wouldn’t work if we tried to do this in Australia, but here it is so right. With my audio guide firmly affixed, I learned that each Maharajah added to the Palace, each adding their own styles and tastes. The later rulers added more colonial touches which was a visible sign of the increasing Western influence in India. This audio guide was particularly well put together as it also included samples of Indian music, and I didn’t look half silly as I sashayed and shimmied my way down the corridors.
The musical interlude continued into the night as we sat cross-legged on the floor and were entertained by a cultural dance show. For only R150 (around AUD$3) we were dazzled by the colour and skill of the dancers and puppeteers, and mesmerised by the music.
Another highlight of Udaipur is the Monsoon Palace. The palace itself is pretty ordinary, but its location on the top of an incredibly steep hill, provides spectacular views over Udaipur and the surrounding countryside. It is a very popular destination for visitors to watch the sun set although they seemed to be more interested in taking selfies than the sun. I wasn’t much better as I was more interested in the antics of the resident monkey who sprung into the crowd and demanded to be fed. If I had my time again, I wouldn’t worry about visiting the Monsoon Palace and use that time to further explore this magical city.
The group reunited after our two and a half free days and most of us were carrying extra luggage. Udaipur has excellent shopping for textiles, leather goods and endless silver jewellery shops. A few in the group had some clothing tailor-made and were very pleased with the outcome.
Instead of shopping, I set off on foot following the edge of the lake. I found myself well off the beaten track out in the suburbs, but it was interesting to see the non-tourist side of Udaipur including the poor little donkeys overloaded with hundreds of kilograms of sand. What a hard life they have.
Udaipur. A small dose of serenity in busy India.
How do you catch your breath when you travel?
What: We stayed at Narayan Niwas and ate at the White Terrace Café. Excellent Lebanese-style food
Where: Udaipur is located approximately 660km south west of Delhi, India.
When: Late November 2017. Cool nights and daytime temperatures of around 24C.
Why: To wind down a little if need be and to take the time to explore a fascinating city on foot.
How: We arrived by bus and left by train. Udaipur also has an airport.
Who: Recommended for everyone – from backpacker to five star traveller.
Related Posts: To find out what to pack for a trip to India, have a look at my post that lists the bare necessities.
Related Blogs: For some inside information on the sights and sounds of Udaipur, including money saving tips, check out this blog.
Read About It: Don’t forget your Lonely Planet Rajasthan, available from Book Depository.