Up and down and back again in Udaipur

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February 2nd 2015
Published: May 11th 2015
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We were leaving the district of Chittor (or Chittorgarh) and travelling south west to Udaipur. I woke at 5.15am to a mesmerising piece of music drifting up from the village behind our castle. I assumed it was a call to prayer of sorts. I opened one of the windows in our room that overlooked the village, put my camera into movie mode and recorded the piece. I hope I can somehow trace it when I get home, because it captivated me for 45 minutes. I spent the rest of the early morning catching up on my travel notes.

We headed to the dining area for breakfast at 8am. It was a buffet of porridge, boiled eggs, toast, banana fritters and masala chai (spiced sweet milky tea). We checked out of Castle Bijaipur and piled into a minibus for the four hour trip to Udaipur. We were one seat short, so after about an hour Ren and I transferred to a private car for the remainder of the trip. It was nice to travel in comfort. We stopped at a road side restaurant (Hotel Verat) at 10.30am for a chai (tea) before continuing our journey.

We arrived in Udaipur at 12.30pm and negotiated the city’s narrow alleys until we couldn’t travel any further (the car simply wouldn’t fit). Luckily we were close to our hotel (Pratap Bhawan), so we checked in, dropped our packs and headed to the Rainbow Restaurant on the banks of Pichola Lake for lunch. I had a paratha (naan stuffed with potato and vegetables) and Ren had fried noodles.

The sun was warm, the beer was cold and the view was amazing. It was so good to be in thongs (flip-flops) and a t-shirt again. After lunch we walked to the City Palace for a guided tour of the palace museum. We wandered through the claustrophobic hallways and rooms with countless other people. Our guide had rote-learned his commentary and his humour was lame. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. We finished the tour at 4.30pm, walked back to our hotel to pick up some slightly warmer clothes and then headed to the water’s edge (only 100 metres from our hotel) for a sunset boat cruise of Pichola Lake. The cruise was slow and relaxing, and it provided fantastic views of City Palace, Lake Palace and Jagmandir Island. The sunset itself was amazing – the cruise certainly lived up to its name.

We clambered up four flights of stairs to the Flavours Roof Top Restaurant for dinner. It had a great view of Pichola Lake, and we had the restaurant to ourselves. Not surprisingly, the atmosphere was incredible. We shared chicken curry and chicken tangdi special (chicken thigh stuffed with minced chicken) with naans (leavened bread cooked in a wood fired oven) and chapathis (unleavened flat round wholemeal bread). When we ordered the chicken curry I asked for it spicy, and it was exceptionally spicy. I absolutely loved it. We walked back to the hotel and shared a bottle of Indian rum with a few of our fellow travellers. It was a fantastic way to end a fantastic travel day. We eventually crashed at midnight.

We woke the next morning feeling relaxed, as we were not travelling by road or train for 24 hours – we had a whole day ahead of us in Udaipur. We walked to Jagat Niwas Palace Hotel, climbed to the rooftop restaurant overlooking Pichola Lake and had a pot of masala chai and banana lassi (frothy yogurt and milk drink) for breakfast. The setting was amazing – we sat crossed-legged on a small balcony that sat out from the main restaurant area. It was easy to imagine the life of a maharajah…

We had a cooking class with the owner of the Indian Spice Box at 10.30am, although it was more of a demonstration than a class. We madekadai paneer (cottage cheese and capsicum cooked in a tomato sauce), malai kofta (potato balls filled with cashews and raisins in a creamy sauce), biryani rice (dish of spiced rice and vegetables), chapathis and masala chai. It was a great experience, but the food was ordinary. I’ve realised over the years that I enjoy eating far more than I enjoy cooking. We bought two copper serving bowls at the end of the cooking class and walked back to the hotel for our appointment with a palm reader.

With a surprisingly similar outcome to the coffee cup reading I had in Istanbul in 2012, I discovered that I am to have two children in the future, but not with Ren. I need to fast on Thursdays to strengthen my relationships. I need to wear a garnet ring on my ring finger and a green onyx ring on my little finger. I need to avoid people born under the sign of Scorpio and Capricorn. I will live to 83 even though my life line ends at 59. I have wisdom from my mother and I know how to use it efficiently. I am artistic, introverted and I don’t work well with other people. My lucky years are 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019. Unfortunately, 2016 is not looking good. My lucky colour is dark blue or black, and I need to wear a dark blue or black piece of fabric in one of my pockets. My lucky day is Saturday. It was an interesting experience, although I would have preferred that my palm reader had turned his mobile off – it kept ringing throughout the reading.

