The beautiful lakeside town of Udaipur is supposed to be one of the most romantic places in the world and a travellers’ favourite. I was about to find out. The seven hour bus journey from Jodhpur wasn’t too bad. The station is in the modern, eastern end of the town but soon I was headed by rickshaw into the old town cum tourist centre attractively situated next to shimmering lake pichola.
My chosen hotel, the Little Prince Heritage Home, was on the other side of the small lake to the main attraction, the City Palace in a residential area but of course with the de rigeur rooftop terrace with great views over the lake and to the palace. The room was spacious and attractively decorated with local motifs, this seemed to be a recurring theme in Rajasthan hotels. After settling in, I had a refreshing beer on the rooftop where I could see langurs scuttling over the other houses observed by a number of kites perched on the battlements and TV aerials.
I soon headed out looking for food. There were lots of motorbikes crowding the small alleys, the dust/smog clearly visible. I found a restaurant called Jasmine that looked expensive but was cheap and attractively situated by the side of the canal/lake. The okra curry with chapatis and lassi were fine and only 250Rs ($3)
The following morning I headed off for a wander. Everywhere was suprisingly quiet including at the City Palace, just a party of Japanese tourists. It was the usual palace experience, quite interesting but at the end I couldn’t remember much of note just loads of small, highly decorated rooms connected by a labyrinth of tight corridors. Interesting fact – the Palace looks very high but it is built on a huge rock. I recuperated with a lime soda in the Palace cafe, avoiding the 24 carat gold coffee (2000Rs). There were plenty of people around now – mainly older/middle aged types.
I headed off for a bit of colour past the tat stalls outside the palace gates and up Jagdesh temple road. There were quite a few tourist shops but no hassle and few tourists. I was soon at Hathi Pol where there was a small market, but not much of interest. I returned to the centre of the action at Jagdesh Chowk and had a decent Kashmiri Biryani at the rooftop restaurant overlooking the temple. I was only person there. I wandered around a bit more wondering why Udaipur is supposed to be so popular. Did a side trip to the Bagore ki haveli puppet museum which was an interesting little museum in an equally interesting haveli near the lake shore. That evening I went back to Restaurant Jasmine for a delicious Kashmiri Aloo – thick red curry sauce with two huge potatoes.
Time for some excursions. The following morning I got the bus to Nathdwara as I’d heard they were building a huge Shiva statue there. Not surprisingly it was way behind schedule but will certainly be impressive when it is finally finished. The town was already famous for the Shrinathji Temple.
The story goes that the shrine at Nathdwara was built in the 17th century at the spot as exactly ordained by Shrinathji himself. The idol of the Lord Krishna was being transferred from Vrindaban to protect it from the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb. When the idol reached the spot at village Sihad or Sinhad, the wheels of bullock cart in which the idol was being transported sank axle-deep in mud and could not be moved any farther.
The accompanying priests realised that the particular place was the Lord’s chosen spot and accordingly, a temple was built there under the rule and protection of the then Maharana Raj Singh of Mewar. Short version is that it is one of the principal places of pilgrimage in Rajasthan and was full of very interesting and colourful devotees.
Once off the bus it was easy to follow where everyone was going – up a winding road which soon narrowed and became cobbled. The road was lined with stalls – food, jewelry, saris, in addition to all the religious stuff. Generally in India the powers that be have cleared the beggars away from any tourist sites frequented by foreigners but here I was the lone foreigner and so there scores of beggars and quite forceful.
I eventually got to the temple and was told the next entry was in about 30 minutes so I waited with everyone else. When the gates opened there was a huge crush and I was swept along with old and young alike. The males and females were separated and we were ushered into a hall, rather like a tiny football stadium as there were a few terraces with intermittent safety barriers. Standing room only. Then the curtains parted to reveal the Shiva statue. There was much wailing, chanting and arm waving. After soaking up the atmosphere I slipped out a bit early, departing the rather ordinary looking temple to wander the more interesting streets.
That night I headed back to the Palace for the sound and light show. I’m not usually a fan of these which are all over India but it was quite a pleasant way of spending a few hours before dinner back in the Jasmine! This time Caju curry, chapatis and lassi. I also popped into a travel agent where I decided to bite the bullet and pay for a car for the day (2200Rs) to take me round tomorrow’s destinations: Ranakpur and Kumbhalgarh.
Up early for a brekko of aloo paratha and off to the travel agent who gave me a cup of ginger tea. The driver, Abi, was actually early! We were soon bumping along country lanes before our progress was halted by a puncture. A common occurence when I hire an Indian car but the drivers are always used to it and far more adept at replacing a wheel than me. First up Kumbalgarh. There were plenty of tourist cars parked outside the enormous citadel gates but few tourists inside. It was quite a steep climb up to the fort itself which had been heavily renovated – lots of empty rooms with plastered walls. There were great views from the top though. I could see a few temples and buildings through the haze on the distant hills – no doubt hundreds left to crumble over the years. Down below this main fort there were a few interesting temples next to a small village. I only had time for a quick look around as Abi had only given me 1.5 hours here as we had to get on to the next destination: Ranakpur. On the way we stopped at a restaurant. I baulked at the 300Rs for a mediocre meal but as the driver had delivered me here I let him go round the back for his free lunch.
Ranakpur is a Jain temple and as such there are strict rules. I sometimes feel a bit annoyed about some of these temples strictly forbidding all sorts of things before entering (all leather, menstruating women etc) and insisting on long trousers for men even though most strict ascetics in India go around naked. But mostly this time it was taking off my leather belt which was a necessity for keeping my jeans up. My main bugbear is the fact that this place didn’t even seem to be a place of worship. Certainly not anymore as the only people there were tourists. Mind you the Jains can certainly build a fine temple with a multitude of fantastically carved marble columns. It was probably the best temple I had visited on this trip. But where were all the Jains now? It was in a completely isolated spot.
At 3.15 on the dot I was ushered back into the car and we headed home. Although tired from a full day in the baking countryside, it was well worth it and we were back in Udaipur for 5.30 in time for a welcome cold beer.
My time in Udaipur was almost at an end but I had planned to squeeze in a few nights at the Krishna Ranch which is only a few miles away but set in the heart of the countryside. While I was there I spent some days just wandering the countryside but I also hired a motorbike one day and headed off to Eklingji to visit its famous temple.