Senses awaken at the city of sunrise

Give in to Udaipur’s charms…

We were booked in Trident Hotel and our choice couldn’t have been more perfect. Trident shares expansive gardens with Oberoi Udai Vilas, one of the most uber-lux hotels in the world. Location, location, location…the words raced through my head, as we walked to the hotel’s boat jetty. There, we were rewarded by a stunning sight of the colossal city palace shimmering on the Lake Pichola. Even better things awaited…an exclusive one-hour boat ride to remember.

We drank in the grandeur of the surroundings as we glided on the tranquil blue waters under a blue cloudless sky. Islands of the Jagmandir Palace and Taj Lake Palace seemed to float. A bunch of bathing kids laughed and chattered at one of the several ghats. Several graceful temples lay scattered along the shores. The mountain ranges all around us enclosed, protected the lake. The beige-gold stone of the City Palace seemed to rise from the depths of the lake. The water lapped gently at the walls of the structures everywhere. I couldn’t help thinking of Venice…but these waters were not murky green, they were a clean, clear blue. A foreigner posed like a queen at a jharokha far above, lost in the surreal beauty. There was peace all around. Gorgeous. No touch of garish modernity, no stark whitewashes, no glaring banners, just an unspoilt homogenity, quiet grace and antiquity. As we neared the end of the hour-long treat, the sunset bathed the City Palace walls in a warm golden glow and it transformed, soaking in the colours like a sponge, transforming from cream to lemon to yellow, ochre and rust. Soon the light from the skies faded, the waters turned darker.

A labourer couple were crossing the lake in a row boat, probably going back home after a long, hard day at work. How blessed they were not to get caught in nerve-wracking traffic jams. Did the calmness of Lake Pichola and the romantic setting matter to them at all? The woman in a fuchsia pink saree, the pallu covering her head demurely, was at the driving seat, rowing the boat along slowly, while her husband (maybe) was hunched up, exhausted. An everyday scene, but in a subtle way it added to the charm of the lovely evening. At this moment, Udaipur was the most romantic city of India.

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Later, we hailed an auto-rickshaw to reach our dinner venue…the lakeside restaurant Ambrai at a beautiful heritage haveli hotel, the Amet Haveli. Under the clear starry skies, at a table by the lake, we stared at the City Palace opposite us for the longest time. It was now glittering with thousands of golden yellow lights, and below, dark navy waters of the Pichola were sparkling and dazzling with the stunning reflection. Strains of Shivratri aarti from the temples across on the ghats filled the air, adding to an unbelievably romantic ambience, as we savoured delicious, authentic Mewari cuisine.

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It was a pleasant surprise to know the entry fees at the City Palace Museum…Rs.250 per entry, an extra Rs.250 per camera and Rs.250 for an audio guide. We need more of such fees for upkeep at all our monuments in India. Through the huge Tripolia Gates and massive front gardens, we stepped into the fortified structure with a guide, who we discovered had an rigid attitude and an elevated sense of time. He rushed us along the first few exhibits, keen to land the next customer within an hour. We dumped him within five minutes and continued in peace, feeling the place at our own pace. Over the next couple of hours, we went back into time, reliving the lives of the royal Mewars…glancing at blue serenity through the pretty jharokhas frames, catching sunbeams dancing through intricate jaali-work on iron windows, zigzagging between carved pillars on open terraces, perching on water fountain sides, and tiptoeing across narrow corridors of the second largest palatial apartment complex in the country. Later, satiated with the biryani and rose kulfi at Palki Khana, a restaurant inside the palace complex, I gazed at the huge brass sun icon adorning the gates and wondered how the king felt about not being a real king anymore.

