The alarm bells sound off. It’s 3:00 a.m. in the morning. The dark, desolate lanes of the city that never sleeps are unevenly lined with parked rickshaws. The barking of stray dogs is the only sound we hear for a while, until a lone rick approaches us. As we chug along with our backpacks in tow, we’re filled with a staggering amount of excitement. Rajasthan conjures images of stately palaces, royalty, and opulence. And if you’ve ever seen images of or read about Rajasthan; you’d understand why we felt the way we did.
We landed at Udaipur sometime before sunrise. The chilly morning air, at 4 degree Celsius, wasn’t too welcoming, but the sight of the setting moon made up for the mild shivers. Pre-paid taxis are a good bet to bank on to reach the main city which is located about 22 km from the airport. At a nominal fare of 500 INR, you can reach your hotel; it also saves you the unnecessary hassle of bargaining. The taxi ride to our guest house was quite eventful. The rather friendly taxi driver was dishing out advice on what to see and how to go about it. My usual city wariness made me warn Basil, as he seemed to bond effortlessly with the driver. The journey there onwards turned out to be a quiet affair. On reaching our guest house, I realized the driver understood English and was offended by my city approach of being distrustful of new people, in new places. We learnt our first lesson in Udaipur, almost everyone, no matter what they do, knew English. Our guest house, Bhanwar Vilas was located in a quaint alley, in the main tourist area of Gangor Ghat. Mr. Sharma, the proprietor of the guest house, is more like a local friend than an owner. He’s equally chatty and makes an effort to bond with his guests. The generation gap didn’t seem to matter. Udaipur challenges your fitness levels. The four floor climb to reach our room, luggage in tow, was quite a task. But the proximity of the terrace to our room was an encouraging thought. The room was basic with distinct Udaipur influences. Anyway, at 800 INR a day, hot water in the morning and Mr. Sharma’s affable company; we weren’t complaining.
After we had a stomach-popping breakfast in one of the many mini hotel restaurants in the area, we made a quick stop to Jagdish Temple which was a stone’s throw away from our guest house. The intricate stone carving is the most striking part of the temple. Set across a backdrop of clear skies and flocks of restless pigeons, the temple is perfect for many picture perfect opportunities. The temple was built by Maharana Jagat Singh and is dedicated to Lord Laxmi Narayan. The area on the outskirts of one of the entrances of the temples is reserved for feeding less-fortunate people a wholesome meal. During prayer time, the main temple resonates with prayer chants and the sounds of clanging bells. The priest gave us holy water and prasad as we paid our respects to the main deity. The main temple is surrounded by many smaller shrines in honour of different deities. Our next stop was the striking “City Palace”. The rather steep entrance fee of 150 INR explained the well maintained gardens and Palace interior. We chose a Hindi guide over an audio guide which might have been a better choice in hindsight. The booming tourism industry has ensured it possible to get a guide in almost every foreign language. Ironically, there aren’t guides proficient in any one of the native languages of the country. Not surprisingly, they come with a price tag to match their course fees and country’s currency. The neatly manicured gardens are the first sight you see as you enter the formidable palace gates. Our guide ushered us in and told us that the entire tour would take an hour and we should not stop too often, so that we could complete it in time. The palatial building has many winding staircases and is three storied high. Each area is reserved for a specific reason. From the Deewan-e-Khaas to the Deewan-e- Aam, the queen’s chambers, the King’s chambers; the whole tour is like deciphering a maze of narrow, winding staircases – ascending and descending alternately at regular intervals. The highlight of the palace would be its ornate gardens, located on the topmost floors. The rulers who built the Palace, are believed to be descendants of the Sun God which explains the orifice in the front façade of the palace, allowing the rays of the sun to directly enter the palace. A section of the Palace still houses the descendants of the Royal family. The Palace lawns are often rented for wedding ceremonies and as we exited the main Palace the sounds of clanging vessels and whiff of spices fill the air.
Our quest for lunch at Maxim’s Café proved to be a hearty exercise of climbing four floors. The views from the top were perfect to enjoy the stack of white buildings, each with their own rooftop café. The meal was basic and fell short of what we expected. Unlike most north Indian cafes which boast authentic continental cuisines, the food couldn’t avoid its local flavour. Our next scheduled local attraction was Gulabh Bagh. The quaint streets en-route are a temptation for any shopaholic. It’s hard to resist the colourful handicraft displays and bohemian-wear, coupled with the welcoming calls of the shopkeepers. I finally gave into temptation and entered a shop selling ethnic material and jewelry. The upper floor was a studio of an artist. His work, especially local miniature paintings, was exceptional. With a significant amount of time elapsed at our unexpected shopping rendezvous, we didn’t have enough time to make it to the garden, instead we went to the cable car point to watch sunset. At a price of 200 INR per head, we were able to get our own car. As we ascended to the highest point, the valley view on either side was quite stunning. At the apex, there is a mandir and sunset/sunrise viewing point. We sat at viewing point, waiting patiently for the sun to set on the clear waters of Lake Pichola. The Lake Palace and Jag Mandir looked resplendent in the orange hues of the setting sun. Our last stop for the evening was Bagore-Ki-Haveli. During the day, you can visit the museum which displays costumes, however we had reached after it was shut. We were in time to catch a front seat for the cultural evening. The evening performance usually starts at 7 p.m. Kathak, folk music, puppetry and matki dance were performed by local troupes and musicians. After the performance, we had dinner in a rooftop restaurant and called it a night by observing the moon from the terrace of our guest house.