Udaipur: City of Lakes, the City Palace, a boat ride and the Whistling Teal

Friday, March 18Udaipur is considered to be Rajasthan’s most romantic city.  It was tagged thus in 1829 by Colonel James Tod, and the tag still sticks despite the city’s unchecked commercialism.  It is also known as the City of Lakes.  Bordered by the Aravalli hills, the old city is dominated by the cupola-crowned City Palace, which rises abruptly from the waters of Lake Pichola.  The palace’s balconies look “over the lake towards the city’s other famous landmark – the Lake Palace – a reflective, fairy-tale confection gleaming by day and spotlit by night.” (Lonely Planet India)

reception at Hotel Swaroop Vilas

reception at Hotel Swaroop Vilas

entrance at Hotel Swaroop Vilas

entrance at Hotel Swaroop Vilas

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ceiling at the hotel

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

a garden area at the hotel

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

fancy archways in the hotel

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

welcome hanging over our door

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Swaroop Vilas

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Udaipur was founded in 1559 as Mewar, when Maharana Udai Singh II fled from the final sacking of Chittorgarh by the Mughal emperor Akbar.  The city grew famous for its patriotic fervor and love of independence as Udai Singh and company resisted Muslim aggression.

the City Palace in Udaipur

the City Palace in Udaipur

The City Palace

The City Palace

Entrance to the City Palace

Entrance to the City Palace

In the morning, we head to the imposing City Palace, Rajasthan’s largest palace.  Construction was started by Maharana Udai Singh II, the city’s founder, and the palace was added to by numerous maharajas.

at the entrance to the City Palace Museum

at the entrance to the City Palace Museum

Ceiling in the City Palace

Ceiling in the City Palace

The entrance fee to the City Palace museum is not that bad at 50 rupees, but the video and camera fee is 200 rupees!  We try to figure out a way to sneak our cameras in, but at the entrance we realize guards are searching people’s bags.  Just on principle, and because we have seen so many palaces and so many museums, we decide to go in separately, with one of us waiting in the courtyard holding the other’s bag and camera while the other ventures through the museum.  Jayne goes first and I wait quite a long time before she finally emerges, from a different direction.  She says it’s quite extensive, but it’s all one way.  Once you go in, you must continue going in one direction until you are spit out at another exit.  She says it’s well worth it.  Since it is then my turn to go in, it takes quite some time.

a gate to the City Palace in Udaipur

a gate to the City Palace in Udaipur

The museum turns out to be quite lovely and there would have been some great pictures to take had we paid the camera fee.   We see lavish peacock mosaics, fabulous glass and mirror work, a collection of miniatures, gorgeous courtyards and gardens, ornamental tiles and wall paintings.  At the top, we have an amazing view over Lake Pichola and the city.  But.  As we have no camera, we have no pictures….

We take a boat ride from the City Palace jetty (Bansai Ghat) where we do a circle around Lake Pichola.  This lake was enlarged by Maharana Udai Singh II after he founded the city.  He flooded nearby Pichola village by building a masonry dam called the Badipol.

a boatride on Lake Pichola

a boatride on Lake Pichola

Lake Pichola

Lake Pichola

Lake Pichola

Lake Pichola

From the boat we can see the other side of the City Palace, bathing and dhobi (clothes-washing) ghats,   Sisarma village, and two islands.  The first, Jagniwas Island, or the Lake Palace Hotel island, was formerly the royal summer palace but is now covered in luxury hotels complete with shady courtyards, lotus ponds and a pool shaded by a mango tree.  We don’t get to go on this island as it is now private property.

Sisarma Village along the banks of Lake Pichola

Sisarma Village along the banks of Lake Pichola

We do make a stop at the palace on Jagmandir Island, which was built by Maharaja Karan Singh in 1620, and added to by Maharaja Jagat Singh (1628-52).  It is surrounded by a row of enormous stone elephants and has a chhatri carved from grey-blue stone.  It is quite lovely sitting on the island and looking out at the lake through the curtained marble arches.  It’s said the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan was partly inspired by this palace for his Taj Mahal, after he stayed here in 1623-24, while leading a revolt against his father, Jehangir.

Approaching Jagmandir Island

Approaching Jagmandir Island

Jang Island

Jagmandir Island

relaxing on Jagmandir Island

relaxing on Jagmandir Island

Jagmandir Island

Jagmandir Island

Gardens on Jagmandir Island

Gardens on Jagmandir Island

Gardens on Jagmandir Island

Gardens on Jagmandir Island

Mural at Jagmandir Island

Mural at Jagmandir Island

Returning back to the dock

Returning back to the dock

After our boat ride, we head back to the Whistling Teal for lunch.  I drink the most delectable fig lassi.  We share Jeera Aloo, potatoes cooked and tossed with cumin seeds and spices, and Hara Bhara Kebab, which are spinach dumplings with yellow lentils and deep-fried, served with mint yogurt.

