We arrive in the early evening in Udaipur. Just in time to check in and freshen up, and then head out to a restaurant (the Rainbow Restaurant) to watch the sun set over lake Pichola and the surrounding hills.
Udaipur has a very different feel from the other Rajasthan cities ,with the lake providing a magical backdrop. Udaipur is known as the city of lakes, palaces and regal splendour. And it was made famous by the James Bond movie Octopussy which was shot here.
You can clearly see the lights of Jag Niwas, a palace located in the lake, which has been converted into a luxury five star hotel, and is now known as the Taj Lake Palace hotel. This hotel is ranked up there with the best hotels in the world. A magical place to stay, alas, not for us on this trip.
Visit a Hindu Temple
Our first visit is to a Hindu temple in the old city. There are a number of interesting temples in Udaipur, and this one heads up that list. The Shree Jagdish temple is located in the Royal Palace precinct and was built in 1651.
Stunning detailed carvings adorn every inch of the outside of this three story temple. These include some very graphic carvings of various sexual activities and positions.
We slowly walk around the outside courtyard, taking the time to look around, smell the incense and listen to the chanting. Being inside the temple compound is very peaceful, a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the old town outside the temple walls.
Note that you have to take off your shoes to visit temples. In some locations there is a “shoe concierge”, or you leave them outside in the hope of finding them back. In others, like here, we just put our shoes in a shopping bag, that we take along specifically for this purpose and carry them with us.
Udaipur City (winter) Palace
The dominant feature of Udaipur is the City Palace. This palace complex was built over a period of more than 400 years, starting in 1553. This was after Maharana Udai Singh II shifted the capital from Chittorgarh to Udaipur, a location that was both stunning and more secure, and allowed the Mewar kingdom to flourish.
Interestingly, the design makes very smart use of the existing topography, making it look much, much larger than it actually is. The massive facade is 244 metres long and 30 metres high, but in fact encapsulates the majority of the hill it was built on.
Note on the photo below that there appears to be a tree on top of the palace roof on the right hand side. That is actually the top of the hill, the tree is growing in a small courtyard on what is the ground floor of that part of the palace.
The palace is built in a fusion of Rajasthan and Mughal architecture, and it has a number of palaces inside which somehow still make it feel like part of the same building. Its location means that it has great views over the lake, the surrounding city and the hills.
We hired a local guide which took us on a two hour walk of the building, and provided interesting background information snippets. Like how the Maharanas were weighted at special events, and that their resultant weight in gold was distributed amongst the people. Another story is how Maharana Pratap put a mask resembling an elephant trunk on his horse to confuse the rival Mughal’s army elephants.
We also got to see the rather austere room where the last Maharana lived until fairly recently.
Walk through the old town
We had a lovely afternoon walking through the old town, along lanes going up and down. There are a large number of shops in the old city, and we managed to find an excellent tailor as well as a range of small souvenir shops.
Crossing the bridges can be fun, especially when they are blocked by the typical combination of Indian cows and donkeys. Patience is a virtue!
As you wander through the old city you are bound to end up at the water gates. The architecture here is amazing and definitely worth a visit. No tickets required, this is located at the water front directly next to the old city and in the vicinity of the palace. People ply their trades, wash their clothes, and generally carry on with their daily routines here.
Sunset Cruise over Lake Pichola
One of the things to do in Udaipur is a boat ride over Lake Pichola. There are a number of ways to do that in a range of prices. I would recommend to take a private option. We didn’t and ended up in one of the large canal cruise boats, which must have been the slowest boat cruise ever.
However, watching the sunset over the city and hills from the lake is definitely worth it, it is absolutely stunning.
The crowds you see in the picture are mainly locals washing their clothes or themselves at the end of the working week. Tomorrow is the start of Diwali!
We went for a scenic TukTuk ride to see the Diwali lights around town on our last evening. Fireworks went of at regular intervals, and there are lots of bunting and fairy lights. Small terracotta candle lights are placed in the doorsteps of houses, which also have colourful decorations that include small red footprints representing Lakshmi. Most houses are lighted by hundreds of candles and Christmas lights. The wealthier one is, the more elaborate the decorations.
People are busy buying bikes, tv’s and large stalks of cane. Business is booming all over town, and you see some interesting ways in which the purchases are being transported. No, not everybody has access to a delivery fan, and it is amazing how much you can actually fit on a scooter or bicycle if you really, really try!
Diwali is often described as the Indian version of Christmas and New Year combined. Diwali is the festival of light; a five day festival celebrating new beginnings, and the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness. It is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jain al over the world. The atmosphere in Udaipur is electric, and I can highly recommend to at least spent one Diwali celebration in India.
When visiting a family on Diwali it is customary to bring a large box of nice sweets, candied fruits or chocolates. The local candied dates are especially tasty!
Walk along the lake
Before we head towards the airport we go for a walk down to the lake. It is only a short distance from the hotel and we enjoy a walk on the footpath along the shores.
Heading to a small group of shops and restaurants to get our final Udaipur fix, we pass horses, camels, stray dogs and a number of men bathing in the lake….. it will be hard to say goodbye, this is indeed a magical city!
We see a number of buildings in and alongside the lake that look really interesting. We have no idea what they have been used for, just enjoy looking at them. Sometimes it is fun not to get the guide book out, but to just experience and enjoy!
This is the last part of the Intrepid tour. We had a great time, and many thanks to our guide, Chandrajeet, as well as our fellow travellers Scott and Georgie, Lori, Justine and Jean.
Travel details and tips
Accomodation: We stayed in the Raj Kuber hotel in Udaipur, on Kurabad House Road in Ambavgarh. Large and clean rooms, and plenty of hot water. This hotel has a large rooftop terrace where an excellent buffet breakfast is served. The hotel is only a short tuk tuk ride away from the old city and is located within walking distance to the lake.
Alternatively, splash out and go for the Taj Lake Palace hotel, it is an experience you won’t forget!
Tip 1: Udaipur has many restaurants with a roof or balcony overlooking the water. Our favourites were Rainbow and Charcoal. Find yourself a spot, sit down, watch the sun set and enjoy the views.
Tip 2: Like many others in the travel industry, our friendly guide has had to find other ways to make a living. He now sells beautifully crafted indian textiles and carpets online. Check out his shop at www.myindiaboutique.com