Watch. Listen. Learn. (India 7: Udaipur)

Friday to Sunday, Nov. 11-13, 2011, Udaipur

Dances with water pots, and one with an Albatross

The bus trip to Udaipur (pronounced “You-Dah-Pur” — accent on the first syllable. I kept pronouncing it like “You-Diaper,” and, thankfully, my fellow travellers kept correcting me) was a long one — nine hours — and some people found it quite taxing — especially the few who weren’t feeling well. The bus was crowded and several local families sat on the floor in the aisle with their belongings. Their children looked at us with great curiosity and enough wisdom/caution not to return our smiles. It was the first bus I’ve seen with sleeping compartments above the seats, where the luggage bins usually are.

At one point the driver’s assistant made his way up the aisle, singing out for customers, with a splendidly arranged tray of what looked a bit like trail mix — nuts and coconut flakes — but it delivered the pungent odor of the chiles that were used to decorate the tray. When a passenger requested an order, the seller made a cone from a square of newspaper, filled it with the nut mixture, squeezed fresh lime over the top, and handed it over in exchange for a few rupees. The snack looked delicious but also none-too-sanitary, and the members of our group declined the opportunity to try it.

Highlights of that bus trip were few and far between, although at least we had more leg-room and a bit less dirt than we did on other segments of the journey. However, I was amused by two members of our troupe several rows back from me who sang songs to each other (and to anyone else who would listen) to help to pass the time, and by my seat companion, a young woman whose butt had been rubbed nearly raw by the ornamentation on the saddle of her camel the night before: she rode the last couple of hours with her head hanging off the seat, and her feet up against the neck rest, to give her behind a break. (I have a photo, but I am planning to make some money from repressing it.)

We arrived in Udaipur at about 9 p.m., checked into our hotel (the Vishnupriya — none too clean and the bathroom floor was flooded when I checked into my room; I am not a real fan of that hotel) and we went out immediately again for dinner at a rooftop restaurant with a splendid view of the city all lit up in the darkness. Flying foxes (a fruit bat) swooped over our heads as we ate.

Pretty City

Udaipur has been called the “most romantic city in India,” and it comes by that description honestly. There are several lakes in the area and there are palaces in the lakes, and the town winds uphill and down, revealing intriguing and diverse cityscapes every which way you look. Our guide told us, “People say that when you go to Venice, it is so beautiful it makes you want to die, but they say that Udaipur is so beautiful, it makes you want to live.”

Udaipur is a warm, friendly city with lots of small street-front shops. If you’re up for bargaining, you can find great leather goods, blouses, trousers, art, crafts, shoes, bangles and innumerable other items. The streets are far less crowded than are those of any other city we’ve been to, and they’re cleaner!

We were in Udaipur for three nights and most of us took the opportunity for a bit of R and R — shopping, wandering the streets, and lounging by the hotel pool. We got in a couple of excellent meals, including one at the Whistling Teal — a hookah restaurant — where I had the best tandoori chicken I’ve tasted in my life (but skipped the hookah), and one at The Tiger, where the price fixe menu included papadams, an aubergine-and-tomato-sauce dish with rice, and banana fritters for dessert — delicious, and a great deal at only about $8.00 total for the evening, including the tuk-tuk that got us there. The Tiger is a rooftop restaurant, too, overlooking the bathing ghats of Lake Pichola; in the still, warm night, the reflection of the lights of the temple, palaces and hotels shimmer across the water.

The Pots

A highlight of Udaipur for me was a cultural event I took in with one of our guides, Ricky, on the second night we were there. The Concert de’Indian Cultural Heritage at Bagore Ki Haveli, Gangaur Ghat, included traditional dances and presentations from the states of Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujurat and Goa. It included women dancing while neatly tapping consecutive small castanets attached along their arms and legs and feet with a ball attached to a rope, other women dancing with fire-filled braziers on their heads, an amazingly talented puppeteer and — the crowning glory in more ways than one — a woman who danced with two, then four, then five, then seven, then ten clay pots on her head. She was reconstructing the traditional practices of rural women who, needing to travel long distances to get water, make their heads save their heels by carrying as many pots as possible on top of one another.

