Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Udaipur

INDIA | Monday, 27 September 2010 | Views [691]

Wednesday 22nd September - After a comfortable and quiet night in the 007 room at Poonam Haveli we had a lazy start. Tiredness catching up. Much to see and do here, but first breakfast. We chose the superb Mawal Haveli. The rooftop restaurant is beautiful, airy and has a lovely lounge area to look out over the cityscape. The food was excellent and the guy who served us so pleasant. We were interested in the design and artwork and the offered to arrange a meeting with Mr Kailasha, the painter who is famous in Udaipur for his painting. Whilst we were there we checked out the rooms. All tastefully decorated and quiet. We might consider moving there soon.

The first major sight of the day was a visit to Lal Ghat. Today is the finale of the Ganpati festival, and numerous groups are floating and bathing their Ganesh statues is ceremony. Pink powder is a factor, and much of it is scattered everywhere, including anyone passing. Throughout the day it would continue, but we headed for the Palace.

Rs50 entry plus Rs200 for a camera (same old scam again...more expensive for the camera than the visitor). There are many superlatives to describe the city palace, most of which vary on awesome, incredible, humongous. It is the largest in Rajasthan. Just inside the entrance are 7 arches, which symbolize the 7 maharajas who were weighed and their weight in gold or silver given out to the locals. Within the palace museum, one room after another of gorgeous detail and architecture. Some are mirrored to play with the light reflected in the different colored glass. The external cupolas and balconies are all intricately sculpted. A romantic fairytale place and a perfect day to explore it.

As if that wasn't enough...the next on the agenda had to be a boat trip on Pichola lake. Rs25 entry ticket to the jetty area plus Rs300 each for the ticket. The 1 hour trip around the lake gives a view of the beautiful Lake Palace. They cannot go too close as it is a privately owned hotel. The main feature of the trip is a stop at the Jagmandir island and palace. We were thirsty and hungry, but nothing can prepare for the prices on Jagmandir. 145 rupees for a mineral water. 500 rupees for a sandwich. I am sure it would be the most awesome sandwich on the planet, but it would hit your budget hard. I often wonder that even in high class places, why they pitch all of their prices so high. Thousands of tourists come through this place every day, and almost nobody buys even a water. What a loss of business. Even an ice-cream is 250 rupees. The staff wander around with nothing to do other than to continually shuffle napkins and knives and forks around to keep themselves busy. Drop the price a little and they would be gainfully employed all day.

The Jagmandir gardens are pretty and well manicured. There is an inner area that non-resident guests cannot access, which is fair enough. Sunset was approaching, and some openings in the perimeter walling gave a great perspective as the clouds went through some lovely colour changes.

As well as shooting Octopussy around the streets of Udaipur, a major part of the film was done on Jagmandir and at the lake palace hotel. Around town there are plenty of opportunities to see the Octopussy movie replayed every night, in case you cannot remember the scenes.

After returning to dry land we walked back into town. The whole town is dependent on tourism, so there is an endless stream of souvenir shops, travel agents or services from massage to salons. Tonight is the finale of Ganpati, and we saw from the boat earlier a mass crowd at the main ghat, so aimed there to see what was happening. The peak of activity had finished, but there were still plenty of vehicles arriving carrying their Ganesh statue and then performing their ritual dipping in the lake. It has to be seen to be appreciated. Pink powder factors a lot in the ceremony, and clouds of powder get randomly thrown in the air or at people. Music plays and candles are floated on the lake too. It is a colourful spectacle full of happy atmosphere.

We were starving after having almost nothing since breakfast, so went for dinner at the highest rooftop in Udaipur old town, opposite to the Poonam Haveli. As expected, another awesome tantalizing attack on our taste buds. Down in the streets we could here the Ganpati groups parading and hammering out their pounding rhythms. The palaces on lake Pichola were now alight in a romantic shimmering setting. A beautiful night, and an amazing atmosphere.

 

Thursday 23rd September - we had decided to move on to the Mewar Haveli today and had reserved a room last night. Breakfast at the Poonam, which is basic and not as good as the Mewal, but ok. They had lost an important item of Shiera's clothing, and we ended up in an argument with them over it. To be honest, the Poonam could be better than it is. The 007 room we stayed in was a nice experience, due to its name, although the taps and toilet seat were broken. They could maintain it better, especially for the price they charge.

