Udaipur, India - Land of Enchantment
Udaipur, India (pronounced OO-Dye-poor) is a 16th Century city of 600,000 people located in southern Rajasthan in north-western India. Udaipur is also one of our favorite destinations of India so far. We left Pushkar and took a 5-6 hour train to Udaipur where we were picked up by a tuk-tuk driver who spoke great English named Salim. We noticed something right off the bat. Udaipur, India is cleaner than any city we have seen yet, and Salim (our driver) said, it's because Udaipur is in competition with another city in the South of India, for the cleanest city title in India. Another thing we noticed is that there wasn't a constant ring of car, motorbike and tuk-tuk horns. We liked this city, even before getting to our hotel.
View From the Hotel
The Udai Garh Hotel
Our hotel, the Udai Garh was a setting for a shot in the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (which the hotel owner Mahindra was quick to point out). We only had a few days in Udaipur, India and needed a good place to stay. They had a rooftop pool and incredible view of Lake Pichola, the main lake of about 10 interconnected man-made lakes in the area. We didn't book it because the Marigold movie however. The room was old feeling and felt as if you were in a palace room, back in the 1500s and the food here was good. We would recommend the hotel.
The Beautiful City
Udaipur is breathtaking! There is not a restaurant, cafe or street, that have a bad view. The town is clean (for India), easy to navigate (unless you want to get lost in the winding narrow passageways that interconnect the entire city near the lake....as we did), Some scenes from the James Bond Movie, Octopussy was shot here due to its exotic look and feel. There are two huge palaces in the middle of the lake, that were simply weekend crash pads for the Singh Dynasty kings, who ruled this area until the present day. There is a 2km long castle simply called "The City Palace" which was just a 100 yards from our hotel. (no,we didn't visit it..) There is also a "Monsoon Palace" used for the monsoon season starting in June/July that is perched at least 1100 feet above the city. Enough about the history and architecture in Udaipur, India. There is more of course, much more than I care to go into on this blog. Let's just say.. it's unbelievable!
The Ahar Cenotaphs
The Ahar Cenotaphs And Tour of The City
We called our old buddy Salim to take us around the city on a day tour. We rode a cable car to a lookout with near 360 degree views of the city and lakes then went to the Royal Family and Warriors Burial grounds called the Ahar Cenotaphs. This place was amazing. We learned that when the kings died, they were all burned here. His surviving family would then build a memorial in the exact spot he was burned. Up until about 150 years ago, any wife was also burned alive in the funeral pyre with him. This practice is called Seti. Each cenotaph (empty tomb or monument) in the middle has a 4 headed Shiva carving and a square sculpture showing scenes and one or two sides showing the king with however many wives were burned with him. It is incomprehensible to think about this. Can you imagine? I suppose however, that the wives took really good care of their King.
The Monsoon Palace
We also went to the Monsoon Palace. The Palace is a rundown, poorly maintained and managed building, under the direction of the Forestry Department due to its location of being surrounded by a nature reserve with leopards and tigers in it. There are no signs or markers stating what anything was, it's simply an old building, empty and devoid of historical information or factoid. There was however an exhibit of the local wildlife that can be found in the reserve 1000 feet below the Palace.
Leave it to the Forestry Department! All in all, it sucked in every way, except for the views. WOW! You can see everything but, at 1000 feet up, everything looks very small. The winds on top of the hill where the palace was made were strong. We can see how the "natural A/C" would have been a welcomed thing to the Royal Family way back when. The trip to the palace although uninteresting, had a great view and was a fun place to go.
The Ladies Garden
We saw the "Ladies Garden" too, which was a garden made by a King for his new wife and his 48 maids who accompanied her to the marriage. It was made for the ladies to retire and hang out in. It was a beautiful place with a huge lily pond with stone elephant fountains. They fountains would shut on and off with a loud clap. I am not sure what type of clapper was installed, but it was fun to clap the water on and off and hang out in the beautiful gardens for a while.
The Vinayak Handicraft School
A small place where people are taught the 15th and 16th century art of miniature paintings. The miniature paintings display the culture of Rajasthan mostly with camels, havelis and desert scenes. They are made using a tedious process that takes weeks or months using tiny bushes. The paints are made from scratch by taking certain rocks and grinding them down on a piece of marble with a dab of water to make a pigment. It was an interesting process and they showed us the the different color rocks and minerals used to make the primary colors. The paintings themselves are not miniature in size, only in detail. The sizes are anywhere between the size of a postcard to a poster.
There was a Hindu temple gilded entirely in glass and mirrors inside that our driver brought us to as well. We also saw the main local market and took us all around the city and showed us the highlights.
Cooking With Craig and Mahindra
Meeting New Friends
We also met a couple at our pool one afternoon. Their names are Craig and Megan. Craig is a Scotsman and Megan is from South Africa. They both live in Cape Town and got married not too long ago. They were on their honeymoon. We sat and talked with them until the sunset by the pool. The owner of the hotel was talking with us too and mentioned cooking something for us that has been a recipe in his family for generations. (Incidentally, his father is still a cook for the royal family and is 98 years old)
Craig and Megan are foodies. More than that, they are restaurateurs. They have years of experience in the food service industry and saved for two years to do a 6 month honeymoon around the world. When they get back they are taking some of the knowledge they already had and some of the new recipes they find on the road, and create a unique restaurant in Cape Town, South Africa.
Naturally Craig and Megan were over the moon for the chance to see the owner do some cooking for them, and show them how these special dishes are prepared. We filed into the kitchen and watched the owner of the hotel cook for us when the rest of the staff stood looking on. They were both Mutton dishes. Now, I always thought mutton meat was sheep. Not in India. Mutton means Goat. We watched the owner cook for us and then sat down together and talked some more and simply just enjoyed each other's company over some great food. It was sublime and unforgettable.
An Amazing Day
It was quite possibly the best afternoon/evening we have had in India. Being with such interesting, good and genuine people was refreshing. I felt as if I had known Craig and Megan longer than an afternoon, and it's extremely rare to meet two people who have more passion for life and yet share common beliefs and attitudes. We plan on going to the opening of their restaurant in Cape Town, South Africa in 1 to 2 years from
Dance And Puppet Show
Puppets and Dancing. What a combo!
One more thing we did. I know, we were only there for a few days, right? We went to the Bharatiya Lok Kala Mandal Folk Dance and Puppet Show. It was awesome! A show in the complex amphitheater with a traditional band, with dance and puppet acts. The show is performed every night at 7pm. We heard it was a must see and we agree. There were dance acts were all traditional and authentic. The group has been performing for decades and it was well done and entertaining throughout. Such an amazing cultural experience for both of us! Check out the video below to see some of it.
Udaipur, India is an amazing place and a must see in India. We enjoyed every minute of it and can't wait to go back another day and spend some more time there. We tried to stay longer, but train schedules didn't permit it.
Udaipur: Good Coffee, clean streets, plenty of sidewalk and lake cafes, beautiful architecture, amazing sunsets, warm people, quiet, peaceful and in many ways perfect. Thank you Udaipur, we needed you! While traveling around India (sometimes a very difficult place to travel) we longed for a place like Udaipur. The only regret is that we hadn't stayed longer. We weren't even going to go to Udaipur and it ended up being our favorite place in India and quite possibly one of our favorite cities in the world. This just goes to show you. No matter what you might think, go with the flow and you will end up right where you need to be, when you need to be there, with people you need to be with. Udaipur, India was all this and more.