Udaipur has always brought to mind mystical palaces, beautiful lakes, James Bond, history and romance. It has often been called 'Venice of the East'. I was very much looking forward to our few days in the Lake City and was quietly hoping that my romantic notions would not be shattered. The drive from the Airport to Udaipur was uneventful but as soon as we got to the historic centre, regal elephants and dieting cows welcomed us. The old town is densely built up and many of the old mansions (havelis) have now been converted into affordable B&Bs. We chose to stay in one such haveli overlooking the lake Pichola. The sunsets from our terrace were stunning and Udaipur at night looked just as magical.
I could write reams about what to do and see in Udaipur but my best advise would be to slow down and savour the history and beauty surrounding you. I must admit that there isn't anything particularly romantic about the wider city itself. It is just another Indian city with similar volumes of traffic, noise, colour and chaos. However, there are a few interesting palaces and gardens dotted around the visit that are well worth a visit.
To See: The City Palace, Jagmandir Palace and Monsoon Palace are all well worth a visit. I enjoyed our leisurely stroll around the City Palace and watching the sun go down from there in the evening. The Monsoon Palace was the setting for Octopussy. You can take a boat ride up to Jagmandir for about Rs.500. We also had an interesting time overcoming multiple building hazards to visit the puppetry making workshop on top of one the cities many terraces. There are plenty of touristy tours available should you feel a bit lost or want a quick overview of the main attractions. I'd recommend exploring the place by foot, Lonely Planet in hand.
Culture: I always try and get a taste of the local culture whilst visiting a place. There are a couple of places in Udaipur that organise Rajasthani music and dance evenings. You can enjoy a few hours of Ghoomar dancing, folk music and puppetry which are all suitably entertaining albeit a little bit scary. I'd like to know how those women manage to dance with multiple earthen pots on their heads or with pots with fire.
Shopping: Rajasthani embroidery and textiles are hugely popular and there plenty of places to buy them. I'd recommend getting out of the tourist zone and heading to the less magical city centre to buy them. You can (and indeed) should politely haggle- you don't want to be taken for a dumb tourist.
Eating: There are many restaurants around Udaipur that serve a traditional Rajasthani thali which is worth trying. You also have plenty of bastardized curries to suit the western palate. I'd recommend the Ambrai restaurant and Jagat Niwas Haveli in particular for impeccable setting, stunning views and great food.
Accomodation: Udaipur caters to all price ranges. If you have enough to splurge, there are stunning hotels like the Oberoi Udai Vilas and Taj Lake Palace that cost up to $800 for a night's stay. If like us, you are a regular person, try havelis that cost anywhere from $40-100 for a night's stay.
My favourites: There are three things that I'd definitely recommend, 1) Indian style afternoon tea at Fateh Prakash Palace, 2) Cocktails at Jagat Niwas in the little cushioned seating area overlooking the lake Pichola and 3) Beautiful white embroidered bed spreads from one of the many textile shops
I hope you get to travel to Udaipur some day- it is well worth a visit. Ann x
Photography by Edward Chandler