The Whistling Teal

The Whistling Teal

back at the Whistling Teal for lunch

back at the Whistling Teal for lunch

a fig lassi :-)

a fig lassi 🙂

After lunch Sanjay takes us to Saheliyon-ki-Bari, also known as the Princess Garden, or the Garden of the Maids of Honor.  This is a small, disheveled garden which was laid out for 48 women attendants who came as part of a princess’s dowry.  It has fountains, kiosks, marble elephants and a lotus pool.  The garden looks like it has been neglected, much like many of India’s tourist attractions.

Bridge over Lake Pichola

Bridge over Lake Pichola

Princess Gardens

Princess Gardens

Princess Gardens

Princess Gardens

Pavilion at the Princess Gardens

Pavilion at the Princess Gardens

at the Princess Gardens

at the Princess Gardens

By this time we are tired and irritable and we ask Sanjay to take us back to our Swaroop Vilas.  At this point, he tells us he has four children, the typical Indian story.  He makes a stop at a small grocery so we can buy some cold drinks.

I think at this point, we have had about enough of India.  Many times, Jayne and I had talked about taking a trip together to Italy.  At this point in our trip is when we are questioning why on earth we picked India instead of Italy.  We talk about how we could be sitting at lovely outdoor cafes drinking wine and eating Italian food and meeting gorgeous Italian men.  Believe me, we both still love Indian food, but the opportunities for meeting any gorgeous and well-off men, other than poor young Indian guys trying to sell us one trinket or another, are non-existent.  Any time we go to restaurants or hotel bars, they are practically deserted.  India is not a big drinking country, so we don’t know where we could meet people.  It’s just not happening.

the Princess Garden

the Princess Garden

Back at the hotel, I sit by the pool and get back to reading the book I started in Korea, Brick Lane, which is really not very good at all.  Later, I go to have a full body massage and a shower. For the first time a man gives the massage, and it is a good one, tough on my aching muscles!  Later Jayne and I go upstairs to the balcony bar and order Kingfishers and red wine and eat wonderful peanuts masala and fish Almitra.  Mosquitoes attack us as we sit, making it not such a relaxing evening.

relaxing by the pool before a massage

relaxing by the pool before a massage

We go to bed, too exhausted to do anything in the town.  I wake up at 3 a.m. having a sneezing fit and worrying about returning home to America after a year away in Korea.  As worries often do, one worry leads to another, and before long I’m worrying about my next job, whether I should try to find a job in America or look abroad again.  Our trip is almost over, and it will be time soon to come face-to-face with real life.

at the rooftop bar of Swaroop Vilas for drinks and a light dinner

at the rooftop bar of Swaroop Vilas for drinks and a light dinner

Advertisements

the blue city of jodhpur and a short hop to udaipur

Thursday, March 17:  We wake up early to see what sights we can in Jodhpur before we leave at 1:30 this afternoon for a short flight to Udaipur.  We didn’t really come here to see the sights; we came here because there was no flight from Jaisalmer to Udaipur.  However, since we’re here, we figure we should see what we can see.

breakfast in Indique, the rooftop restaurant at the Hotel Pal Haveli

breakfast in Indique, the rooftop restaurant at the Hotel Pal Haveli

The morning casts a different light on the city.  We eat breakfast in the lovely Indique restaurant and then we get a rickshaw driver to take us first to Jaswant Thada and then on to Mehrangarh.

the courtyard of the Pal Haveli ~ a lovely oasis in the midst of Jodhpur

the courtyard of the Pal Haveli ~ a lovely oasis in the midst of Jodhpur

A shopkeeper selling Indian prints at the hotel

A shopkeeper selling Indian prints at the hotel

On the way out of the madhouse city of Jodhpur, we see the usual hordes of dirt-covered and poverty-stricken Indians trying to eke out a living.  Passing the clock tower and the Sardar Market, we are bombarded by vibrant sights and smells from the bazaars selling vegetables, spices, sweets, silver, textiles and handicrafts.  We pass one man on the street; half of his face looks to be melted, like drooping rubber.  We see the usual people suffering with what seems to be the very common skin disease of vitiligo; their faces are splotchy with browns, pinks and whites, as if they’ve been through an extreme chemical peel.  Vitiligo is a skin condition in which there is a loss of brown color (pigment) from areas of skin, resulting in irregular white patches that feel like normal skin.  It appears to occur when immune cells destroy the cells that produce brown pigment (melanocytes). This destruction is thought to be due to an autoimmune problem, but the cause is unknown.After reading White Tiger and the horrible state of health care in India, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to see so much illness and deformity.  However, the pervasiveness is shocking… and horribly sad.

Jalwar Thant

Jaswant Thada

We drive up a steep and winding road where we can see the walls of Mehrangarh fort towering overhead.  First we stop at a lovely spot about halfway up.  Jaswant Thada is a white marble memorial to Maharaja Jaswant Singh II.  It’s a lovely memorial with its plethora of exquisitely carved and whimsical domes and jalis, or carved marble lattice screens.  Its setting is lovely, with flower gardens abloom, and the view to the imposing Mehrangarh is impressive.  We wander around the grounds and through the memorial, soaking up the beautiful surroundings.