Off to the Mewal Haveli and out to their wonderful rooftop restaurant whilst we waited for our room to be prepared. The staff here are excellent. Friendly and easy to deal with. Professional and gracious towards guests. The restaurant as already mentioned, is excellent. Even beans on toast is an experience, and probably the best you will find anywhere.

Having settled into our new room we decided to change plan and just relax today. Always something to do or place to go. One thing we did want to do though is the regular Cultural show. Run every evening from 7pm until 8pm at the Bagore-ki-Haveli by Gangaur ghat. It gave us enough time take a late lunch. As with most things at the Mewar, even though the restaurant wasn't due to be open for another 3 hours or more, they opened it for us. Nothing too much of a problem.

Before the show, more activities happening at the ghat. This time they had laid blankets on the ground for people to sit on whilst rituals were being performed on ornate Palanquins. I guess that this had been going on throughout the day and we had missed a lot of the event.

The dance show was good entertainment. Tabla and Harmonium for the main backing, with most being provided by the dancers. The usual Rajashtani  moving rainbow of beautiful coloured sarees and fancy jewellery as they danced to beating rhythms. Swirling skirts. Jingling ankle bells, and a few surprises. The finale act was a single lady dancing whilst stacking pots on her head. Another section was a puppet show.

 

Friday 24th Sep - Breakfast was interesting. Last night at the Jasmine restaurant on the other side of the lake, we ordered too much food and ended up with a Rajasthani pizza left. It is a spicy version of a Calzone pizza mixed with the appearance of a giant samosa. The hotel restaurant warmed it up for us and it slipped down a treat with coffee and their special beans on toast. Absolutely stuffed and no need to eat for the rest of the day.

The plan was a tuk-tuk tour of a few out of town places. Negotiated 300 rupees for the whole day and set off to our first stop, the lovely heritage and craft village of Shilpgram, about 4km west of the old town.

On the way to Shilpgram it is hard to imagine this area during the regualr drought season. The lakes are bone dry and the bed is used to play cricket. All of the 'water' features such as the lake palace, can be accessed on foot.

Entrance fee is Rs30(foreigner) plus Rs30 camera fee. The heritage village was quiet and we got an excellent guide to talk us around the displays. Recreated from different parts of India, and some active with crafts people and music or dance performances. It is government sponsored and different tribal groups and artisans are brought in throughout the season. Some of those we saw are only there for 2 weeks, others maybe 4 weeks, before they go home. The first compound was a small compound filled with desert style buildings from the Jaisalmer Thar desert regions. Ladies were busy replacing the cow dung and clay flooring. A messy and smelly business and all done by hand. I hope they wash their hands before they eat! Ingenious use of the 'raw' material to create buildings for homes, weaving and even a freezer. Other dislays were closed as they only open for the heritage show in December.  Some of the craft displays included 'Nail art'...using a finger nail to emboss a design into thick paper. Silk painting. We were so impressed that we had to buy a painting. And a few textile crafts. The music and dance performers were friendly although most are ultimately after some Bakshish for their efforts. We were advised at the entrance to give nothing extra, as they get paid by the government, but it doesn't stop them trying. They seemed a grumpy and scowled at us when we walked away without a 'donation'. The guide we had was knowledgable and friendly. Only cost 100 rupees for his time.

Next stop was the Sakhelion-ki-Bara gardens in the north of the town. 5 rupees entrance fee. The weather was taking its toll on the gardens and the fountains weren't working. Some maintenance work was being done, so they didn't look their best.

Final destination was Ahar, an interesting burial place where 350 mausoleums for the Maharajas are located. A sea of onion-domed roofs. There is a sign at the entrance stating 'No Photography'. However, a little bakshish buys anything here!

On the way back to town we drove through the locals market area. It is a wonderful place of activity. Crafts people making baskets, metalware, carvings, and spices. We had come with a list of some of the more unusual spices we needed. Asafoetida, Carom seeds, Nigella seeds, Lemon seeds, Vetivier (caraway), dried mango powder, You name it, you can buy it here....and more importantly...at local prices! Bad news...Gulab Jamun again. 4 pieces for 10 rupees, so we indulged in a rather disgusting 12 pieces. How bad is that...calorie overload!

You can tell when yu need to take a rest and Udaipur is a perfect place for that. Not unpacking and repacking luggage every day. We ended the day with room service delivering dinner and drinks and just watching 'So you think you can dance' and movies on TV until we fell asleep. And finishing off the Gulab Jamun we had bought. I felt like my stomach was on overload with the rich food we have been having. Too much, but hard to resist.

