Udaipur(fect)?…

(Emily) Stop the press, stop the press!! We actually LIKED Udaipur! None were more surprised than us but yes, we found the quieter streets, clean lake and colourful waterfront to be most agreeable! It helped that, on the recommendation of a German guy we’d met in Jodhpur, we were staying at a really great guesthouse with beautiful rooms and fantastic views of the palace on the other side of the river-esque lake – a snip at just over £5 per night! Whatsmore, Isabel and Esteban, the Spanish couple we’d met in Amritsar and had been keeping in touch with, turned up the day after we arrived so we had some friends to explore the city with…

I say ‘explore’, but to be honest, the chilled atmosphere and pleasant surroundings were such a relief that it was largely an agenda of relax/read/eat! Udaipur has been described as ‘the Venice of the East’  and the charming, higgledy-piggledy  buildings squeezed together amiably right at the water’s edge do give some credit to this generous comparison. As James said one night as we sat on the roof  admiring the tastefully uplit palace with its backdrop of the Aravalli Hills, black against the dusky sky, it was the first place we’d been to in India that looked as if some thought had been put into it. One remarkable feature of Udaipur, and again something that evokes the opulence of Italy, is the floating Lake Palace, a grand edifice that seems to rise up magically out of the water. Occupying the entirety of its island foundation so that the water laps against its outer walls, it appears not to be built on land at all. Formally the summer residence of the maharaja, and now an exclusive hotel, the palace was used a set location for the James Bond film ‘Octopussy’ and lest you forget this claim to fame, pretty much all the hotels and restaurants in the old town offer nightly showings of said film for your viewing pleasure!! (James: that’s Octopussy, shown at the same time every night for 27 years! Now I like Bond films as much as the next man but…)

In between our busy schedule of napping and consuming banana lassis at an alarming rate, we did make a tour of the city palace with Isabel and Esteban (impressive, but we were getting a bit ‘forted out’) so the four of decided to go on a boat ride to see the floating palace up close and get a better view of the lake ghats (areas where steps lead down to the water’s edge). Of course, India wasn’t going to go a whole day without testing us, and having made our way to the ticket office just in time to catch the last boat of the day, James found himself laughing at the man in the booth when our bill for 4 tickets (at 200 rupees each) came to 900 rupees. He questioned the maths and was told (and with a completely straight face) that it cost 25 rupees per person to walk the 200 metres past the hotel to the jetty! Now it’s not the money you understand, It’s the principle, and three weeks of this sort of petty piss-taking was starting to take its toll. Having not unreasonably questioned why there was a charge for this, and why wasn’t the charge included in the ticket price (do you ever pay to access the platform when you get on a train?) and perhaps a tad sarcastically asked whether we’d be needing a ‘return’ ticket to get off the boat and leave at the end (that was free apparently)we have our way to the jetty. The ride itself was lovely and although initially surprised at the lack of any commentary or guide, we actually enjoyed the chance to sit in India, in silence, enjoying  the changing coloured on the buildings as the sunset on the lake, without any chance of disturbance. It was, in a word, bliss.

 The ghats are an integral part of Indian life, where locals can bathe (or in the case of younger men, dive bomb off the wall!) and wash clothes or simply congregate to socialise. The water is also key to festivals and rituals; from our roof top we observed wedding parties walking down to the ghats for blessings and there were often religious offerings left down at the water’s edge. We happened to be in Udaipur while a festival was going on – at first we thought it was the lead up to Diwali but were told that this was a separate celebration, that of Navratri which is dedicated to the goddess Durga. The old town was strung with metallic streamers and other decorations and whenever we left the guesthouse for a wander round the streets, we would invariably come upon a procession of lively worshippers playing music and dancing as they followed a jeep bearing a model deity on the back. One time, Isabel narrowly avoided getting covered in brightly coloured powder paint, which is randomly flung about as part of the festivities, as she stopped to take a photo and being  a tad too close to the action was deemed fair game!

On the final evening of the festival, we gathered with hundreds of others on the main street that led up to city palace to watch the culmination of all the celebrations; an organised dance on a grand scale in which the young men and women of the town formed themselves into two looping lines, facing each other, and engaged in an endless exchange of clicks of their batons to the beat of the music. The inner line would gradually move round so that the partners changed continuously. We realised that this was a rare opportunity for members of the opposite sex to mingle and it was fascinating to watch; the façade of carefree bravado and cool confidence affected by the men, the girls all dressed up beautifully and concentrating extra hard on their batons to distract from their shyness. As we walked back to the guesthouse that evening, music emanated from every home and we caught glimpses of younger children, obviously not yet old enough to take part in the main dance, performing their own versions of the ritual with their mothers and older sisters. Very cute!

After five nights in Udaipur, we thought it was probably time to move on (while we could still move… the creamy curries and beers were starting to take effect and undo the natural dieting that only three months eating sheep testicle kebabs and other such Central Asian delicacies can achieve!) Despite an almost complete refusal to eat curries, Esteban had managed to fall victim to a bout of ‘Delhi belly’ so he and Isabel stayed on for a few days but we made plans to catch up again in Jaipur, their next destination. We too were heading to the ‘Pink City’ but intended to stop in at the small towns of Bundi and Pushkar on the way. Once more the freedom of travelling by motorcycle was not lost to us; we can pretty much go where we want, when we want without having to worry about bus or train timetables. So, onwards to Bundi…

4 Responses to “Udaipur(fect)?…”

  1. Dan says:

    You guys write alot…

  2. Mama/kate says:

    Pretty good at it, wouldn’t you say, Dan?
    So glad you found some tranquility at last, Eggbob.
    Stunning narrative as usual. X

  3. Jo and Ben says:

    After a hectic day at school (it’s that time of year when nativity songs are already in full swing!)we can only imagine the calm serenity of the trip on the lake and wish we could be there to enjoy it too.

    Being in India during Navratri (think this is the festival of colour) and Diwali must be such an amazing sight. Udaipur sounds like bliss! Safe travelling. xxx

  4. Jackson says:

    Just had a look at all the photos. Fantastic, james is really getting an eye for it now.
    Man, those cows. It is a sad situation actually. Here is a supposedly holy animal being treated most cruely. They just chuck them out of the farm of wherever they are once they reach old age or get ill. Far from being given a humane death they are left to suffer and eat garbage on the streets. Not on.
    I am lying in bed at 6am and am about to haul up, walk 50 yards and launch my kite on the turquoise 30 degree lagoon. Then back for a breakfast of kings with my Brazilian love. You will meet her at the wedding. Still in paradise here.
    X

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