Asia » India » Rajasthan » Udaipur 13 to 15 February 2013
13.02.2013 - 15.02.2013 28 °C
Do you have some favourite places in the world?
I certainly have – and it’s a long list!
Near the very top of that list, however, is a city in India that’s like no other. It has a character you can’t quite put a finger on. It’s brash, it’s beautiful, it’s beguiling - much like many other big Indian cities really, but this one has lakes and mountains on top of some terrific and typically Rajasthani sights. It’s also a relatively clean and tidy place – fortunately, because one of my friends here is the senior officer responsible for the beautification of this ancient city, the wonderful lake city of Udaipur.
Last year, I spent five days in the hotel next door to where we're staying this time and I now had great pleasure introducing the 'Grey haired nomads' to the colour, noise and smells of Lal Ghat, the Jagdish Temple, the City Palace and, of course, Lake Pichola.
Below: In and around Lal Ghat
Below: Jagdish Temple
Below: City Palace
You’ve possibly already read last year’s blog, (A special occasion on the horizon), so I won’t repeat what I’ve previously said about this place. It’s a while though since I last took a boat ride on Lake Pichola – it’s a tourist ‘must’ at any time of day but particularly romantic as the sun drops below the horizon. The 1983 film "Octopussy", the sixth to star Roger Moore as James Bond, was partly filmed on the lake (Octopussy's Palace is the Lake Palace Hotel, shown near the top of this blog). Restaurants and some hotels have shown the film every night since!
The slow motion trip with everyone wrapped in obligatory lifejackets is tame though in comparison to James Bond’s high-speed chase around Octopussy’s lake palace. At sunset on the evening before Valentine’s Day, it was a fitting interlude to a hectic schedule that had barely begun.
The next three weeks would involve a series of two- and three-night stops, lots of sightseeing, bird-watching and wildlife spotting. We needed a comfortable car and an experienced, English-speaking driver. These were to be provided in the shape of a Toyota Innova ably driven by an amiable 37-year-old Rajput named Yadu, all organised through one of my good friends, Vijendra. He’s a travel agent and a French-speaking tour escort - but Vijendra's no longer working for the agency concerned, so no easy hyperlink for you here.
Our driver knew his way around the city and, on our second day, took us first to Sahelion Ki Bari (the Maidens’ Gardens) near the Fateh Sagar Lake, which occupied a pleasant hour or so. A tranquil mix of lawns, trees and fountains, it's a pleasant space originally created in the 18th century by Maharana Sangram Singh for the women attendants of a princess as part of her dowry. it was an ideal place for Janice and David, powerful binoculars at the ready, to spot their first set of colourful birds.
The Neemach Mata Temple then provided some exercise that was far too strenuous in the dry heat of the day, involving paved inclines and steps climbing almost a kilometre uphill. Many inspirational messages had been placed beside the path to ease aching limbs. With clanging of bells on the final ascent to the shrine, we were able to enjoy a welcome rest and misty views over the city’s lakes.
We rounded off our busy daylight hours with the monument to Maharana Pratap on Moti Magri (Pearl Hill). Here, a bronze statue of Rajput hero Maharana Pratap riding on his favourite horse Chetak overlooks the Fatah Sagar Lake.
This evening, we were honoured to have been invited to the marriage of Vijendra’s sister, Angena. In true British fashion, we arrived at the appointed hour, forgetting that Indian time is a lot later! Yadu took us to while away an hour in nearby Ahar at the Chhatris (that’s not a misspelling - chhatri is spelt with a double ‘h’ and translates as 'umbrella' or 'canopy'), a vast group of cenotaphs to past Maharajas dating back many centuries.
In the warmth of what would be our ideal British summer evening, we returned to the glittering wedding venue in time to enjoy a marching bagpipe band, noisy drummers and arrival of well-dressed guests, many with gaudy turbans and some of them important dignitaries, friends of the groom’s father, a politician.
Then, amid much jubilation and jostling, the dashing groom, in turban with a flowing tail and traditional golden coat, appeared on his white horse. He dismounted and took to a cushioned stage, receiving there a religious greeting from the pandit and generous gifts from the bride’s parents.
Men and women are traditionally segregated at wedding ceremonies here, so Janice was whisked off to be seated beneath bright awnings with the sari-clad guests.
Here too, beside the ceremonial fire, bride and groom would sit through a lengthy ceremony while their guests ate, drank and chatted. In the nearby men’s area, David and I took a drink (or two) from thoughtfully-provided bottles of whisky, picked at food brought by uniformed waiters and sat in the open-air at a table of men curious to know what we, the only Europeans among a gathering of over 500, were doing here.
Then, much like the aforementioned British summer evening, it started to drizzle. Trying to ignore the fact that we were getting wet, everyone continued to eat and drink.
The light rain became a shower, then a heavy shower, then a positive downpour!
Our shirts growing ever more soggy, we hurried to a covered area reserved for the political VIPs. Alas, their cover was only thin fabric and we continued to get almost as wet underneath it! So, emptying our umpteenth glass of whisky, we joined Janice beneath the somewhat better canopy in the ladies’ area, before saying polite farewells to our hosts and returning to the hotel.
It was a memorable end to our too-short stay in the lovely city of Udaipur.
Hotel Jaiwana Haveli, Lal Ghat
Comfortable, clean and friendly. Ideally located within easy walking distance of the Jagdish Temple and the City Palace, and within a few paces of a boat landing stage on Lake Pichola. Great views of Lake Pichola and the Lake Palace Hotel from some rooms and from the rooftop restaurant.