Friday, March 18: Udaipur 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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.