If you’ve seen the latest Rajasthan tourism ads, you’d probably know how they claim that Rajasthan has something different to offer to everyone. What they said is indeed true for my solo travel to Udaipur was an experience I’ll cherish for a long time to come.
A 1 hour 20 minutes flight from Mumbai took me to Maharana Pratap Airport which is about 25 km away from the main city. But Uber and Ola have made their debut in Udaipur so I did not need to book a prepaid ( ripoff) cab. Upon reaching my hotel, my wallet was lighter by 500 bucks but then before I could sulk about that I realised what an amazing location I’d stumbled upon thanks to Tripadvisor. Hotel Lakend is located right on the banks of the Fatehsagar lake. However, since I was crunched for time on the trip I figured it would be wiser to venture out and catch the light and sound show at the City Palace. Check-in formalities completed, I hailed another Ola and was off to watch ‘Hathnal ki chadai’. Maps had suggested that it wouldn’t take me more than 20 minutes to reach but Udaipur is a tricky city to navigate with narrow alleys and random one ways which Google doesn’t take into account. The cabbie however seemed to know a shortcut as he was earlier employed with the royal family and spoke to some palace guards in the regional language to ensure I get to watch the show even though I was over 10 minutes late.
The palace precinct is grand and by the time I reached the show had already started. Once I figured what was happening, I actually enjoyed the show. The stories were reminiscent of those books back in school. However, the show will be enjoyed strictly by history buffs. When it ended, I overheard a family complaining to the guard that they should’ve really shown something more interesting for 500 bucks per person. The crowd was more interested in taking photos post the show something that seemed to bemuse the palace guards. Anyway, I decided to wander about the beautifully lit palace precinct which reminded me of those childhood fairy tales and stumbled upon the Sunset Terrace- an open air restaurant overlooking by the lake overlooking the shimmering Jagmandir Palace and Lake Palace. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to have dinner at. However, there was one catch- the place seemed to be open for house guests only and required prior reservation but then they wouldn’t disappoint a single woman traveller. #win
Day 2 started with a stroll followed by breakfast by the lake. And then I set off to wander about the City Palace during the day. Now the thing about travelling alone is that you will meet all kinds of people (or not if you choose to keep to yourself). So I met chatty cab drivers who offered to turn off their Ola and Uber devices for the day and take me around the city, honeymooning couples who wanted me to click pictures for them while they posed awkwardly, brooding photographers who were ‘looking for inspiration’ in the grand havelis and just big fat Indian families who were on one of those travel website tours but seemed more interested in khakras and achaar rather than admiring the courage of a young princess from Mewar who had to consume poison because her father accidentally sent out proposals for her marriage to two princely states. So after shedding a tear upon hearing her story on the audio guide that I rented for Rs. 200, I wandered some more and came across a beautifully painted wall and desperately wanted a picture with it. I randomly walked up to these two women who were trying to take a selfie with a DSLR. I made a click for click deal and then we got talking and realised how all three of us were single women travellers. We spent the afternoon taking a boat to the Jagmandir Palace island, sharing the yummiest chicken biryani and exchanging travel stories.
Evening was spent trying to burn off those calories from lunch by gallivanting about the streets of Udaipur and checking out the royal family’s vintage and classic car collection. The collection was impressive with the 1934 Rolls Royce Phantom that was featured in James Bond’s Octopussy (also the museum’s showstopper) and the Cadillac that Queen Elizabeth II was driven around in when she visited the city. But for Rs. 250 I thought it was quite a ripoff. I asked the over enthusiastic caretaker to share some more stories about each of the cars, sadly he had none and directed me to the folk music and dance performance scheduled to happen later that evening at Bagore ki Haveli.
Bagore ki haveli is one of the many heritage buildings in Udaipur and is located right next to Gangaur ghat which makes the setting idyllic. They host a traditional dance and music show called Dharohar every evening. If you’re in Udaipur, this is something you should definitely not miss because it is basically a one hour glimpse into all the culture and vibrance that Rajasthan has to offer. But seating is limited and tickets get sold out early on, so make sure you reach at least an hour in advance. After the mesmerizing show, I went and sat on the banks of the lake at Gangaur ghat. With the bright lights from the hotels on the other side of the lake reflecting on the lake and a mandali of young men humming Hindi songs from the sixties and seventies, I couldn’t have asked for a more peaceful January evening. This was followed by scrumptious dinner at Natraj dining hall. For Rs. 200 the Rajasthani thaali with unlimited refills was the ultimate foodie dream come true.
Now, you can’t be in Rajasthan and not shop. The following day was spent doing just that. A quick trip to the artisans’ village, Shilpagram and picking up some terracotta wares, minakari earrings, miniature paintings and traditional puppets and hearing their stories satiated my shopping cravings. I was told that the place doesn’t really feature on tourist itineraries because it is government run and the agents don’t really get a cut on the items sold. What a pity. I headed back to the main city and paid my respects to the gods at the Jagadish temple of the Om Jai Jagadish fame #feelingsanskari. I basically spent the rest of the afternoon walking through the narrow lanes around the City Palace area and just soaking in all the sights and sounds the area had to offer. I came across a tiny post office and wrote a couple of postcards as well.
The sleepy town really prides itself on being the backdrop for 1983 James Bond flick, Octopussy so nearly all the small cafes screen it every evening. And it really is a good way to unwind over some good food and conversation.
This pretty much sums up my tryst with Rajasthan’s vibrance, culture and heritage. The state truly lives up to all the hype and more.
Padharo mhare des