Our last stop in the state of Rajastan was Udaipur, home of the famous Lake Palace Hotel and reputed to be a great place to relax for a while. It’s under-served by trains so we booked a sleeper bus to get there from Jodhpur, a fairly
comfortable way to travel and vastly worth the few extra rupees over a local style bus. A lot of the travelers we’d met previously during our trip had raved about Udaipur, with it’s comparatively mellow atmosphere and beautiful architecture, set around a picturesque lake with scenic hills in the background. Most of the buildings are painted white, and the blue of the lake is found all around as an accent color. The lake level varies a lot according to how much rain has fallen, and apparently the partially full level that we were treated to was pretty good; it has been completely dried out in the past. We found a nice hotel near the lake for about 500 rupees ($10 usd), and sat at the rooftop restaurant (every place has a rooftop restaurant, and we love them!) and drank in the views, and Kingfisher beers.
Udaipur is very scenic. Of course there is the famous lake, in the middle of which is the Lake Palace Hotel, exclusive destination of the rich and famous. All we can say is it looks pretty
from the outside, because only guests and diners are allowed in, and its way to expensive for us. The place is built on and completely covers a natural island in the lake, making it look like its floating. It really is gorgous and no one can help but take way too many photos. There is a second island on the lake, also housing a luxury hotel, but this one allows tourists to take a look around for a few minutes during a boat tour of the lake. We took the tour and tromped around the pretty and well-manicured grounds. The place seemed nice, expensive, empty and kind of soulless, but had great views. The ride around the lake was great fun and well worth the inflated price. In addition to the lake, Udaipur is filled with neat old buildings, some of them well maintained and others charmingly crumbling. Many of those buildings are former Havelis, private mansions of the former aristocracy, most of which now are used as hotels, restaurants and shops. Udaipur also has a very famous and well preserved City Palace, a huge series of connected buildings, the oldest of which were built in the 1500’s. The complex is really giant; we spent hours exploring it’s excellent museum and only saw a small portion of the palace.
The main tourist area was filled with the typical array of shops and services, and a less typical selection of surprisingly upscale retailers; Udaipur obviously draws in a more affluent crowd than average. There were quite a few tourists
around, but like most of the places we’d been on our trip it was apparent that tourism was way down and the shopkeepers were hurting for customers. Denae, Mark and Allison all did their best to support the local economy by loading up on Rajastani goods like patchwork cloth hangings, handicrafts, clothing and shoes, while I sat outside the stores and tried not to look bored. Actually I picked up a couple of really cool camel leather journals with handmade paper, so I can’t complain.
Udaipur was Mark and Allison’s last stop before their flight to Mumbai and out of India, so we spent a lot of time hanging out with them. We went to a bunch of restaurants, none of them anything all that special in terms of food, but most of them had great views. Our most memorable dining experience was the evening we participated in what has become one of the most classic Udaipur experiences: watching Octopussy on a rooftop. Octopussy, of course, is the 1983 James Bond film starring Roger Moore, and a good portion of the movie is set right in Udaipur. Around 7:00 pm every night half the restaurants in town have a free showing of the movie to try and lure in diners. Eating on a rooftop, drinking Kingfishers, looking out at the lights of town and the floating palace, watching Roger Moore swim through the lake and run around the city we were currently exploring, while simultaneously hearing the same soundtrack from a slightly earlier or later portion of the movie from the adjacent restaurants, was a surreal, cheesy, and wonderfully enjoyable experience.
Some of our best times in Udaipur were spent in the evenings wandering around town, half lost and randomly choosing which way to go, sampling street food and juice stalls. We found a cool Hindu temple where the locals seemed very
happy to show us how to do the offerings and prayers, and in general everyone seemed very friendly. Denae and Allison had a great experience at another temple that they wandered into, where they found an all-female group of worshipers chanting and praying. At some point I gave up and along with a haircut trimmed the Abraham Lincoln beard that I’d been cultivating. All in all we enjoyed Udaipur quite a bit. It is definitely a touristy place and can feel a bit contrived and commercial sometimes, but like most touristy places all you have to do is get off the main drag and you’ll find plenty of locals going about their day to day business, and they’ll probably be happy to talk with you.