Udaipur – Venice of the East, 007 and saris

 In Asia, Blog, Destination guides, India

India is a vibrant country steeped in tradition, culture and contrasts.  She boasts mountain ranges, sweeping plateaus (deccans) and deserts, and modern sky-scrapers developed next to slums and temples.

Udaipur City Palace At Night

Udaipur nestles in the south western part of Rajasthan and revels in its title of “The Venice of the East” and home to James Bond’s Octopussy.  After a few days in Jaipur, Rajasthan’s capital, I am looking forward to discovering Udaipur’s secrets.

Travelling from Jaipur on an overnight train was supposed to deliver me to Udaipur Central energised and ready to explore what the city has in store for me.  Crawling into cot 12 in carriage B, my nightmare began.   I’m not expecting luxury. But sheets that medical staff in a war zone’s makeshift hospital would instantly reject and blankets as rough as a blacksmith’s hands soon dispels thoughts of a restful night.  I pray the train’s distinctive clickity-clak clickity-clak would be a welcome lullaby and send me into deep slumber.  And it might have done if only the train and my bunk hadn’t conspired to provide a 6 hour roller-coaster ride.

It’s amazing how quickly a tired, lethargic body can transform itself.  I rub my blood-shot eyes and marvel at Swaroop Vilas Hotel’s location.  A cold shower energises me and I’m soon tucking into scrambled eggs made with spices, onions and potatoes served with roti and accompanied by hot spicy pickles.  It is early.  A chorus of birds compete with a Bollywood actor serenading his sweet-heart on TV.  The sun lazily begins to show itself and last night is quickly forgotten.

Anil introduces himself as our chauffeur.  His air-conditioned car is surprisingly clean.  First stop is Jagdish Temple.  Exquisitely carved pillars, decorated ceilings and a spire adorned with images of dancers, elephants and musicians welcome me to this 17th century temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the Hindu God.  The four armed idol of Vishnu, that is said to have been carved from single black stone, stirs me.

City Palace, Udaipur

Udaipur’s City Palace is reputedly Rajasthan’s largest.  Paintings of maharajas, Mewar art and mosaics adorn the walls.  Unobstructed views across Lake Pichola, quaint courtyards and sun-filtered rooms make it easy to understand why Udaipur’s Royal Family still occupy parts of the Palace.  I imagine myself as Roger Moore sipping vodka martini as I stroll through the labyrinth of marbled courtyards.

The short drive through the Western Ghats to the 8th century Eklingji temple gives me just enough time to admire the inside of my eyelids.  Anil warns me that “opportunists” occasionally steal shoes from outside the temple that’s dedicated to Lord Shiva.  I ponder the solution he presents me and then hesitantly remove my left shoe.  Twenty paces later, I discard my right shoe – that would keep them guessing!  Amused by his ingenuity, I progress and am welcomed by a huge sculpture of Nandi, the sacred bull who was Shiva’s loyal steed.

Hilarity ensues as I struggle to recall where I had left my shoes!  I slept well that evening.

The city buzzes with early morning activity.  Vendors set up their market stalls and swat flies; school children walk carefree in a timeless state; dogs sleep under the shade of a tree and buses crammed with at least twice their legal capacity chug slowly through dusty streets.  An old woman is bent over an old Singer sewing machine.  Other women go about their daily routines – they remind of a school of Angel Fish as they glide serenely in brightly coloured saris.

Kumbhalgarh Fort

The highlight is yet to come.    Winding roads, pot-holes and absent-minded cows make the 64 kms to Kumbhalgarh Fort seem like 640.  My first view of this 15th century construction leaves a lasting impression as I survey its perimeter walls – surpassed in size only by The Great Wall of China.  No wonder it was only captured once – and then only because the invaders poisoned the water supply.

The short walk uphill to the ‘Badal mahal’ (Palace of Clouds) rewards me with 360 degree panoramic views.  There is no way I can explore all 350 temples within the fort’s grounds.  Surrounded by 13 mountain peaks, it’s an impressive sight.