When I’d recovered from the prospect of having two children in the future, we headed out into the mad and bustling alleys of Udaipur. I checked out a few musical instrument shops and picked up two recommended Indian CDs – Sufiana Safar by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Soulful Voice by Arijit Singh. We also picked up some snacks for our early morning train journey to Pushkar the next day.

We wandered into Jagdish Temple a couple of times during the afternoon as we continued exploring the narrow twisting alleys of this bustling place. The crazy motorbikes, relentless beeping horns and persistent shop keepers made walking fairly difficult at times, but it all added to the atmosphere that makes Udaipur so charming.

At 7pm we walked to a music/dance performance (Dharohar) at Bagore Ki Haveli. Three musicians (harmonium, dholak and tambourine) sat to the side of a small dance area and played while female dancers and a male puppeteer performed seven traditional Rajasthani folk dances. The dholak player was amazing, and two of the older dancers were incredible. It was a last minute decision on our part to go, as we haven’t had the best experiences at cultural performances over the years. However, this was incredible, and I was mesmerised for the entire hour long show.

After the performance we walked to Jagat Niwas Palace Hotel for dinner. We shared a specialty Rajasthani dish called paneer papad ki sabzi (cheese, pappadum and lentil curry) and chicken curry with naans and chapathis. It was spicy and fantastic, and the rooftop setting overlooking Pichola Lake was incredible. Life is certainly lived on the rooftops in Udaipur.

After dinner we walked to the hotel where a scene from The Exotic Marigold Hotel was filmed. It was only a very short distance from our hotel, and as soon as we stepped onto the rooftop balcony Ren remembered the scene with Judi Dench and Bill Nighy. We’ll have to watch it again when we get home. We’ll also have to force ourselves to watch Octopussy, as this classic James Bond movie was filmed in Udaipur.

We made our way back to the hotel, organised our packs and crashed at midnight. We had an early start (5am) and a six and a half hour journey by rail and road to Pushkar the next day, so we needed some sleep.

We left Castel Bijaipur after breakfast and headed west to Udaipur. Breakfast at the castle was a very civilised affair with toast, masala omelette (spicy omelette with red onions and green chillies), delicious banana fritters, fresh bananas, mango juice and masala chai (spiced sweet milky tea). This was the first morning on the northern trip that I’d woken up feeling like my normal self, so it seemed that the antibiotics were finally working.

The minibus trip got off to a rocky start when we realised that we were one seat short, and the last person on the bus took it quite personally. No prizes for guessing that it was Ms grumpy-pants! We squished in until we reached Chittorgarh, where we pulled up on the side of the highway and waited for a car. I happened to look to my right and saw a hulking big fort on the mountain ridge looking down on us imposingly. The region of Chittorgarh gets its name from this fort – Rajasthan's largest fort. Every now and again I have to really remind myself that those big walls atop Rajasthan’s hills were real forts built to keep out murdering and pillaging enemies. This was a land very much built on invading armies and wars.

Our group leader Mohsin, Andrew and I moved into the car when it arrived, and we continued our journey. It was a bit of a hairy ride on a dual carriageway where bikes, cars, trucks, tractors and cows would head towards us on the wrong side of the road. My coping mechanism with Asian roads is not to look, so I put my headphones on and caught up on my writing and napping while our driver weaved in, out and around all the obstacles in our way.

After an hour or so we stopped at a roadside restaurant for a chai in the sunshine. It wasn’t the poshest of roadside stops, but the young boys running the place were extremely lovely. I was pointed in the direction of the bathroom and was surprised by a boy sleeping right outside the bathroom door. I gathered that he was one of the staff members sleeping between shifts – it certainly wasn’t an easy life.

