Utterly Captivating Udaipur and Surrounds, Rajasthan, India

8 Apr

I have yet to meet a traveller who hasn’t raved about Udaipur. As we discovered there are plenty of reasons for that. It’s physically stunning, easy to navigate and, as it’s a city that depends on tourists for a large whack of its economy, everything imaginable is laid on for you. But first we had to get there from Jodhpur.  

 

Since day two in Pushkar I’d been in a ‘delicate’ state of health. Yes, boring but inevitable in India. If not me then it would have been Stuart, so I took one for the team. My condition necessitated regular, strategic stops along the way. On Durgesh’ advice we were driving via the Ranakpur temple complex and Kumbhalgarh Fort which added kilometres of bumpy roads to the itinerary, but we’d been assured it would be worth it. I beg to differ. 

    
 

Yes, the 15th century white carved marble Jain temple at Ranakpur is impressive for the skill of the craftsmanship and as a symbol of the wealth and power of the Jains, but once again we encountered rudeness as we entered the temple. This time from the male and female security guards who frisked us and although we had paid the extra fee to have a camera (in fact a mobile phone camera) they said we could not take any other mobile or ipad into the temple. Since we weren’t prepared to pay the ‘camera fee’ three times over, or risk putting them in insecure storage, Stuart and I entered one at a time. I am beginning to think that being obnoxious is actually a prerequisite for being hired by temples and mosques. 

  
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The next stop, Kumbhalgarh Fort, is a world heritage 15th century fort famous for its massive fortified walls, and a staple location for period movies. There is also a wildlife sanctuary around it but the country looked so dry, poor and scrubby I can’t imagine many animals, let alone tigers, would be happy there.  

   This important archaeological site is administered by government which has given it the kiss of death. Trash, dirt, grafitti, broken electrics, empty, defaced rooms – up close it was bleak. When I compared it to beautiful Mehrangarh Fort I felt incredibly sad at the lost opportunity to bring such a landmark site to life. They run a light and sound show in the evenings but I wouldn’t want to be driving at night from Kumbhalgarh to Udaipur. 

    
   Our hotel in Udaipur was in the old town centre near the lakeside. Ganesh understandably didn’t want to risk his paintwork in the narrow, chaotic streets so we decanted into a tuk tuk for the final couple of kilometres and and arranged to meet him at the same spot on our final morning as we knew we’d be getting about on foot, by boat and tuk tuk until then. Ganesh was delighted to have a full day off.

Jaiwana Haveli is a five-storey, well maintained historical building with a roof terrace restaurant overlooking the lake. The staff are excellent and Stuart was quite taken with their generous gin pours and the quality of the food. Our room on the fourth floor had almost as a good a view as the terrace. It was easy to spend hours just watching the boats, birds and the play of light on the lake, dawn and sunset were particularly beautiful. 

    
   
Typical breakfast – the toast was his too!

Originally we’d booked four nights in Udaipur, but when a few months back Air India dissolved their code sharing arrangement with Austrian Airlines for the Vienna-Delhi return flight, we were forced to reduce it to three nights. I would happily have stayed five nights. 

As it was we spent a full morning at the City Palace, another royal estate endowed to a trust by the Mewar family. The Maharanas of Udaipur never ceded to the invading Mughals and the people of the region are very proud of that. Part of the palace is a hotel and as we exited through the large courtyard we stopped to watch young men decorating pergolas for a wedding, just like a scene from ‘Monsoon Wedding’, 

    
    
    
    
   
This is a group of engineers from all over India staying in Udaipur for training and team building. Particularly nice to meet such bright, ambitious professional young Indian women. 

    
    
 Royals get into the spirit of Holi in this wall painting.

    
   
The extensive sculpture gallery was wonderful. Just don’t try some of those poses at home.

    
    
    
    
    
    
   We took the government boat trip around the lake in the afternoon, amused by the antics of the domestic tourists who took selfies to a whole new level.  

    
  Everyone had to wear life jackets except the driver’s girlfriend.  
   
Leela Palace Hotel

In the heat of the day we rode a tuk tuk through the main bazaar driven by a charming 60-year-old gentleman. 

    
    
    

Jaggery, raw sugar for cooking.
    
    

Imli – tamarind.
  You wouldn’t think from the look on this chap’s face that he had given me permission to take his photo but he had!

 Once again we splurged on lunch at the five star lakeside Leela Palace Hotel, which has since joined our top ten Asian hotels list on the strength of its elegance, comfort and customer service. 

    
    
    
    
  Well I was still feeling fragile so a little lie down was only to be expected.

  This is the ‘casual’ dining room.

   
We were driven by golf cart back to gate and were given an enthusiastic potted history of the hotel by our driver, a Leela employee since it opened.

On our final day in India Ganesh was waiting at the rendezvous point bright and early to drive us to Eklingji temple, the hindu temple of the ruling Mewar family since their dynasty began in the 8th century. We arrived right on 10:30am prayers so there was a minor crush of people trying to buy offerings and push into the central section of the temple complex. Again the heavy handedness of the security was annoying. Not even small handbags were allowed in and certainly no photography. I even got reprimanded for photographing the shoes outside! It amused me to watch the barefoot rural women walk in off the street in their saris with blackened soles of their feet and march directly into the temple. 

    
    
    Probably the sweetest cow I came across all trip.

   The devotees were quite impassioned, at certain shrines groups of men shouted or sang loudly and prostrated themselves beside a statue of a cow. At the main shrine priests took the floral offerings, said something, then the person took some of the flowers or petals back. Laggards were swiftly moved along with a prod.

I admit to feeling relieved it would be the last religious site I would visit on this trip.

Our final stop was Devi Garh fort hotel where we enjoyed a final relaxing lunch. Another five star resort hotel, Ganesh told us it is famous as a favourite hotel of Liz Hurley. I take that to mean that Liz Hurley is paid to spruik about it. Actually it speaks for itself as its desert setting on a hillside above a small traditional village is striking and the spare interior design elements of stone, silver, marble and wood are restful. We took lunch on the terrace above the pool and spa with its bright pink Bougainvillea flowers.

    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
 Udaipur airport was only a 40 minute drive away and Ganesh delivered us bang on time for our flight to Delhi and thence back to Vienna. He and Rakesh had driven us over 700 kilometres on some dodgy roads in highly dodgy traffic conditions but we had never had a moment’s concern. Exemplary service! 

    
 This, my fifth trip to India and Stuart’s 10th, ended on a high note, and I know we will be back, but I saw things on this trip that have discomfited me. The callous disregard for the value of India’s wild places and animals, heritage archaelogical sites left to degrade, and the aggressive attitude of many staff and some worshippers at some temples and mosques left me uncomfortable. However, counterbalancing that, the astonishing wildlife and the marvellous people we encountered  (especially those who looked after us so well at guesthouses and hotels), will be remembered fondly always.  

 

2 Responses to “Utterly Captivating Udaipur and Surrounds, Rajasthan, India”

  1. Heather Watt April 9, 2016 at 11:29 am #

    A good ending to India. Hope your ‘delicate state’ is all gone and yes you have had a great birthday journey Sharon.

    • Sharon Tickle April 9, 2016 at 8:38 pm #

      Feeling 90% Heather, thanks. Back on the slopes tomorrow on the Italian side of Mt Blanc. Sxx

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