The dancer, a woman of 65 — who, my guide told me, had recently had hip surgery — not only danced with all of those pots on her head, she did so while simultaneously picking up a kerchief with her teeth, then dancing on broken glass, then dancing with one foot on either side of a pie-plate-like metal pan which she banged back and forth in rhythm with the music. I was delighted to give her a small donation in addition to the entry fee,  and to have my picture taken with her.

Others in our group took advantage of a cooking class and learned to make several of the fabulous dishes we’ve been enjoying since we arrived in India. Some of my favourites so far have been:

  • chicken biryani
  • chicken tikka
  • fish curry (from south India, particularly Goa)
  • thali
  • parathas
  • alu ghobi
  • palak paneer
  • bhaji and
  • pickle

The Rise of The Albatross

In Udaipur, several of us toured the Hindu Jagdish temple where the stone carvings are intricate beyond belief. I intended to visit the City Palace too, but I arrived at the entrance to that complex with a large package I wanted to mail home only to discover that the post office (which was located next to the gates of the palace) was closed on Sundays, which is what day it was. Aggravated with myself for not having trusted the tuk-tuk driver who took me up there and warned me that the post office was closed (because of stories I’d heard of tuk-tuk drivers misinforming foreigners of many things in order to divert them to businesses operated by their relatives and friends, and because this tuk-tuk driver had offered an express-post outlet as an alternative, which I’d declined), I stubbornly walked back to the hotel with the cloth-wrapped package in my arms rather than paying for another tuk-tuk.

It took me about half an hour to walk back to the Vishnupriya (I only took a wrong turn once). Since I had carried the package since Jaipur, and since it contained a bedspread and a wall hanging that I should not have bought, I was beginning to think of the heavy, pillow-case-sized object as my albatross. By the time I got The Albatross back to my room, I was too tired and hot to go back up to see the palace. Instead, I sank with great relief into the waters of the hotel swimming pool.

I probably sank into them a little too deeply for my own good, perhaps swallowing some of the water in my eagerness to get cool, for I think it may have been there that I got my one small bout of upset stomach. I consider myself fortunate that I did not have my distressed tummy on the day of the nine-hour bus trip or on the overnight train ride to Mumbai, but only on the day we rode in a jeep for 1.5 hours to a wildlife preserve near Ranakpur, then headed out again for a one-hour trip each way to see the most amazing temple we had yet encountered. As it was, if it had not been for several doses of Imodium, I would not have made it.

(Check out more photos from Udaipur here.)

7 responses to “Watch. Listen. Learn. (India 7: Udaipur)

  1. Hope you liked my city! Let me know the next time you are visiting “the city of lakes, palaces and gardens”. I would be happy tell you about nice hotels to stay, some great places to see and diners where you can try out fantastic North Indian and Rajasthani delicacies.

    • Aside from the problems with the hotel (which I am sure is just because we were on a “budget” tour), I thought Udaipur was wonderful! Thank you! If I get a chance to go back there, which would be great, I’ll definitely ask for your guidance. (And I’m sure anyone else who reads this who is planning to go to Udaipur will click on your avatar and connect.)

  2. Mary W. Walters

    Thanks for the great feedback, Tim and Ellen! I’m having fun reliving the experiences as I write them, but to have other people enjoy them too is a real bonus.

  3. Love this! Following every post!

  4. I visited Udaipur in 2007 on a 2 week cram-it-all-in backpacking tour of Rajasthan and loved the place, would love to go back sometime. The Indian subcontinent pulls me back every few years (usually to the Himalayas) so you never know. I’m enjoying reading the account our your travels btw.

  5. I love living vicariously through your travel exploits. I confess that my health issues and my preferences preclude me from undertaking the type of trip you took. Yet, I find it exciting, interesting and brave. Thank you for taking me along.

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