A few hours later we arrived in Udaipur – famed as India’s romantic City of Lakes. The city was very loud and touristy after the quiet of rural Rajasthan. However, I was immediately (and surprisingly) charmed by it. The setting was of hills in the foreground, a lake and white marble palaces in the background, and restaurants and shops on narrow hilly twisty laneways. It was very appealing and pleasant. Even the roaring trade of miniature paintings of the lake and palaces weren’t as cheesy as I would normally have found them.

The Pratap Bhawan Hotel was a nice looking four-level building with ornate windows and large spacious rooms with icy cold floors. I liked the fact that it was a small hotel with only about twelve rooms which we accessed via a lovely marble staircase from the lobby. The hotel was in the old town, and on one of those narrow hilly twisty laneways that I loved – so narrow and twisty that our car couldn’t drive right up to the hotel. We were right near Lal Ghat on the shores of Lake Pichola (ghats are sacred marble steps that lead into holy water). The only downside to the hotel was that there was a bench seat near the small hotel entrance which smoking guests had claimed as their own, so we inevitably copped a lung full of smoke every time we left or arrived at the hotel. It was extremely foul.

After we checked in to our beautiful room with lake views (which we could see through the arched windows of the rooftop restaurant next door!), we all trouped down to lunch at Rainbow Restaurant. It was one of many typical touristy rooftop restaurants that lined the lake. Andrew had a paratha (naan stuffed with potato and vegetables) and I had fried vegetable noodles. It was nice enough for a quick meal.

One of the first things I noticed in Udaipur was that there was much less conspicuous poverty here than in other big cities. The streets were lined with crumbling buildings that looked like they could fall in at any minute...until I realised that they have stood there for centuries. I really loved the meandering alleys that were filled with shops selling silver, shoes, bags, leather goods and those miniature paintings I mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, this meant navigating the constant call of the shop touts. Even though Udaipur was a slightly quieter city than others, the streets were just as chaotic – with the added thrill of having to avoid the occasional kamikaze motorbikes that terrorised the hilly lanes.

After a quick walk around the area near our hotel, it didn't take us long to get our bearings. We were only one minute away from the lake, five minutes away from the Jagdish Temple and ten minutes away from the City Palace.

After lunch we headed to the City Palace. The City Palace is the largest royal palace in Rajasthan and the main tourist site in Udaipur. It was built by the founding royal family of Udaipur in the 16th century, and the palace was their home until independence. The palace has been continuously added to until the 20th century, and the current structure supposedly encompasses eleven palaces built over time by various members of the dynasty. It has the feeling of palaces within palaces.

We entered by the Badi Pol (Great Gate) entry and walked uphill through the imposingly large triple arched Tripoliya Gate into a large courtyard (where we had to buy camera tickets if we wished to take photos). The palace is a massive labyrinth of courtyards, public and private meeting rooms, and royal quarters and galleries – all of which were interconnected by a confusing maze of corridors and tunnels that were apparently designed to deter invaders.

The main part of the palace is open to the public as the City Palace Museum. As a result, there were a huge array of rooms filled with collections of artefacts including human and animal armoury, coins, silver utensils and clothing. The collection rooms were very badly curated and I lost interest very quickly. With regard to the palaces, the various interior facades – especially the murals – were interesting, but the ambience in all the rooms was more of well-worn, dusty and faded elegance rather than luxurious plushness. As much as I enjoyed certain aspects of the palace, I probably would have enjoyed them a lot more if our guide had been more engaging, but his lame jokes and stock standard spiel put me off from the start. I could feel Andrew’s boredom as he shuffled along next to me; I think Andrew was officially palaced-out!

There were three highlights of the palace for me. Firstly, I enjoyed the 17th century Badi Mahal (Garden Palace), a lovely marble palace built around a courtyard garden full of old trees. It had been built on higher ground to the rest of the palace, so despite feeling like we were on the third or fourth storey of a building, we were actually at ground level. The windows had beautiful views over the city and the lake. Secondly, I seriously loved the blue and white Chinese tiles in the 18th century Badi Chitrashali Chowk (much to Andrew’s concern that I’d want similar tiles in our bathroom at home). Lastly, I enjoyed the afternoon sun in the ornate 19th century Mor Chowk (Peacock Courtyard) which had colourful peacocks and gorgeous glass inlay work. The sun symbol (associated with this particular royal family) and peacocks (Rajasthan’s bird) were popular motifs throughout the palace.

