Enjoying a Visit to the City of Lakes
Breakfast on the roof of our hotel.
After leaving the students behind in Bangalore, we stayed near the airport and caught an early flight the next morning to Udaipur. Udaipur is a very cool place. The old city is a labyrinth of narrow winding roads built hundreds of years ago around the city palace which was first located here on the shore of Lake Pichola in 16th century. The area around the lake is framed by the Aravalli Mountains, a major reason that King Udai Singh II moved the capital of his kingdom here in order to hold off the attacks of the Mughars, a strategy that ultimately worked.
When we checked in, we all agreed that the hotel manager looked very familiar - then we figured it out - he was the Indian Mr. Bean.
A small Jain shrine
Immediately upon checking in, the drumming began next door just in case we needed a reminder of what country we were in. A Muslim festival was taking place next door and when I peered out the window to check it out, I viewed a rush of young men and boys pouring into the square and beginning to run in bunches with long poles and swords down one of the streets. I wondered where they were going so I joined the parade and followed the throng of celebrants through the streets toward some unknown destination.
Some of the pole bearers
Women on low roofs added flowers to the to top of the bamboo poles
Some groups were holding long bamboo poles that had a sort of cross piece at the top from which hung one or two small dangling swords and bunches of flowers. They ran these poles horizontally through the streets until all of the pole carriers were gathered in one place, there they raise the poles and marched forward attempting to avoid striking any of the web of over head wires with the swaying metal swords. I was left wondering what kind of electrical conductor bamboo was. I followed the parade for about 20 minutes away from the center of the old city where they came to a small square, stopped, kind of looked around at each other a bit, then turned around and started back the way they came. Maybe I missed something…
By tagging along, I got a chance to see the other side of the lake and explore a bit – it’s easy to see why Udaipur is on most travelers’ list of favorite places in India to visit. The hilly terrain and jigsaw of old and interesting buildings offers plenty to look at. The lake as a focal point is also unique – bodies of water don’t usually serve as a focal point for many Indian cities. The horizon is also dominated by a 360 degree circumference of hills and peaks that provided the appeal to the Udai kings as a place that would be difficult to attack. Mountains, lakes, palaces, great shopping and restaurants – Udaipur has it all.
A beggar on the bridge with his assistants
The old city is a real tourist center with handicrafts and artwork, along with the accompanying aggressive touts that manage them, lining the streets. Our hotel provided a beautiful view of the lake including it two large water palaces appearing to float out in the middle of the water. Also in plain view several miles away and perched high atop a steep angular mountain is the monsoon palace, a retreat built by one of the Udai kings in order to watch the arrival of the monsoons from an observatory there. When it was discovered that it was impossible to pump water up to the palace, the place was abandoned, not the first time we’ve visited a historical site ultimately discarded due to water problems.
With so many shopping opportunities available, the girls have been quite busy checking out all sorts of items of clothing, crafts, and artwork. We’ve been trying hard to share our past experiences of having brought home souvenirs from our travels that looked great in the shops only to have them collect dust in our closets until some later yard sale. So far, grudging restraint has been shown – it helps when the parents control the cash flow.
Many streets in Udaipur are crowded with shops and shoppers
The girls never tire of shopping
The beauty of Udaipur is best seen from a boat ride on the lake, so we caught the sunset cruise and got to see both the city and the lake palaces in the warm light of the setting sun. We were surprised by how cool it is here in the evening – definitely jacket weather.
One of the two lake palaces
The palace complex from the water
The main attraction of the area is the city palace and we hired a guide to give us a informative tour through the part of the palace complex that has been opened for public viewing. The property is still owned by the maharna of the former princely state of Mewar who would be the king if the state had not been incorporated into the modern state of India. He lives in another part of the complex and is a descendent of a line of rulers who have lived in the palaces for over 300 years. It’s fun to imagine how elegant the place must have been in it’s day – the views over the lake were spectacular.
One of the inner courtyards
Great views from the palace
Also on the must see list the towering Jagdish temple built in 1652 but recently cleaned to reveal hundreds of stone carvings adorning the exterior and an interior hosting numerous chanting faithful in the presence of a sacred Hindu holy place. On the long steep steps that lift one from the traffic below to the shine above, we encountered numerous characters, ascetics supposedly, who were quite willing to swap a pose for my camera for a 10 rupee note.
After a week on the road, our dirty clothes bag was over flowing, so we dropped our clothes off to a stall were a confused, non-English speaking older lady had us write down how many of each type of item we were dropping off on a ragged old notepad. It was one of those situations in India when you take a complete leap of faith that there’s a system in place that has worked for generations and will work again despite the apparent chaos and lack of organization.
I did say "good-bye" when we dropped off our clothes...
When I returned 24 hours later, a different old lady sat stoically on the floor of the little closet of a shop wrapped in a blanket and seemingly ignoring my requests for my laundry. After some help from some local women there to drop some stuff off, all of our items were located after an extensive search from among the mounds of unlabelled clothes and then we had to find the order slip from among the many in the little notepad. When all was said and done, our clothes were completely cleaned (where they were washed, I don’t want to know) and pressed for about $10.00, about a third of what the hotel was charging.
Cordless iron - just add coals
Perhaps our laundry suffered the same thrashing?
On our second and last evening here, we visited on of the numerous backpacker restaurants advertising nightly showings of the James Bond movie “Octopussy” filmed here around the same time I was graduating from high school. It was the first Bond movie the girls had seen and all had a few laughs seeing how unrealistic many of the scenes were such as when Bond visits the Monsoon Palace where the bad guy lives in regal splendor when we know the place has been empty and abandoned a century ago. Then there was the lake palace occupied only by a colony of exotic women… The main bad guy was a Soviet general, a plot device requiring a quick history lesson for the girls who don’t attach much meaning to the acronym USSR.
We’ve enjoyed Udaipur – we have a long drive ahead to Jodhpur where we’ll depart for our desert camel trek.