Wednesday 26th October
Accommodation-Duration: Bunkyard-5 days
Known as the ‘Venice of the East’ (and definitely living up to that description), the shimmering lake city surrounded by the overlapping silhouettes of the Aravalli hills is what makes Udaipur purely unique to all other Rajasthani destinations. Getting lost in the romance and pure luxury of the austere hotels and palaces, it has been my favourite destination yet. This dreamlike city was the divine creation of Maharaja Udai Singh II, after deciding to enlarge the crocodile invested Pichola lake, which the city is built around, by flooding Picholi village. Located in the centre of this stunning lake lies the world-famous Lake Palace hotel (for around INR 45,000 per night) which was where the James Bond movie Octopussy was filmed. You can understand why this is tagged as ‘the most romantic spot on the continent of India’.
Deciding to spend more time in Udaipur after anticipating my love for the place, I arrived solo in the early hours to see the sun rising over the city from my fabulous rooftop terrace. I fell in love instantly, however there was something that was making me feel like I wasn’t in India anymore. My first day was spent exploring the city’s winding streets lined with yet more fabulous shops. It’s now getting ridiculous how much I could buy, although it’s not like I wasn’t expecting it! I came across the local Jagdish temple that had intricate carved columns towering above the city, however it was a little underwhelming compared to the surrounding opulence.
The following day when I was back in the company of travel buddies Hattie and Suzey, we roamed around yet another city palace; the huge complex was very beautiful however all of the artefacts were just in fact representations of how things would have been. Like many of the palaces I have now visited (they are admittedly becoming a blur), there were some incredible courtyards decorated with mirrored mosaics of peacocks and fanciful kings. Just outside the city palace entrance we came across a great masala dosa street cafe called Sri Nath, where you could watch them cooking right in front of you. Masala dosa is a gorgeous south indian delicacy of a crisp pancake wrapped around seasoned vegetables and masala sauce. With food on our mind, that evening we had booked into the famous Shashi cooking class down the road from our hostel Bunkyard. This had been something I was desperate to do during my India trip and it fortunately went above and beyond my expectations. The class was run by the wonderful local lady Shashi, who began the classes 5 years ago when an Australian couple asked if they could be taught how to cook some classic Indian dishes. Apprehensively she obliged and later discovered that they were writing for a well known travel guide named Lonely Planet. “Lonely Planet?” she asked, “What is this?”. She began our class giving us a brief background of her life; I was heartbroken to find out her husband had been murdered 15 years before by one of his good friends. Being a Brahmin, the highest Hindu caste, Shashi was not allowed to leave her home for over a month and had to cover her face in mourning for a whole year. It completely inspired me that she had developed this world famous cooking class and could finally fend for herself after such a tragedy. After 5 whole hours of cooking, we feasted on the most delicious meal I have had yet. For a mere 900 rupees, we were taught the art of masala chai, pakoras, coriander dip, chapati, naan, channa masala, paneer butter masala, pulao rice, aloo gobi, but to name a few! This night will be something I will take with me for the rest of my life. Thank you Shashi.
On the third day we decided to take a short boat ride around the romantic Pichola lake; this gave us a good chance to see the city palace and other fantastical buildings up close. After another burst of shopping for jewellery and artwork, we headed over to the Bagore Ki Haveli museum for an evening of traditional dance. Again, I had been desperate to watch traditional Indian dance. Although clearly developed for tourists of the city, it was a great depiction of different types of dance, including the most impressive older lady dancing with 11 large silver water bowls on her head! Having met a great group of people from all over the world in our hostel, we had a fantastic rooftop dinner drinking wine and sharing stories. It is always a little sad having to say goodbye.
After being recommended a beautiful hotel named Udai Kothi, we decided to surround ourselves in a little luxury and relaxation time for the day. For 500 rupees we were given access to the rooftop pool and facilities. Sometimes you need to let yourself relax and escape from the madness of travelling. Although it was a beautiful setting, it made me realise that it wasn’t worth staying in these flash hotels for such a huge price difference. Our hostel Bunkyard had beautiful decor and boasted a lot better views across the city. That evening we finally made it upto the monsoon palace on the very top of the hill overlooking the whole area. Feeling a little harassed after continuously paying for things, we eventually made our way up the winding hillside to the abandoned palace where we found our new friends. Short but sweet, we watched the sun plumet into the mountainous horizon as monkeys surrounded us. To top off such a wonderful few days in Udaipur, we visited a recommended Thali restaurant outside town, Natraj Lodge, swarmed with locals (that’s always a great sign). The tables are laden with Thali plates and for 200 rupees you are served unlimited dishes by waiters encircling you. After my homemade cooking class dinner, this would be the next best meal of India! Food Glorious Food!