That evening we decided to give in to the tourist vibe and do a sunset cruise. We walked down to Lal Ghat at 5:30pm where we boarded a boat that gently cruised the area of Lake Pichola between the Lal Ghat jetty and the Lake Palace Hotel on Jagniwas Island. The Lake Palace was built as a royal summer getaway (from the City Palace a few hundred metres away!), but it’s now a high-end hotel which is only accessible by boat. From the boat we watched the sunset glow crimson against the western hills, with all manner of birds filling the air and water around us. We also cruised past Jagmandir Island (that also has a palace on it which has now become a very sought after wedding venue). It was quite nice to get a water perspective of the islands, as well as the City Palace and other impressive buildings of Udaipur that lined the lake’s shores. The sunset was as spectacular as we had hoped – it was a lovely experience.

Andrew and I walked through town just after dusk, and we made our way down to the Daiji footbridge...but there were seedy groups of men congregating in the little lanes and streets around the bridge, so we changed direction. Luckily the streets closer to our hotel were quite lovely, and I really enjoyed strolling around that part of the dimly lit city. The roar of the motorbikes had subsided and the touts had gone home – it was bliss!

We walked to Flavours Rooftop Restaurant for dinner, where we shared a delicious chicken curry and a chicken tangdi special (chicken thigh stuffed with minced chicken) with naans (leavened bread cooked in a wood fired oven) and chapathis (unleavened flat round wholemeal bread). It was also warm enough for my favourite drink of sweet fresh lime soda (fresh lime juice with sugar syrup and soda water). We were on the rooftop of a four storey building that had beautiful views of the Lake Palace Hotel on the lake and the brightly lit City Palace on the hill. The Lake Palace Hotel was beautifully reflected in the shimmering water on this very still night.

We walked back to the hotel and decided that it would be a good idea to have a room party – so six of us gathered in one of the rooms and shared travel and life stories over a bottle of Indian rum. It was a hilarious night and I really hope we weren’t as loud as I suspect we were. And in hindsight, carrying heavy wooden chairs down a steep spiral marble staircase after a few drinks is probably not advisable (or covered by our travel insurance). 😊

After a great night’s sleep and a late start to the morning, we walked down to Jagat Niwas Palace Hotel (just across from where we'd had dinner the night before) and made our way up to their restaurant. I had a banana lassi (frothy yogurt and milk drink) and Andrew had a masala chai while we enjoyed the absolutely beautiful setting of the hotel and the stunning views from our bay window seat.

Later that morning we met with Mr Shakti Singh (also our hotel manager) for an Indian cooking class at the Spice Box Cooking School, which was located near our hotel on Lal Ghat. For two hours he demonstrated a variety of cooking techniques, while we prepared local dishes of kadai paneer (cottage cheese and capsicum cooked in a tomato sauce), malai kofta (potato balls filled with cashews and raisins in a creamy sauce), biryani rice (dish of spiced rice and vegetables), chapathis and masala chai. We got to eat the cooked curries for lunch. I have to admit that it wasn't fabulous food, but in his defence, he had to cater for three levels of spiciness in the group – which he only did for the first dish and all the other dishes were cooked as bland as possible. He also owned the local spice shop where we bought two little copper serving bowls.

Following the cooking class, a few of us had booked sessions with a palm reader who visited us at the hotel. Mr Manish Paliwal was a lecturer in Astrology at the local university, and he was very engaging. The session went for 30 minutes and he was happy to answer all the questions I had about palm reading; although my reactions to some of his insights puzzled him somewhat. Apparently my ruling planet is Venus, my lucky day is Wednesday and my lucky colour is green. He said I was born under a strong sign (would he ever tell anyone they were born under a terrible sign??), and he summed up my personality surprisingly accurately. He said that my greatest strength was also my weakness – apparently I am blessed with wisdom and determination, but that determination needed to be cautioned or it could slide into stubbornness (he was perplexed that I found this amusing). He was distressed that he couldn’t see any children in my future, and was quite taken aback that I thought this was fabulous news. 😊