 

Saturday was a Chillaxing day to get laundry done, plan the next steps of the journey, and get up to date with stuff. Laying in the cool matted area in the restaurant looking out at the beautiful Jagdish temple's Gopurum in one direction, and lake Pichola and the palaces in the other. It is one of the most perfect rooftop environments to just relax in. Ahhhhh....

Later in the day we visited the Jagdish temple. An intricately sculpted temple. Some interesting Sadhu characters line the entrance steps posing for photos and hoping for a little bakshish in return. The detail on the temple is awesome and probably one of the best in the state.

One of the roads leading away from the Jagdish temple heads towards the locals bazaar. Almost every craft is represented within the area, and wandering the streets is a treat. The highlight for is was the fruit and vegetable market, which is adjacent to the basket and bamboo wares area. An amazing technicoloured sight of sari intermingled with the most perfect produce available anywhere.

With this quality, it is understandable why being vegetarian is a good option here.

We had dinner at the Kumbha hotel rooftop restaurant, located in the shadow of the city palace. The nightly sound and light show was playing out (7 to 8 pm).

The Mewar hotel's owner rang late evening and asked if we wanted to join another couple tomorrow for a tour to Ranakpur and Kumbalgharh fort. It fitted ok into our plans and so we agreed.

 

Sunday 26th September - 9am start for the tour to Kumbalgarh and Ranakpur. Getting out of Udaipur was a bit manic, but once we were out in the open we were treated to some wonderful sights along the way. Women carrying large mounds of straw or sticks on their heads. Multi-coloured swathes of colour along the roads as groups of women go about their business. Even the guys added to the colour. Turbans make a statement here. Yellow, orange, pink, blue, multi-coloured. You name it, someone will be wearing it. Another common sight is jewellery on the guys as well as face jewellery on the ladies. Large nose rings with gold chains and jewels linking their ears and nose. There are so many awesome sights that we couldn't keep stopping the car to take photos or we wouldn't get to our destination. Ladies working so hard as usual. A very common sight was a group of sari clad ladies with pick axes or shovels digging trenches of breaking rocks. Really hard manual labour from ladies dressed like a rainbow. Surreal!

 

Our first destination was the awesome Kumbalgarh fort 84km north of Udaipur. Foreigner Rs100 entry. Built by the Maharana Kumbha in 15th century, it is an isolated place surrounded by a walled kingdom. Clean and tidy, it is an incredible sight. No touristy sellers of souvenirs, or pestering touts. Just a great place to visit and be left alone to wander around. Apart from the fort, the walled city also contains a couple of temples and a section of wall to walk along. The weather was very hot and the view superb and clear today. I did wonder why such a masterpiece was built in such an isolated location, but he must have had his reasons, other than a large hill with a magnificent view was waiting for something to be built on it. 

 

We stopped for lunch at the Harmony restaurant on the way to Ranakpur. A bit of a scam going on there, as it seemed that all the taxi drivers stopped there. We entered, asked to see the menu and were told that there was no menu but it was fixed price buffet at 250 rupees each and we could refill our plates. We decided to catch them at their game and just filled one plate with as much as we could, and had a refill too. Another group came in with some Indian people in it and asked for a menu...and were given one! We looked at the waiter...and he looked at us...and came over and reminded us that we could refill our plates. We went over and got the menu, which had meals on it for 60 rupees! We had a beer which was one of the most expensive since we came to India...everything had taxes on top. Lunh was nearly 500 rupees with taxes. With a menu, it would have been half that!

 

Onwards to Ranakpur. Free entry to the temple, but another scam. Rs50 camera...each camera. Any extra cameras other than the one you have a voucher for should be left in a room by the entrance. We had an argument with the security lady about it. Also, no water allowed in the main temple and no leather items. The Jain temple was constructed from white marble. Contains 29 halls, supported by 1444 pillars, with no two the same. It is a beautiful intricate dediation to their faith. One of India's finest temples.

The journey back was also an experience. The Gowri people have an incredible way of celebrating. The guys dress up, paint their faces and decorate themselves with jewellery. We passed many groups on their way to dances. This is not for tourism, it is their normal way of life. To witness it is a priviledge. So many things are staged for tourists that it doesn't feel natural. Passing through these village communities doing what they do for themsleves is a great experience.

So many sights today and the couple from Switzerland that we shared the taxi with were nice company. Dinner in the Mewar Haveli's rooftop restaurant looking at the stars and the beautiful skyline of Udaipur. It has been a wonderful day.

 

 

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