||[Feb. 21st, 2017|05:59 pm]
Udaipur is the kind of place I love. There are lots of great views and interesting places to visit and the streets are quirky and narrow, easy to get lost in. My hotel is in the 'old town' area with heritage walks and many restaurants on the haveli rooftops, offering views of the lake. |
Yesterday I went on a one hour boat-trip around Lake Pichola. As I stood in the queue, looking like the Michelin man in my life jacket, I noticed a rather foppish looking man behind me without a life jacket. "Life jackets are over there" I said helpfully, as we were just about to board. "I know, I know" he snapped irritably at me. He looked like a university professor with patches on the elbows of the jacket he was wearing. He waited in the line stubbornly for a while, pretended to check the lens on his camera, then went to get his life jacket. I made sure I gave him a smile as he walked back to the queue.
The boat circumnavigated the lake, passing the City Palace and my hotel next door, then looping around Jagniwas Island, which is entirely covered by a palace that was used in the film Octopussy. It has now been converted in to a five star hotel with luxurious courtyards, lotus ponds and a pool shaded by a mango tree. Rooms start from 350 pounds a night. Unsurprisingly they don't allow visitors so we headed instead for Jagmandir Island which also has a palace (Udaipur isn't short of palaces). This one was built in 1620 and has stone elephants each side of the small jetty. It has also been converted in to a luxury hotel and if the cost of the Sprite I purchased (180 rupees) is anything to go by, rooms must be expensive here too. We had half an hour to explore it but there wasn't much to see really, just the gardens. I found a shady spot and read up on Udaipur.
I always enjoy boat-trips but was disappointed there wasn't any kind of a commentary as we passed the interesting islands/buildings. On the bright side we didn't capsize, as the lake is home to crocodiles.
One of the quirkier tourist attractions in Udaipur is the Vintage & Classic Car Collection. It's a circular courtyard of garages containing 22 old cars. There were lots of old Fords, the Rolls Royce Phantom that was used in Octopussy, grille shining brightly in the sunlight, and the Cadillac convertible that the Queen and JFK have both used when visiting Udaipur. In one of the last garages were some solar powered rickshaws. I found this quite interesting as tuk-tuks chug out so many fumes in Asia, a solar-powered option would be a giant stride forward for the environment. Sadly I've yet to see one on the road.
My rickshaw driver drove me back to the old town, swerving between oncoming motorbikes, cows wandering lazily and sleeping dogs. I never get bored of rickshaw rides in India - they're a lot of fun. Every ride I spot countless brilliant photo opportunities but we're always past them before I have chance to take a picture.
We stopped in front of Jagdish temple, which is entered via a steep flight of steps flanked by two elephant statues. Shading underneath one of the elephants was a rather eccentric old man, so I asked if he'd mind if I took a photo. He agreed and adopted a strange pose, holding a stick with his right hand and making a 'halt' signal with his left. I gave him some rupees for his troubles.
Jagdish is one of the taller, more impressive Jain temples I've visited on this trip. Inside a group of ten old women, resplendent in colourful saris, chanted in unison as the eldest in the middle clanged a small cymbal. I enjoyed watching them, cooling down in the shade.
At 5pm I took a rickshaw to Sajjan Garh (Monsoon Palace) which is perched on a hill overlooking Udaipur. The palace itself is in a rather dilapidated state, almost left in ruin, but the views from the walls were spectacular. From one side I gazed over Lake Pichola, picking out my hotel and the places I've visited so far, and on the other side the view was even better, of the greyish blue hills disappearing off in to the distance. I waited for the sun to drop in the sky, took lots of photos (becoming alarmed at one point when the 'battery low' icon flashed red on my screen) and then made my way back down.
I ate at the rooftop restaurant of my hotel, the various palaces illuminated brightly on the lake. Music was playing loudly from somewhere across the water and fireworks occasionally lit up the sky. I read my book by candlelight, which I've really enjoyed and is brewing up to an exciting climax.
When my food arrived it was delicious, the best of the trip so far. I had green and red capsicums stuffed with potato, raisins and spices, served in a curry sauce, as well as palak paneer, the tastiest spinach paneer dish I've had in India. I asked the waiter whether the capsicum dish had an Indian name, so I can seek it out in future, but it seemed to be an invention of the young cook, who was bought to my table smiling proudly.
After I had polished off my food I got chatting with an American guy on the next table, who has retired and is now in his second year of traveling around India (he's been in Udaipur for a month). His name was Hunter (!), he had exactly the same voice as Harrison Ford and he somehow managed to mention the word 'allergies' three times in our short chat. He was good company though.
I love my hotel. It may be down at the waters edge which means a very steep two minute walk up to the main street, but that means that it's blissfully quiet at night. For the first time on the trip, there are no horns to startle me as I'm drifting off. I had a fantastic nights sleep and marveled at the view from the foot of my bed when I woke next morning.
Today I went to a tourist information shop and booked some trains and flights that help join the dots for the rest of my trip. Tomorrow I go to Pune, but there are no direct flights so I land in Mumbai. To get to Pune I'll take a four hour train. I also booked two flights for both Jessica and I for later in the trip (she will be joining me in five days time). As much as I love traveling by train the distances involved mean very time consuming journeys, and by booking two flights it means I've saved us both being stuck on a train for approaching 20 hours. It's strange that you don't need your passport to book a flight in India (just your name and date of birth), yet you need it to book a train!
I also booked a hotel in Pune via Agoda, got my travel adaptor fixed and picked up my first laundry of the trip. A practical morning.
For the second day running I went to Cafe Eidelweiss, a swiss bakery, for lunch. This time I had two slices of my favourite apple pie. Just a short distance away was Bagore-ki-Haveli, built in the late 18th century. It's a very traditional old haveli, with lots of narrow staircases leading out in to balconied courtyards. It's now been converted in to a museum to give a snapshot of the buildings life. Incongruously I thought, it also housed the worlds biggest turban, almost 2m in width. Afterwards I walked around Udaipur for a few hours, across a bridge to the other side of the lake, happily getting lost.
I've absolutely loved Udaipur. I'd definitely put it up there with any places I've visited in Asia. One slight down side is that its streets are lined with many souvenir shops selling really nice stuff, and men sit on the steps trying to cajole you inside. "Hello my friend, where you from?" It can be quite tiring at times. The trick is to answer them politely but keep walking. It's funny, whenever I answer "England", the more wheeler-dealerish of them answer "ah, lovely jubbly". There must be some kind of online sales manual for Asian street-sellers because I often hear this exact line.
Tomorrow will be a long day of travel to Pune. From there I have some good walks planned.