In terms of my life line, he thought that I had a good life ahead of me (apart from a health issue at 77 or 79, and when I die at 84 or 86), so I can’t really complain about that! He considered that Andrew was very good for me, and in order to further strengthen our relationship, he told me to fast on Tuesdays. He thought that the ‘small stresses’ in my life could be lessened by chanting "ohm som somay nama" 108 times every Monday. He also asked that I wear an opal ring on my middle finger and a pearl ring on my little finger, but for the life of me I can’t remember what this was for (which is just as well because I really dislike opals and pearls). 😉

After Andrew and I compared notes from our palm reading sessions (and discussed the implications of the universe trying to persuade Andrew to have two children against his will), we spent the rest of the day wandering through the bazaars and markets. Andrew was looking for a particular musical instrument he had seen at the Kathakali dance performance in Kochi (after a bit of research, we found out that it was called a shruti box). A shruti box looks like a small harmonium without keys, and it produces a drone sound. We found a few that Andrew liked, but we didn't buy them because they were either overpriced or the salesmen were too pushy. However, on Mohsin’s recommendation (of local music he thought we’d like), we bought two CDs from the bookshop near our hotel... I'm already looking forward to listening to them at home.

We kept wandering around the bazaars and street stalls. However, the music shop salesmen were so persistent that we had to find new and innovative ways to walk through the town in order to avoid them. Unfortunately, the pushiest of them was right near our hotel and would call out to Andrew every time he saw us, and even followed us down the street once. It started getting a little creepy.

As in Bundi, there were a few shops selling pre-loved false teeth. This is a sight I will never get used to. I’m sorry to sound princessey, but oh my god how gross is that?!?! I’m feeling squeamish just writing about it. We looked at a few jewellery shops, but nothing really caught my eye. We’d also been looking for a small marble memento to take home, but again nothing really caught our fancy. The small shops that lined the main street were literally on the street...and the streets were crowded beyond belief with auto rickshaws (motorised tricycles with a passenger cabin), motorbikes, cows, raucous school kids, tourists and locals all vying for space. Being jostled while trying to shop wasn’t my idea of a nice shopping experience. And the nicer/larger shops were a bit too touristy for my taste, so we didn’t really buy as much as we thought we would in Udaipur.

After walking through the market area, we climbed the very steep marble steps to the 17th century Jagdish Temple. At the top of the steps stood two large stone elephants, and the entry was guarded by a brass statue of Garuda (a mythical half-man, half-eagle figure). It was a beautiful quiet space. However, we had arrived at prayer time and couldn’t enter the main shrine which housed a four-armed garlanded black stone statue of Vishnu. We decided to walk clockwise around the beautifully hand carved three storey temple and check out the four smaller shrines on the four corners of the complex. The outer walls of the main shrine were decorated with beautiful sculptures of dancers, musicians, horses and elephants. There was also a small area where a large pile of corn on the ground had attracted dozens of squirrels. As you can imagine, there were many, many squirrel photos taken! 😊

I had noticed that a man had been watching us from the time we entered the temple, so I was a bit suspicious when he came over for a chat. He pointed out a water spout that was coming out of a carved lion’s head and suggested that it was holy water and that we could touch the water to our head and make a wish. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of what he had said, because he had been grinning the whole time, and he also seemed a bit weird when Andrew walked over to us. A part of me suspected that he was having a joke with us, as there was nothing to indicate whether the water was merely an overflow outlet from the shrine or the holy water spout he claimed it was. We smiled politely and kept walking. However, on a second visit to the temple later that evening, we saw a woman blessing herself at the water spout, so we decided to do as the man had suggested and make a wish. The only point of concern was that after touching the water, I realised too late that it was seriously smelly water! I didn’t wish to appear rude, so had to wait until we left the temple before I could cleanse my hands and forehead with copious amounts of hand sanitiser. I have since confirmed that it was indeed holy water, but no one could account for the smell of the water. 😡

The Jagdish Temple is an important pilgrimage destination. We walked by the temple many times and visited it twice, and every single time there were crowds congregated outside. Women sat at the foot of the steps selling flower garlands, and sadhus (Hindu holy men) sat on the sides of the stone steps where they were praying, eating, sleeping and occasionally begging for money if any tourists caught their eye. I really loved this temple.

