Udaipur, India- ‘The City of Lakes’
Lake Pichola, Udaipur, India
I sat alone on the shore of Lake Pichola with my legs dipped in cold water. The water that caressed my feet would soon be miles away and I would be left with nothing but a sweet memory of its gentle touch. But how did it matter, I would try to make the next moment as memorable as this one. It was my last night in Udaipur, I sat there with a cool breeze blowing against my face, reminiscing about last few days here.
After spending a month in Indonesia where I mainly did scuba diving, hiking and chased waterfalls, I landed in India although it felt more like a different planet. I reached Udaipur with a heavy rucksack and made my way through the congested streets of the Old City. Cows sat on side of the road bathing in the morning sun, while dogs ran around in childlike excitement. The continuous honking by Auto rickshaws and Motorbikes and their reckless swerving on these narrow roads sent shivers down my spine. Although I am used to this disorder it always takes a day or two to refamiliarise myself after spending months abroad. No one wore helmets, there were no traffic rules, it was chaos at best but still, everything seemed to be working out.
Old City, Udaipur, India
Trying to stay on the nonexistent footpath to avoid getting run over, I was fascinated by the cultural difference which was clearly apparent on those hilly roads. There were old Rajasthani ladies wearing a customary dress, ghagra choli and odhni, covering them entirely whereas tourists sported tank tops and shorts.
Local traditional art and crafts were being sold by the shops lining the road. There were beautiful wooden, brass and copper structures depicting the traditional Rajasthani way of living. Dyed, embroidered and printed fabrics with all different shades of colour flooded the walkway.
Traditional art and craft shops, Udaipur, India
As I was about to reach my hostel, a fresh smell of food intertwined with the stench of sewer and animal waste entered my nose. Less than two hours in Udaipur and already all of my five senses were activated.
After checking in, I headed to Gangaur Ghat. Sitting on the Ghat next to the shimmering Lake Pichola with hills at the backdrop, I realized Rajasthan is way more than a desert state. Fittingly called the ‘City of Lakes’ or ‘Venice of the East’, there were signs painted ‘Save Lakes, Save Water, Save Udaipur’. Though here it was more than just about preserving natural resources.
From kids swimming, to matrons doing laundry and bantering with strangers. Lakes are an inherent part of everyday life of locals. Even the Lake Palace built out of white and black marble, which is located on an island in Lake Pichola itself, is not without the unimaginable silver setting of the lake.
Lake Pichola, Udaipur, India
The most famous tourist attraction, City Palace on the east side of the lake is a picturesque edifice of arched gateways, towers, balconies and domes. Built over the period of 400 years by different rulers of Mewar dynasty, it is a blend of Chinese, European and Medieval architecture constructed completely out of granite and marble.
City Palace, Udaipur, India
Wandering through the palace’s maze-like rooms, corridors and looking at the artifacts like miniature paintings, lithographs, crystalware, musical instruments and armory transported me back in time. After spending three hours, I was only able to get a brief idea of what it had to offer.
City Palace, Udaipur, India
After an adventurous ride in an Auto Rickshaw, I was at Fateh Sagar Lake, built in 1680 in the north-west of Udaipur. There were food stalls next to this manmade lake, serving everything from Chhole Bhature to white sauce pasta. A friend of mine suggested trying cold coffee from one of the most famous stalls there, Vinod Stall. So there I was, sitting on side of the lake with the best cold coffee I have ever had and I watched the sun going for a dip in the water. Soon it was dark and on the top of a dead hill was a Palace, bathed in beautiful golden light, Sajjangarh or Monsoon palace.
Fateh Sagar Lake, Udaipur, India
Next day, after a delicious lunch of pancakes and cold coffee at Jheel cafe, offering spectacular views of Lake Pichola, I made my way to Sajjangarh palace. The palace built in 1884 offered magnificent vistas of the lush green Aravali hills along with the lakes and houses painted in white. There was a small garden, a perfect place to relax in the cool evening weather of Udaipur. After a quick nap, I ambled in and around the palace. It was standing up to the romantic vision I had from the lakeside of Fateh Sagar.
View from Sajjangarh Palace, Udaipur, India
But that vision quickly changed as I entered the palace. Neglect was apparent in every corner. Holes were drilled into the marble walls and the reeking smell of urine and bird poop was everywhere. Tangled up wires lay on the roof. The palace was in shambles, in complete contrast to City Palace, much older but still immaculate.
Back from the palace, I went to Bagore ki Haveli on the shore of Lake Pichola. Over a hundred rooms displaying glass and mirror work, paintings and costumes showcased the traditional Rajasthani culture and architecture. Finally I headed to Bansi ghat for the last activity of the day, a sunset cruise on the lifeline of Udaipur, Lake Pichola.
Over the years, Udaipur has been a setting for a lot of movies, including James Bond’s Octopussy. Visiting it makes you understand why, with it’s stunning lakes, palaces, forts, temples, traditional culture and romantic spots. Udaipur is definitely one of the most vibrant cities in India.
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