The first sound that greeted you at the arrival lounge of Udaipur’s Maharana Pratap Airport was Bollywood singer Kumar Sanu’s. The flat screen TV, hoisted on a pillar, was playing Pooja Bhatt praying in a temple, and Sanjay Dutt doing what he does best: singing Tumhe Apna Banane Ki Kasam Khai Hai in Sanu’s voice. My mother tugged at my father’s shirt, “You remember the last time we came here? Everyone was playing songs from Sadak. It’s happening again!”
Last time was 25 years ago. This was my first visit to the city of lakes, but, strangely, Udaipur felt eerily familiar. My mother insisted it was because I had hitched a ride in her belly last time when she was here. 25 years ago that is.
We were looking for a destination close to Delhi, cheap, not too warm (or too cold), and a place that was small enough to be explored over a weekend. Through several lists of ‘Top 10 Holiday Destinations To Visit This Summer’ that mostly only talked about hill stations, Udaipur caught our interest. We watched a British woman’s travelogue on YouTube and were sold. Through days of fighting over the right hotel, the right flight and the right clothes to wear, we packed our bags and left the city of smog for the city of lakes.
We opted to take direct flights to Udaipur which come dirt cheap since we booked well in advance. We’ve got it covered for you for the long Independence Day weekend. For example, if you choose to arrive on the morning of Saturday, August 19, from New Delhi, it’ll cost you about Rs 2,500. The return flight is currently at Rs 3,500 for Sunday evening at 7.40pm.
It took us less than two hours, half of which, according to my father, was wasted in keeping the plane in air, to burn fuel so they could justify the ticket price.
We could have also chosen a train, but it meant we leave Delhi a day in advance. To reach Udaipur on Saturday, you’ll have to leave early from work on Friday and catch Mewar Express or Chetak Express at 7pm or 7.40pm respectively. The tickets cost about Rs 400 but the journey is for almost 12 hours.
If getting there is the best part of a vacation for you, this could be a swell deal..
You could also opt for a bus: The ticket price ranges between Rs 500 to Rs 1,300 depending on the kind you want.
For intra-city travel, download UBER or Ola apps as cabs are readily available at all major spots. Massive autos and their chatty drivers will make sure you don’t require a guide for most things.
The best thing about Udaipur, other than its lakes, food and palaces, are the cheap but gorgeous boutique hotels spread all around Lake Pichola. We stayed at Jaiwana Haveli: It cost us just Rs 2,600 per night (if you are lucky enough to find a room before they sell out). It’s a small haveli converted into a cosy hotel and run by two brothers. Coo at their adorable dog as they check you in or sit underneath the lush rangoon creeper in their aangan.
The rooms are bright white with a splash of colour at the windows of thick, floral curtains in gorgeous Rajasthani motif. Almost all hotels near Lake Pichola serve up a beautiful view of the lake from the balconies. Take your welcome drink there as you ward off the post-travel tiredness.
One useful tip: If you are travelling with your old parents, Jaiwana Haveli could pose some trouble since there are no lifts in the hotel. Climbing three to four flights of stairs to reach the top floors could get tiring for senior citizens.
More expensive and more luxurious options include Udai Kothi at Rs 6,400 per night and Chunda Palace at Rs 6,100.
The day of your arrival should be the most packed.
After a light breakfast, head over to the City Palace. However, head straight to the far end of the palace and book one of the ferries for a ride around Lake Pichola and Jagmandir. The tickets cost about Rs 450 per person.
To reach the ferry, you will have to strut down the road behind the ginormous palace. Monkeys hopping on trees and an array of lush palace vehicles will keep you occupied until it’s finally your turn to be on the boat.
And it will be worth the wait.
With its clear waters that reflect the bright blue sky in all its magnificence, a ride on Lake Pichola will be one of the most calming experiences of your time in Udaipur. The rhythm of the boat and the wind in your hair add to the resplendent view of Taj Lake Palace.
The boat will drop you at Jagmandir, a luxurious garden in the middle of the lake that hosts celebrity weddings at Rs 8 crore per night.
It is a mystery how trees so tall could grow on a marbled structure in a lake. Find beautiful nooks and crannies all over the garden to take pictures of or simply rest under the shade of a tree.
There are also small but slightly expensive cafes in the garden that will be more than happy to address that rumble in your stomach. A ferry comes back to take you to the City Palace every few minutes. Hop on whenever you are ready to leave.
Close to City Palace is Bagore Ki Haveli: Every evening, it hosts performing artists from all over the state to give tourists the real taste of Rajasthan’s mesmerising culture. One important tip: Be sure that you reach the venue before 7. The programme is a hit with tourists and the seats fill out soon on most days.
After the performances, spend some time at Gangaur Ghat with others who have just stepped out of the show.
For the next day, start at the Saheliyon Ki Baari, a stunning garden made for the princess and her friends. Other than its beauty, what piques your interest is that the garden was made by ‘stitching together’ several other gardens. There are lotus ponds, several ‘natural’ fountains, a host of flora, big stretches of grass and shady trees, flowers of more than a hundred kinds and elephants and lions of stone.
The place also provides a stellar location for great photo-ops if you are into it.
You end your second day with a visit to the City Palace. Save your money elsewhere because here you need to hire a guide.
City Palace is one of the most interesting palaces you’ll see in Udaipur. From the rich history of it’s Diwan-E-Khas to how a bathtub was made of a single piece of marble, an ancient toilet to a room of mirrors, it has so much to offer. A good guide (ignore the faux accent he acquired over the years to please foreigners) will make a palace visit more interesting than most movies.
If you decide to stay the night and leave the next morning, do visit Sajjangarh Fort (Monsoon Palace) at sunset. While the sun dipping beyond the horizon may not seem like a big deal, the brilliant hues of orange and red that envelop the sky definitely will be.
Udaipur’s biggest surprise was the great food. No matter where we ended up, whatever we ordered, it always ended up better than our expectation.
Roof top cafes at many hotels not only let you fill your bellies with scrumptious food but also your heart with a great view of the lake. Almost everywhere we went, each an every kind of dal stood out above everything else.
A few restaurants have seats that let you sit right next to the lake as you sip on your drink in the light of a flickering lamp.
Hari Garh restaurant at Lake Pichola is a perfect choice for a candle-lit dinner but if you are in mood for something more informal, take a walk down the Chawpati along Fateh Sagar Lake. They serve up everything from Maggi to a buttery Pav Bhaji. Do try their cold coffee that comes loaded with ice cream and chocolate chips.
Whenever you have the luxury of some free time, rush to Hathi Pol market. Though bargaining is not something they believe in here, the prices are not outrageous at all.
Go for glass jewellery boxes embellished with mirrors, leather bound notebooks, wall hooks painted by hand, authentic cotton suits with bandhini prints and even smalls desks and stools if you can manage to take them home.
There are also more high-end shops like Soma that sell premium cotton clothes that you can opt for if flea shopping is not your thing.
I’ve been told that the best time to visit Udaipur is during monsoon. While I may have missed out on that opportunity, I hope you do not. Even in the heat of a scorching sun, each and every moment was made worth revisiting: Soaking in the blue of the waters as wind sweeps your hair, getting an eyeful of the reds sky in the evening or the fuchsia of the dancers’ dresses as they swung to the reverberating dholak.
I can already feel the green of envy.
All photos by Soumya Srivastava
Follow the author @soumya1405