It was my ninth day in India and I couldn’t believe that I was already on the eighth day of the tour, and therefore over half way through my fifteen day Uncover India experience. Time flies when you’re having fun!
I had just woken up to a pre-6 am alarm and departed pretty Pushkar. We rode in 4×4 Jeeps for about half an hour to Ajmer Junction railway station, and despite the time, it was already busy with early risers ready for their commutes.
We boarded the five to six hour train to Udaipur and I wrote in my travel journal and watched a Netflix episode I had downloaded in advance. It was nice to lose myself in both the diary and the programme because the train was quite loud and busy.
Before long though, I was jolted from the world of the incredibly gripping TV show I was racing through, and offered Domino’s Pizza! A man was strangely selling it on the train and our tour leader was purchasing some and assured us it was legitimate. It was just myself and one other traveller sitting together, and we were ready for lunch and curious to try India’s version of the popular fast food chain. The pizza was good, but interestingly the cheese tasted like Dairylea.
After a bit of a palaver trying to negotiate taxis upon reaching our destination, we finally arrived at the hotel.
We were then supplied with interesting information on Udaipur, which is famous for its history, culture and scenic beauty and is often referred to as the “Venice of the East”, the “White City” or the “City of Lakes”. It is considered the most romantic city in Rajasthan and is very picturesque, with views of the water at many of its rooftop cafés and restaurants.
Udaipur was founded in 1559 and is famous worldwide for its plethora of man-made lakes (it boasts seven to be precise), which are all connected. There are 700 hotels in the small city and this proves its popularity. The James Bond movie, ‘Octopussy’ was filmed in Udaipur, primarily at several of the city’s stunning Raj-era palaces.
After an orientation tour of the main city and the activities on offer, we grabbed a quick snack in one of the lovely local cafés and then began the evening with a visit to Udaipur’s well-known and reputed Dharohar Folk Dance show, but not before viewing our first sunset over Udaipur’s Lake Pichola.
The dance show was a real festival of culture and we had the opportunity to watch multiple dances being performed, with each one explained both in Hindi and English beforehand.
The seating area and stage were set up as above, and we were the first to arrive, keenly waiting for the spectacle to begin. We watched a dance that is often performed on the Hindu festival of Diwali; a dance with a devil-type creature; one which was passed down through a family and involved instruments being played with the body and the mouth; a noble dance of Rajasthan, which used to be performed only by nobles and royals; and one which involved puppetry and magic, where one of the artists played an instrument in his mouth and danced with marionette puppets (one of the puppets even removed his head and danced with it).
Finally, we saw a dance which was carried out by a 72-year old performer, who had exceptional rhythm and used various instruments, as she balanced multiple large pots on her head, whilst standing on a wobbling tray and on glass, all the while adding more and more pots to her head, until she reached eleven. She was exceptionally impressive and was definitely the highlight of the show.
After the show we went for a late dinner. I had dum aloo (which translates to ‘steam cooked potatoes’) in a mouth-watering sauce with sweetcorn, mushroom rice, and paneer paratha (a flatbread made with whole wheat flour and cottage cheese) and we shared some poppadom.
The evening ended at 1 am and I remember that due to an uneven number of solo female travellers on our tour, it was my turn to have my own room. I stretched out in what felt like luxury, and drifted straight to sleep.
Daybreak came quickly and a 7:30 am wake up greeted me rudely. However, the morning’s activity promised to be worth it, as we were going on a twenty kilometre bike tour around Udaipur.
We met our instructors and they drove us to the starting point and provided us with bicycles and helmets. We began by cycling on busy streets, with lots of rickshaws, motorbikes and cars. Luckily though, the traffic soon petered out and as we rode past some of the city’s large and lovely lakes, the roads were quiet and perfect for a serene cycle.
We cycled past agricultural workers in action in the lush farming communities of Badi and Hawala. We also encountered a massive hill, home to the Monsoon Palace (situated on an even bigger hill!), where most of us dismounted our bikes and pushed them up; but for the most part we could manage the smaller mounds and enjoyed the flat and downhill sections.
We stopped in the village of Kalarohu, for freshly made masala chai tea, just before the huge hill, and it was made using an authentic-looking wood-fired oven. The tea connoisseur turned a handle to supply the fire with air and generate more heat, and a few of us had a go at this too.
We later stopped for a picnic breakfast on the edge of Lake Badi. Built in the aforementioned village of the same name about twelve kilometres from the main city, Maharaja Raj Singh I commissioned the lake in 1643 to counteract the devastating effects of a famine. Lake Badi is now a very popular spot with visitors to Udaipur, due to its expansive landscapes, and it certainly felt very calm and peaceful eating our breakfast with a view. We could see the occasional group of birds, flocking to the tranquil waters.