We shopped for snacks for our train trip the following day and returned to the hotel to pack. There was a cultural dance show that evening, and I wasn’t too keen on going (I was still scarred by the Kathakali dance show in Kochi), but thankfully Andrew talked me into it. We walked down to the Bagore Ki Haveli which hosts the Dharohar Cultural Show every night. The haveli was a beautiful old heritage building that had been restored as a museum, and the cultural show was held in the central courtyard that was colourfully lit. I knew I’d really enjoyed the show, because the hour long show went by in the blink of an eye.

We were treated to a fabulous showcase of a variety of folk dances, traditional puppetry and fabulous music from the different regions of Rajasthan. The dances involved lots of dexterity and skill – there was dancing with brass pots with little fires, with a dozen earthenware pots balanced on heads, with swords in mouths, and with little cymbals tied to hands and feet – but not all at the same time. Some dancers were more skilled than others, but they were all very entertaining. One of the massive crowd pleasers was the puppet show which featured a risque female puppet. 😄

Later that evening, Mohsin took us to Jagat Niwas for dinner –the well-regarded hotel and restaurant we'd visited that morning. Similar to the night before, it was a rooftop lakeside restaurant, but with a slightly different lake perspective. We shared a specialty Rajasthani dish called paneer papad ki sabzi (cheese, pappadum and lentil curry) and a chicken curry with naans and chapathis. The food and service were really fabulous.

Walking back to the hotel, I overheard one of the staff in a hotel along the way explaining to some tourists that a scene from the film The Best Marigold Hotel was filmed in a hotel close by. So we went to check it out... It was the balcony scene where Judi Dench’s character Evelyn is upset and Bill Nighy’s character Douglas hugs her. It was a lovely hotel with a rooftop pool. I don't think I’ve ever been in a city with more rooftop restaurants, cafes and pools!

Next we head north to Pushkar, Rajasthan’s city of camels.


13th May 2015
jagdish temple

Relaxing rooftops and riotous streets!
The rooftop restaurants sound lovely, and I think you two may be adjusting to the chaos of Indian streets. Earlier in your expedition, I don't remember hearing "charming" used to describe the craziness of making your way through crowded streets. On a palm reading note, you two already have your children--kelpies Jasper and Oliver and little sister Mia. Congratulations!
13th May 2015
jagdish temple

Re: Relaxing rooftops and riotous streets!
I think you may be right Tara, but Udaipur's lake setting definitely added to the charm factor. I would have loved to see the palm reader's face had Andrew told him that he already had three furry children :D
15th May 2015

Love love loved this blog and the pictures! I cannot believe how wonderful your trip was. Plus all that mouthwatering food. Yum!
19th May 2015

Thanks Andrea! It really was a fabulous trip...we are already dreaming of a return trip to Rajasthan :)
16th May 2015

Stunning sunset
I'm glad you were able to get a private car so you had more room. What a lovely part of the country. This sunset certainly is magical. We always go out on a boat to get a water perspective of a city when we can. It always deepens our appreciation of our surroundings. Great looking food.
19th May 2015

Re: Stunning sunset
Thanks Merry! Udaipur was designed around the lake, so we really wanted to see the city from the water...the gorgeous sunset was a bonus. Yes the private car was more roomy, but I felt safer (and more environmentally responsible) in the minibus :)
23rd July 2015

Pleasant awakenings.
Waking up to the Mesmerising music piece sounds like a dream. Read about the cruises here. They do sound touristy but worthwhile all the same. What a palm read you both brave people had glad you took it on the chin. We also love getting lost in twisting winding lanes and alleys so it sounds like a pace we could enjoy. You had us laughing again at your holy water experience... Well done for keeping in together (not sure if I could have) and for having copious of hand sanitiser on hand (a god send)!!
24th July 2015

Re: Pleasant awakenings.
I think you would like Udaipur, but certain parts of it are either very touristy or very seedy. I think I'm going to try and get my fortune told wherever we go - I find the devotion to such practices very interesting! I gave daily thanks to the inventor of hand sanitiser when we were in India :D
24th November 2015

Cooking classes! What about Yoga???
I loved reading your blog. I am so keen on Yoga I wish
26th November 2015

Re: Cooking classes! What about Yoga???
We had an option to do a rooftop yoga class, but it would have meant an early start, so we skipped it :)

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