We arrived in Udaipur following our overnight train journey at around 6.45am and made our way outside to be greeted by a far more subdued group of taxi and tuk tuk drivers than what we’ve experienced so far in Delhi and Agra, and far fewer in numbers as well. Again, we made our way through the group to assess the situation before deciding on our course of action. We were approached by a tuk tuk driver who explained we could either book a taxi at the pre-paid booth, or he could take us. After some bartering we settled on a price of 80 rupees ($AU1.60) which we were more than happy to pay and we were on our way. He was polite, helpful and not pushy at all, and we liked him immediately.
First impressions of Udaipur were brilliant
From the moment we packed our bags into his tuk tuk and set off for our hotel I could tell we were going to really enjoy our stay here. Just the disposition of the driver made us feel more at ease, he was easy to talk to, didn’t try and solicit any additional work out of us, and got us to our destination with the minimum of fuss. What is Udaipur like? The city itself was very appealing. The winding, narrow, hilly streets made for a town setting full of character, and when we saw the lake and the hills in the distance, we looked at each other with huge smiles on our faces. Our first impressions of Udaipur were brilliant.
Great hotel with amazing views
We checked into our hotel, the Aashiya Haveli, dumped our gear and headed straight for the rooftop. It seemed like almost every building had a rooftop with a restaurant, but ours had an uninterrupted view of the lake, and the view was spectacular. We hadn’t eaten much at all since lunch the previous day, so we ordered some breakfast and waited to soak in the view. After breakfast Sarah decided to go and have a nap as she was tired and hadn’t been feeling well, so Jack and I decided to go for a walk to get our bearings.
Udaipur was different to our previous Indian experiences
We headed straight for the water’s edge and made our way across to the other side via a cute little bridge. On the bridge we were approached by a young, friendly man who tried to get us to visit his art showroom after the usual small talk about where we come from and our mutual love of cricket. We politely declined his offer, he said his goodbyes and we were on our way. The same chats occurred with various locals along the way, and a few things began to dawn on me as we explored our new location.
Firstly, as with Delhi and Agra, local shopkeepers were trying to get us to visit their shops to buy something, whether it be food, clothes, souvenirs or art. The difference was once we said no here, they were friendly, wished us a good day and had a smile on their face. This made for a pleasant change and I promised some of them I’d return over the course of our stay, promises I kept.
The second thing I noticed was how clean Udaipur is compared to Delhi and Agra. The Old Town where we were staying, while not spotless, was a world away from what we’d experienced in India so far. Since wandering around Udaipur we’ve discovered not everywhere is as clean as the Old Town, but there seems to be more care taken. I was shocked at Agra Railway Station while waiting for our train to see people throwing so much rubbish onto the tracks either from the platform, or out the windows as the train sat idle. I just don’t get that mindset, but to be fair we’ve carried our rubbish for miles on our walks because there is a distinct lack of rubbish bins everywhere we go. Perhaps there’s just not enough money for a thorough rubbish collection program, I’m not sure, but I can’t help but think there must be a better way.
I also noticed a lot of animals roaming around, and given the narrow streets and the small size of the town itself, it seems everywhere you look there’s something to see. Jack loved it of course, and we were amazed to see cows, dogs, goats, water buffalo and donkeys given free reign to do as they please. Everywhere we went all Jack could say was ‘more cows’ whenever there was a moment when we couldn’t see any. He was mesmerised by them.
There’s plenty to see and do in and around Udaipur, and we could have stayed for far longer than the three days we had planned. But here’s what we got up to during our stay:
The pleasure of just wandering around
Sarah and I get far more pleasure from wandering around a beautiful town, chatting to locals and enjoying the scenery than we ever do at specific tourist attractions. Despite the fact it’s much cheaper, absorbing what a town is really about is the reason why we came on this nomadic adventure in the first place. And in a town like Udaipur, known as India’s most romantic town, you can wander around for days just enjoying the sights and sounds of the place.
They certainly love their claim to fame of being the setting for the famous James Bond movie Octopussy. Everywhere you go there’s nightly 7.30pm screenings being shown at many rooftop restaurants around town. If you haven’t seen the movie, or want to refresh the memory if it’s been a while, make sure you schedule a viewing in after dining at one of the establishments.
Just around the corner from our hotel is the magnificent City Palace. If you’re staying in the Old Town, and there’s no reason to stay anywhere else, everything is virtually within walking distance. We decided to go on a boat trip around Pichola Lake which departs from the City Palace. It costs 30 rupees to enter the City Palace grounds and another 340 rupees each for the boat ride (560 rupees each after 3pm due to the sunset factor). Boats leave on the hour every hour from 10.00am and it takes 15-20 minutes to walk from the City Palace entrance to where the boat departs, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to make it.
The City Palace is absolutely spectacular. It’s huge and so grand that you’ll be gobsmacked by its beauty. It’s set on top of the hill in the Old Town and is right up there with any palace I’ve seen anywhere in the world. We took our time getting to the boat to take a good look around the grounds. We didn’t bother going inside as we’re not really interested in paying more money to see a museum, and we were more than satisfied with what we were experiencing outside. There’s also a fee if you wish to take a camera into the building, a policy we’ve seen a lot of at tourist sites so far.
Pichola Lake Boat Ride
After having a good look around the City Palace we made our way to the boat departure point. We climbed aboard the small boat with about 20 other tourists and headed off for a 90 minute spin around the edge of the lake. There’s so many buildings filled with character that line the edge of the river, including the City Palace itself, but it was the two islands in the middle of the lake that are the star attractions.