We then made the downhill journey back to the starting point, the roads getting busier once more. Feeling happy and tired after our morning of cycling, we cooled off and got ready to walk into the city centre. Here we sipped cold coffee with another great view and enjoyed lunch at one of the rooftop cafés.
This slow and relaxing lunch break was the rejuvenation we all needed, and afterwards we sauntered back to our hotel, browsing the market stalls as we went. A few of us were looking for warm scarves, as we had been so cold the previous night, so hoped this extra layer would warm us up for our evening activity on the water.
We were in luck as we found some beautiful scarves adorned with elephants in one of the loveliest shops we passed. However, something else caught my eye and I was struggling to resist it! The most gorgeous, giant wall hanging was staring at me as we entered the shop and it was embroidered with jewelled patterns and a fantastic elephant patchwork in the centre. I’m not sure what crossed my mind when I made the decision, but I knew I had to have it. With some haggling, I managed to purchase both the scarf and the wall hanging (which luckily folded up nicely into a small pillow shape) for 1,500 rupees (the equivalent to £15). This was certainly a unique ware that would forever remind me of my travels to India.
Extremely pleased with my rather extravagant purchase for somebody travelling for another two months with a backpack, I arrived back to the hotel and got ready for the evening’s activity.
We then walked the roughly twenty minute walk back into the city centre and boarded a boat. We would be cruising around Lake Pichola for the evening, taking in views of Udaipur from the water.
We also got a closer look at three spectacular palatial residences – the floating Taj Lake Palace, a five star hotel owned by the royal family and voted the most romantic hotel in India; Jag Mandir, which also floats and has previously been used as a pleasure palace for the royal family to hold parties, and as a refuge to asylum seekers; and City Palace, which was built over a period of 400 years. We could even see Monsoon Palace in the horizon, which looked so distant but which we had been so close to on our morning bike ride.
Sunset on the lake was beautiful and the boat’s tour guide provided us with fascinating facts about his city.
After we disembarked the boat, we went for dinner. It was our tour friend’s 21st birthday and so it was a delightful birthday meal, with ‘sex by the lake’ cocktails, birthday cake and lots of delicious Rajasthani cuisine. Another of our travel buddies wrote a quiz based on the year the birthday boy was born, with some bonus questions about our trip. It was a really fun evening, and it continued on at our hotel’s rooftop bar, with more drinks and games.
The following day, feeling a little worse for wear and being grateful that a free morning meant a lie in, I arose and got ready for my lunchtime cookery class. I was so excited to learn how to make some of the delectable food I had been tasting in India; however I was then told that the people who ran the class had to attend a wedding. I was quite disappointed and vowed to attend an Indian cookery class back home.
Instead I went for brunch with some of the group at our now favourite rooftop cafe. It was actually nice and warm for a change, so we sat on the roof soaking up the sun for a while.
We then went our separate ways, as everybody wanted to do different activities that afternoon, and we would reconvene later that evening. I decided to visit City Palace, which we had glimpsed on our sunset cruise the previous evening. I did admittedly get a little lost and ended up in some slightly questionable looking areas of the city. It took me around forty minutes to find the palace, but I was certainly pleased when I did.
City Palace displayed magnificent architecture and a whole host of wonders to appreciate inside. I walked around, admiring the exhibits that were on display in the museum section of the palace and learning about its history.
Its construction commenced in 1553 and I remember noticing how much smaller people must have been in those days, as one really had to duck at doorways.
After an enjoyable afternoon perusing the palace at my own pace, I headed back to the hotel to meet some of my travel friends for a trip to the Mansapurna Karni Mata Ropeway.
It took us just under an hour to walk there, and we stopped on the way to admire the views just before the sun began to set.
Built in 2008 as the first ropeway in Rajasthan, the cable car ride took us from Deendayal Upadhyay Park, up to Sri Karni Mata Temple at Machhala Hill Top. Here we had wonderful views of Udaipur, including some of its lakes and landscapes of the Aravali mountains on the other side of the city.
As the sun set and the city’s lights jolted into life, we soaked in the atmosphere from up high and relished each other’s company, before departing back down in the cable car.
One rickshaw ride later, and we were with the rest of our group for dinner at a charming restaurant called Jagat Niwas Palace.
Our time in Udaipur had been truly amazing, but the following morning we would be leaving and journeying on a six hour bus ride to Ahmedabad, home to the famous Gandhi Ashram.
Watch this space to find out more on my time spent learning about the incredible ‘Great Soul’ of India.