Udaipur – Rajasthan’s most romantic and beguiling destination
Udaipur is often described as the most romantic place in India and Udaipur started to enchant me from the moment I arrived off an overnight sleeper train with a magical, purple hued sunrise that glowed over the shimmering lake blowing away cobwebs and fatigue from a long journey and a mostly sleepless night and welcoming us to the romantic city of Udaipur.
Sunrise over Lake Pichola
From the gorgeous roof top terrace of the Dream Heaven Hotel we took in the stunning views overlooking the beautiful Lake Pichola. We watched, transfixed as the sun rose opposite us, emerging from behind the scruffy white houses that contrasted with the large, impressive sandy coloured palace and casting a purple hued, dreamy glow that lit up the clear waters of the lake. The reflections of the bright sun grew stronger giving a dramatic, romantic effect over the picturesque, famous, white lake palace.
In contrast to the serenity of the sunrise over the glassy lake, below us rickshaws and motorbikes swarmed around the narrow lanes of the old town, bells rang out from the temples, people washed and did their laundry in the lake, children sang in a school below and people hurried across the narrow, pedestrian bridge as we took in all the beauty and magic of the city waking up and coming alive from the roof terrace.
Surrounding the shimmering lake and huddled white houses are the purpley hued ridges of the Aravalli Hills. The beautiful lake Pichola reflects the mountains and palaces like a rippled mirror but it’s not completely an all natural lake. It was enlarged by flooding the village of Picholi which gave the lake it’s name and is now 4km long and 3km wide but is shallow and dries up during droughts. Luckily, in late February, it was full and glistening but during droughts the famous Lake Palace, that was featured in the Bond movie ‘Octopussy’, is surrounded by sheep and goat grazing instead of shimmering water. Apparently there are also crocodiles in the lake so all thoughts of a swim were out!
Udapiur’s City Palace
The City Palace stretches and towers imposingly along the eastern side of the lake. This is Rajasthan’s largest palace and the focal point of the old town of Udaipur.
The entrance to the meticulously well maintained City Palace is through impressive, decorative archways. Once inside a long green and a courtyard with the white parasoled tables of a fancy hotel and restaurant are surrounded by the pale yellow stone palace buildings on one side and on the other side a series of arches provide a view overlooking the rest of the city. The museum contains extravagantly decorated rooms, artefacts and historical paintings telling the story of the history of Udaipur, the Maharana and the palace.
Exploring atmospheric Udaipur
Below, the narrow, quaint, old whitewashed lanes of the old town twisted and turned and we often got lost as we explored this maze of old buildings but with each corner we turned were interesting shops and brightly painted elephants and other animals painted on the walls which I loved discovering.
In the wider lanes rickshaws, motorbikes, people and cows jostled for position. A group of donkeys, seemingly unsupervised, loaded with sacks of stones, bricks and rubble on their backs passed us and swerved fearlessly through the traffic and rickshaws in the centre of the old town where the colour, noise, energy and hustle and bustle centers around the brightly coloured Jagdish temple that rises up above the steep steps.
Taking a boat ride on the shimmering Picola Lake
As atmospheric as the old lanes where, of course, the best way to see Udaipur was from the lake. Once at the edge of the water it was easy to arrange a boat ride.
As the boat moved away from the huddled, sandy coloured buildings of the old city the buildings alongside the waters edge became grander topped with more elaborate archways, domes and cupolas.
The sun glittered on the calm water as we moved further out into the middle of the lake, past the towering City Palace complex and leaving the hubbub of the city behind until, surrounded by glistening water, we came to the famous Lake Palace hotel that appears almost ship like floating in the water. (Unfortunately non guests can’t go inside)
Continuing further into the peace and serenity of the lake we passed some small islands, one a collection of onioned shaped domes and turrets peaking out from the forest signaling a private palace. Another, elaborately walled island palace was flanked with elephant statues where real people sat on top guarding the palace which was being used for a beautiful and extravagant wedding.
As the sun started to hang low in the sky, the boat turned and headed back towards the city. As the fresh breeze ruffled through my hair and the boat gently bobbed I took in the whole vista trying to commit to memory the breathtaking beauty of the shimmering lake surrounded with the romantic, historical, elaborate palaces set against the purple hued Aravalli mountains which cast their reflections into the glassy lake and overlook the elaborate domes and cupolas of the palaces.
Exploring the Aravalli mountains on horse back
Getting out of the cities and exploring more rural areas often gives a fascinating glimpse into traditional life and so we explored the Aravalli mountains by horse back.
These horses are a special and rare breed called Marawri only found in Rajasthan, breed to be hardy cavalry horses, brave in battle and capable of working in desert like landscapes. They have a very cute, distinguishing feature as their ear tips curl inward, almost meeting together, which I absolutely adored.
Well out of the city limits of Udaipur and up into the dusty hills we rode placidly through dry, desert like vistas and past dry, dusty fields where men toiled hard to make a living while birds soared above.
We passed through small, rustic villages where women squatted by the path stopped in their work and children ran out of their huts waving excitedly. Being on horse back felt more at one with nature and allowed plenty of time to take everything in.
As we rode back I took in the wide, open spaces around us of hot, dusty landscape and rustic villages that gave an insight into rural life away from the palaces and tourist hotspots.
Shopping in Udaipur
Back in the old city we explored the narrow, winding alleys discovering the beautiful paintings and curious little shops; buying stacks of bangles, mini elephant souvenirs, pashminas, paintings, books, ganesh figures, alli baba trousers, mini auto rickshaw toys and everything else that took our fancy as this was our last stop before returning to Mumbai. The experience was made more enjoyable as we got a lot less hassle and more reasonable prices here than in other parts of India where even glancing at a shop can end up with a dozen hawkers chasing you down the street trying to sell something at 10 times the price.
The sunsets on our Indian adventure
Just before catching our final sleeper train back to Mumbai we spent our last evening eating great tandoori food on a roof top overlooking the lake, drinking kingfisher beers and watching the amazing bright orange glow of the red sun as it disappeared behind the mountains, leaving a golden glow on the palaces and glittering lights flickering and reflecting in the glassy lake.
Udaipur was one of my favourite places in India and I can understand why it has been dubbed the most romantic place in India. Although I have to admit I was relived to have, nearly, made it round India without losing my mind completely, as we sipped a cold beer to a sound track of Bob Marley intermingled with twinkling Hindi music, watching the glow of sunset as it changed colour and was framed by the cupolas of a palace on the other side of the lake I forgot the frustrations of traveling in India and was really tempted to stay here in one of the most beautiful places of this magical country.