Udaipur: The Venice of the East

29 days travelling and still experiencing sensory overload.

Before I jump into today’s post, I’d like to rewind slightly and mention the time my wife left her kindle on our first train ride in India – as it has became a recurring joke on our trip. Thankfully, the train attendant was kind enough to check our beds before the train departed and handed it into the station manager, who spoke to the tuk tuk driver who finally informed our tour leader. It was only when my wife went to bed that evening and was suddenly without her latest autobiography fix that she realised it must have been her kindle that was left on the train. Luckily, she was reunited with it the next day after a slightly panicked dash to the station. She had to pose for an official photo with the officer and station staff to prove she had received it and managed to dodge a bribe (despite their best efforts).

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19th October 2018 – Udaipur

Today was supposed to be our first experience on a local bus. However, a couple days ago our tour leader gave us the opportunity to upgrade to a “deluxe” bus for a small fee. I’d like to say we all rejected his proposition, but there we were sitting in our air conditioned bus – judge us all you want.

It was certainly a journey that will stick with me, not because of the erratic driving (it was much more restrained than the driving in Nepal) but the incessant beeping. I know that the horn is used a lot in India, but this was on another level. Overtaking, honk. Going too slow, honk. Animal in the road, honk. I haven’t honked in a while, honk. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said he honked the horn every 30 seconds. It made for a rather long and mildly irritating bus ride. We didn’t care though, as we were on our air conditioned “deluxe” bus.

View of Lake Pichola from our hotel
View of Lake Pichola from our hotel

A few hours later we pulled into Udaipur, often described as one of the most romantic cities in India. It’s clear to see why, set in the Aravalli Hills it hugs the side of a huge picturesque lake. Here we settled into our rooms (which was ridiculously large, no complaints there) and had lunch on the rooftop overlooking the beautiful Lake Pichola. I’d say it was perfect setting if I wasn’t slowly melting in the midday heat – clearly a true Brit.

After we’d stuffed our faces, we set off on a short orientation walk which took us to a demonstration of miniature paintings (a famous export of Udaipur) at an art collective and ended at a local tailor shop – the latter of which created anything you wanted within a day. Although the quality was high, we found it to be rather expensive and gave it a pass. Again, being British we spent the next couple days sheepishly running past his shop (which was RIGHT next to our hotel) to avoid the awkward interaction, instead of just letting him know we weren’t interested. I guess it’s in our blood.

That evening we jumped onto a small boat for a short sunset cruise around the lake. I was a right grump throughout the ride, as we sat on the wrong side of the boat and the captain didn’t bother turning it around during the sunset for the benefit of anyone on the other side. Never mind, nothing a bit of photo cropping can’t fix. Eventually, once the sun had basically gone down, he turned the boat around and we made our way past the floating palaces of Jag Mandir (an exclusive event venue) and Jag Niwas (a rather pricey hotel) – both of which were beautiful.

Our sunset cruise on Lake Pichola
Our sunset cruise on Lake Pichola

We finished the day off by eating at another rooftop restaurant, something I could definitely get used to. It was actually a place where they shot one of the scenes from the Exotic Marigold Hotel.

20th October 2018 – Udaipur

Our tour leader had pointed out a cafe with awesome panoramic views of the lake – perfect for sunrise and sunset. The owner was kind enough to agree opening up shop at 6am, just in time for sunrise, so we could take some nice photos. He greeted us with a friendly wave and led us up several flights of stairs before coming to an abrupt stop.

Turns out they didn’t have the key they needed and the person inside was fast asleep, with no intention of waking up to his phone ringing. Determined to let us in, despite our protests, the younger of the two climbed across the banister and climbed through an open window. All that stopped him falling a couple stories was his friend that was holding him by his foot – only in India! It worked though, and we managed to get some lovely photos from the rooftop and had a pretty decent coffee and breakfast in the process. My wife was smart and decided to sleep in, but returned in a grump after her own attempt to get breakfast backfired when the waiter kept bringing her bacon and tomatoes insisting it was hummus on toast.

The incredibly beautiful City Palace
The incredibly beautiful City Palace

Later that day we went to visit the lakeside City Palace. It was a beautiful place, albeit incredibly crowded and hot. I’m glad we got there early as I wouldn’t have been able to cope if it was much later. We also popped into the nearby Jagdish Temple, which is dedicated to Lord Vishnu.

In the afternoon we all took part in a cooking class and learnt the secrets of making the perfect Indian thali, a dish I recommend everyone tries at least once in their life. Whilst it was certainly educational, and the food tasted great, it was more of a demonstration than a class – as there wasn’t much participation or interaction. This suited us as we were all a little tired. They were even kind enough to make me some gluten free chapati, which went down a treat.

A traditional Indian thali with gluten free chapati
A traditional Indian thali with gluten free chapati

One of the women in the group had her 40th birthday that day, so after our meal together that evening, we went down to the jetty to not only embarrass her with our best attempt at singing a mismatched birthday song, but also to cut some cake and light a few dubious looking sparklers and fireworks – it wouldn’t be a celebration in India without fireworks after all.

21st October 2018 – Udaipur

As usual, we didn’t do a huge amount on our last day. Having seen a couple of miniature paintings we quite liked, we headed back and picked up one that captured our favourite places we’d visited in Rajasthan. A perfect little souvenir, let’s just hope it finds its way home in one piece.

To kill some time that morning we opted for a foot massage, which turned out to be more of an entire leg massage. It was all a bit of an odd experience as all four of us were in the same room with two sitting somewhat uncomfortably in arm chairs. I was grateful to be lying down, my wife on the other hand was not so lucky. We were all under the impression that we would be swapping around half way through, but that never happened and my poor wife was cramping up. We made a mental note to not always follow recommendations so blindly.

A man laying outside Jagdish Temple
A man laying outside Jagdish Temple

That evening we planned an early night as we were supposed to get up at the crack of dawn for our second train. Thankfully it was cancelled, and we found out just before going to sleep, so we all got to sleep in and relax some more before heading to our next destination. Happy days.

22nd to 23rd October 2018 – Pushkar

The only downside to missing our early train was that we would be on another sleeper train. Whilst this would usually be a bonus, they just aren’t quite as comfy when you have to keep the middle berth down to allow people to sit up. Despite that, I was quite glad that we had the opportunity to order a pretty tasty packed lunch for the journey (good old sag aloo) and it turned out to be a bit of a silver lining for the group having to spend less time in Pushkar. We did however have a rather nice, albeit long, Jeep ride from the nearest station in Ajmer into Pushkar.

The view of Pushkar from our favourite restaurant
The view of Pushkar from our favourite restaurant

Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice place to visit and had a lot of religious significance (I believe it is India’s holiest town). It’s just a lot of the group were either ill or generally quite run down at this point in the trip, which meant we didn’t really make the most of our time there. Instead we relaxed by the pool, ate hummus and pineapple curry and did a spot of shopping – my wife got herself a rather colourful headband in the market for 50p. Sight seeing took a bit of a back seat on this occasion.

The delicious pineapple and cashew nut curry
The delicious pineapple and cashew nut curry

One evening there was a small stampede (a slight exaggeration) of cows, which left us rather puzzled. It wasn’t long before we saw what was causing the commotion, a modified tuk tuk that was billowing out huge amounts of smoke that consumed the streets and everything in it. Turns out it is done to get rid of mosquitos, but when you aren’t expecting it and you see people running into their shops it can be a little daunting as a tourist. We are still breathing normally, so I think it was harmless.

Until next time.

P.S. My wife is a lot more careful with her kindle now – I’m still my usual reckless self.

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