A blissful evening is spent walking through Udaipur’s narrow cobbled streets.  Cows roam without a care in the world, the sounds of children swimming in the Ghats and old men sipping piping hot chai all add to the charm.  Udaipur’s romantic nature is matched only by the warmth and friendliness of its people.  This is India showing all her endless charm.

After dinner under the stars, I’m already planning my next trip to the city of the mighty Rajputs!

Mark Gwilliam travelled with TravelMixx which offer an excellent selection of tours as well as highly customised individual packages throughout Rajasthan.  See www.travelmixx.com

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Showing 10 comments
  • Conrad
    Reply

    I came across your site by accident. I remember strolling through Udaipur’s narrow back-streets and the place had a lot of charm. The people were so warm and friendly.

  • Tracey
    Reply

    Udaipur sounds amazing … one day I’ll get there.

  • Lisa Griffin
    Reply

    Thank you for your great story. I am visiting jaipur next year and will now add Udaipur to my trip but I don’t think I’ll go by train though!!

  • Sandeep Hooja
    Reply

    Thanks Mark for sharing such an interesting summary of your experience from this trip. At TravelMixx we feel rewarded to know that you had a great trip. This is what we strive for and are looking forward to hosting you again on your next trip.

    If any of your readers would like a highly personalised travel experience in India, they are more than welcome to contact me personally through our website or my email address. We look forward to assisting you on your next trip to our beautiful country.

  • Sergio
    Reply

    How far is actually Udaipur from Delhi? After being 6 days in Delhi and reading your blog I am kicking myself for not taking a trip. I have many reasons to go back and hopefully visit this place as well. Thank you for writing a good blog.

  • Susie Voeks
    Reply

    Kumbhalgarh Fort is well worth the 2.5 hours bumpy ride from Udaipur. I’ve read a few of your recent articles and love the way you express yourself rather than just list a few boring facts.

  • vinay arora
    Reply

    nice cute article, with the MASH kind of humor in-built into the train episode. Indian trains even the air con coaches leave so much to be desired, it’s not funny even for us domestic tourists. However, Udaipur as a destination, in all its colorful tapestry and its pleasant people, does make up for this one lapse. That’s what an Indian journey is all about: give and take, forgive and cherish….

  • Carol B.
    Reply

    India is indeed a tangled web of astonishing highs and sometimes heartbreaking—or merely hilarious—lows. Your description of traveling by both train and car brought back memories. Once in New Delhi, I was crossing the city in sleek, late model, luxury, automobile driven by a kind, young man in a sleek, late model, luxury, uniform. It was a perk provided by a client, as I was more likely to hop on one of the three-wheeled, auto-rickshaws chuffing up the street like a swarm of old men trying to make last call at the pub.

    Unused to such insulation from the life around me, I had the audacity to roll down my rear window to let in a bit of the churning life around me. My driver was kindly pointing out various landmarks along the way, and as we waited at a stoplight at one of Delhi’s completely mad intersections—where lane markers are mere suggestions, and ladies in gorgeous saris will cut you off on their scooters with cold-hearted elegance—my attention was diverted away from my open window. Suddenly, I had one of those haunted feelings, as if a presence had appeared next to me—first a feeling of dread, and then a warm breath whispered across my bare shoulder.

    Afraid to turn, afraid at what djinni might be lurking, I froze. But I was, after all, in the middle of a modern city, in a luxury automobile, surrounded by hundreds and thousands of commuters scrambling to get to work like worker bees in a concrete hive. The light continued red, and I knew I had no choice but to turn. And there, not two inches from my face, was another face looking bored and exasperated like many of the commuters around him, a face belonging not to any ancient presence, but belonging to a rather handsome camel.

  • Faizur Rahman
    Reply

    Udaipur,one of the most wonderful place to visit .If one can get a chance to visit India one should must need to visit it and enjoy your tour

  • Alan King
    Reply

    As many times as I have been to India, I’ve never visited Udaipur. It looks really amazing. I’m very interested in the palaces and visiting the home of Octopussy. For any of your subscribers who are put off of India – don’t be – it’s a country full of colours and Mark’s article brings Udaipur to life.

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