Outside, we tasted old city life of Udaipur…temples stood shoulder-to-shoulder with quaint shops selling local crafts and bandhej garments, and vendors rolled past with carts selling everything from fried snacks to glass bangles. A weird purple-white tiger-striped police motorbike leaned against a wall. Cute puppets dangled lifelessly from strings. Antique brassware fought for shelf space. Thin houses competed for attention with loud blue, orange and pink paint. The fading green painted iron shutter on a sky-blue house beside a yellow peeled wall showed off its vintage appeal. Like the distressed effect that designers artificially create for hand-crafted furniture! Here in these ignored alleys, these beautiful elements were lost, pushed aside as old and useless.

Life crawls at a snail’s pace in these tiny little streets squeezed for space. Old people squatted on narrow steps outside houses, watching passersby. Shopkeepers engaged in personalised client interaction while in back-lanes, young men stood chatting idly. Autos manoeuvred comfortably through the maze of cows, pedestrians and hand-pushed carts, darting in and out of side-lanes in case a lone car approached from the other side. All women I saw, young and old, were in neon-bright lehengas…what’s age got to do with it!  Dupattas covered their heads, as did multi-colored turbans on men’s. I thought about the connection with the head-gear and heat. I imagined Rajputs warriors on their legendary brave horses, galloping into the walled city. Now, their descendants were traversing the same roads on not-so-gallant scooters. But overall, not much had changed over the centuries.

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Like all of Rajasthan, Udaipur had a beguiling twin persona…the richness of a royal heritage and unaffected charms of its colourful, friendly people. I couldn’t decide which was more appealing. Can you?

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54 thoughts on “Senses awaken at the city of sunrise

  1. Lovely article and wonderful photos. Rajasthan truly has a lot to offer though its various town and cities and Udaipur is really one of the jewels of the crown. Trident properties are amazing across India and really luxurious as you rightly pointed out.

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  2. Ahh Udaipur, the lovely city of lakes. It’s one of my favourite cities in India. I also like visiting the surrounding countryside and the palaces are amazing. Lovely story.

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  3. Loved reading about Udaipur through your words which add an extra tinge to the beauty of this lovely city. I sometimes wonder how the Palace and Lake Picchola would have looked like in the years gone by when the royalty of Rajasthan inhabited these parts.

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  4. Fantastic post to read and now I want to try and put Udaipur onto my India trip list. I could see myself sitting on the river bank and taking in the city buildings. The Royal history also appeals to me as I love this sort of history. 🙂

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  5. Udaipur looks like an interesting place, with so much to explore. I would love to take the boat ride and I too would have dumped the tour guide. I like to discover at my own pace, not someone else’s. I haven’t been anywhere in India, but maybe someday.

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  6. You’re as passionate as your writing! You seeing things in a very creative, colorful and happy way made me smile and think of these little things – made me grateful to what I am seeing right now. Honest to goodness, your writing made me put India on my list this year!

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  7. The fees are fully justified. Agree with you that we need more of these fees in other tourist destinations too. The street scenes of Udaipur so well described, reminded me of the sights I had seen years back. That charm hasn’t gone yet and I am so glad about that.

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  8. Udaipur is charming in its own way. While Jaipur is pink and Jodhpur is blue, Udaipur with its white houses shows that it is at peace with the states around them 🙂 🙂 The palace in the middle of the lake was absolutely spectacular. We also binged on “Pyaz ke Kachori” 🙂

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  9. I love how descriptive you are…it effectively painted a relaxed, carefree vision of Udaipur in my mind. And yes, what does age matter? Dress how you want to dress and if you are comfortable, then you can pull it off! I think I have to go with the unaffected charms of its colorful, friendly people! 🙂

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  10. Wow, the way you described that boat ride… I felt like I was right there with you! Udaipur sounds absolutely lovely. So glad you were able to take it all in (and at your own pace!). I’d love to see it for myself one day, especially the City Palace.

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  11. Your post and pictures bought back so many lovely memories of the place. We really the place lit up with lights and do agree that the price should be more to maintain these monuments. Did you manage to visit the crystal palace? As always a great writeup and pictures.

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