Jaswant Thanda

Jaswant Thanda

Jaswant Thanda

Jaswant Thanda

Inside Jaswant Thanda

Inside Jaswant Thanda

Our rickshaw driver takes us further up the steep hill to the Mehrangarh Fort.  This fort with its sheer soaring walls is run by the descendents of the Maharaja of Jodhpur.  It costs 300 rupees to get into the palace within the fort.  On the walk up the steep hill to the entrance, we find an area with ramparts and canons.  Looking out here over the walls of the fort, we can see the blue city of Jodhpur sprawling down below.

Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur

Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur

The terra-cotta colored latticed palace complex and courtyards are like a maze.  Around every corner is a surprise.  In the extensive museum, we see trappings of Indian royalty, including howdahs, the seats which transported royal family members on the backs of elephants.  We come across sumptuously decorated rooms with plush carpets, gold-filigreed columns, painted walls and ceilings and stained glass windows. We spend quite a long time wandering through the museum and the palace.  At one point, we sit and watch a turban-wrapping demonstration in a small courtyard.  Later we climb to the very top of the palace, where our view of Jodhpur is amazing.

an up close view of the Fort

an up close view of the Fort

Entrance to Mehrangarh Fort

Entrance to Mehrangarh Fort

at Mehrangarh Fort

at Mehrangarh Fort

at Mehrangarh Fort

at Mehrangarh Fort

Mehrangarh Fort

Mehrangarh Fort

elephant carrier at Mehrangarh Fort

elephant carrier at Mehrangarh Fort

at Mehrangarh Fort

at Mehrangarh Fort

me at Mehrangarh Fort

me at Mehrangarh Fort

staircase at Mehrangarh Fort

staircase at Mehrangarh Fort

Jayne at Mehrangarh Fort

Jayne at Mehrangarh Fort

me at Mehrangarh Fort

me at Mehrangarh Fort

one of many beautiful rooms at Mehrangarh Fort

one of many beautiful rooms at Mehrangarh Fort

another room at Mehrangarh Fort

another room at Mehrangarh Fort

stained glass windows at Mehrangarh Fort

stained glass windows at Mehrangarh Fort

a sumptuous room in the palace

a sumptuous room in the palace

After we’ve seen most of the palace, we try to find another rickshaw driver to take us back to our hotel.  We know what we paid to get up the hill and so expect to pay the same to go down.  All the drivers want double the amount.  I guess they figure we are trapped up here and must pay their price to get back down.  We know it is a long way down, but we say, “Never mind!  We’ll just walk down!”  And we start the long walk down.  One of the rickshaw drivers, deciding it’s better to have some business than none, comes after us and agrees to accept our offer.

the blue city of Jodhpur

the blue city of Jodhpur

Back at the hotel, we have lunch in the cool 18th Century Bar with saddle bar stools, chandeliers, dark wood furniture and leopard skins on the walls.  It transports us back in time to British colonial days, with its dark and cool interior and its huntsman’s atmosphere.

the 18th Century Bar at Hotel Pal Haveli ~ lunch before departure to Udaipur

the 18th Century Bar at Hotel Pal Haveli ~ lunch before departure to Udaipur

We leave the hotel at 1:00 to head to the airport.  When we get there, we find our 2:30 flight has been delayed until 3:30.  Luckily, once we get on board, it’s only a half-hour flight to Udaipur.  Our new driver, Sanjay, picks us up at the airport and takes us to our new and lovely hotel, Hotel Swaroop Vilas.  This is probably our second favorite hotel in India.

 The hotel is all bright white walls with tiles painted in blue leafy vines and red flowers.  With its marble floors, crisp blue and white tiles, crenellated walls, cupolas and notched arches everywhere, it is an architectural delight.  In the various courtyards are gorgeous tropical plants flowering in pinks and deep greens.   As we find everywhere in India, bowls of floating rose petals and marigolds scent the hallways. Sadly, the room they give us has a double bed, where we have requested two singles throughout our trip.  When we ask them to switch us to a room with two singles, the room is so much inferior to the first room, that we take the original room with its double bed.

After settling in and exploring the hotel, including the pool and the spa and the balcony bar overlooking a lake, we take a rickshaw into the old city and wander around looking in the shops.  We go eventually to the Raj Palace Hotel to find the Whistling Teal restaurant.  It is set back from the busy street in a garden courtyard and has a lovely atmosphere, despite the mosquitoes. There, we enjoy a Kingfisher beer, fish tikka, and the most delectable masala peanuts, which are peanuts mixed with tomato, onion, cilantro, saffron, and lime juice.  The lovely setting only enhances the delectable treats we find in this place.

the courtyard of the Whistling Teal restaurant

the courtyard of the Whistling Teal restaurant in Udaipur