The first island is the Lake Palace, a 5-star hotel built in 1754 that was once the summer holiday residence of the royal family. If you’ve seen Octopussy you’ll recognise the island immediately, and if you’ve got the money to stay, it’s apparently an incredible place to spend a few days. Because it’s now a hotel, we weren’t allowed to get off and explore the island, but if you’re not staying you can still organise to have a meal in the restaurant. They will arrange a boat to collect you and take you back after your meal.
The second island is called Jag Mandir and the palace here was built before the Lake Palace in 1622. We stopped here for about 30 minutes and enjoyed a good look around, although we didn’t know how long we had to explore because we weren’t told. We assume Jag Mandir is a hotel, but we couldn’t be sure because we didn’t see any guests! There were staff working away on the grounds and in the restaurants, but no actual guests. It was a little strange. The place is beautiful and would be a lovely place to go if you wanted to escape for a few days. But apart from a day spa and a couple of restaurants there didn’t seem to be much else to do.
If I have one criticism of the boat ride, it’s the fact there wasn’t any commentary at all, either recorded or from the guy driving the boat. It would have been nice to learn a little about some of the famous buildings that line the lake, or something about the two palace islands, or even simply how long we had to explore Jag Mandir. But as has been a common theme during our stay in India, it’s hard to get any information at all unless you ask for it.
Located in the heart of the Old Town about 100m from the main entrance to the City Palace is this temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It was built in 1651 and Jack and I took a look around the outside before venturing inside. We were making our way around the outside in an anti-clockwise direction when a local man told us it was customary to walk around the temple clockwise. I thanked him and went back the other way. About 10 seconds later the man returned and asked where I was from. When I said Australia he told me I was the first Australian he’d ever met who wasn’t arrogant! I didn’t know whether to take it as a compliment or be offended, so I didn’t take it either way and brushed it off as just one of those things.
We made our way inside the small temple and watched as about 30 women dressed in traditional colourful dress banged drums and sang songs as people prayed at a statue of Lord Vishnu. It was fascinating to watch, and even Jack enjoyed it as he began dancing to the delight of some of the women taking part in the sing along. One lady even painted a red dot with her thumb right between Jack’s eyes. I guess his dancing was enough to make him an honorary member of the Hindu faith!
The top of Eklinggarh
This was hard work, especially as I had Jack strapped to my back in his carrier. You can get tuk tuks up there, and there’s even a cable car that can take you to the top, but I was feeling energetic and needed the exercise. I haven’t been doing much exercise for the past few months, but my leg is feeling much better with the effects of the bulging disk in my back subsiding.
There’s a park with slides and swings on the way up for parents who need a break and kids who want to have some fun. The park could do with some renovation, but it still works fine and you’ll be happy for the rest and the kids will be happy for the play. The need for a bit of restoration is a common theme up here, with the path in urgent need of attention and the remnants of the old arsenal in poor shape. But the views over the city are breathtaking and well worth the trip up alone.
If you walk to the top and are too tired to walk back down, there’s always the option of enjoying a drink and a bite to eat before taking the cable car back.
A day at the GBH American Hospital wasn’t on the itinerary
Sarah’s illness progressively got worse until on our final morning in Udaipur, after a night of throwing up, we went to the hospital to find out once and for all what was wrong. Sarah got sick in Cambodia with a stomach virus, and we assumed it was fixed when she spent a day in hospital there. But over the past few weeks she hasn’t been feeling 100% and it’s steadily got worse to the this point.
We were seen straight away and after a quick diagnosis she was admitted into her own room. I was sent away to get the paperwork done and buy what seemed like an incredible amount of drugs and equipment from the onsite chemist. Here they don’t give you anything before you go to the chemist and buy it. It’s a different way of doing things but I guess it works for them. Once in her room she was immediately administered drips and a few of the other drugs I had arrived with in our goodie bag!
We were paying 6000 rupees ($AU120) per day to stay there, as well as a 500 rupee ($AU10) per day fee for the doctor, and we got the distinct impression they were planning on having Sarah stay for a few days at least. However, we had plans to leave at 6.00am the following morning, and when we told them we’d have to leave that night they were happy enough and formulated a plan to ensure Sarah was treated properly with the right medication. Of course, if the condition was serious, we would have changed our plans, but the doctor was happy to let us go so that was good enough for us.
Once again we rose before is natural to catch our 6.00am train to Jaipur. We’d organised a tuk tuk to pick us up at 5.15am and we were at Udaipur City Railway Station with about 30 minutes to spare. The train was waiting or us so we made our way to our seats and got settled in. We were a little surprised to see so many people sleeping outside the station as well as inside the terminal. Were they all catching trains early in the morning? Or were many of them homeless? Not everyone got on our train so perhaps it was another example of the poverty and hardship many Indians must cope with on a daily basis.
What is Udaipur like? Our stay has reinvigorated us for the remainder of our trip after our less than ideal experiences in Delhi and Agra. The people were really friendly, and as a result we were much friendlier too. Perhaps it was because we now knew the tricks people used to entice us to buy their products or services, that we were able to loosen up a bit while still being alert to these sorts of tactics and any potential scammers we may run into. The town was charming and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay, well, Jack and I did anyway! Sarah’s day spent in hospital put a dampener on things, but despite that we would highly recommend Udaipur to anyone visiting India.
Click the images below to check out a photogallery of our stay in Udaipur…