I left Ahmedabad late in the evening and arrived in Udaipur at about 7am. Arriving to this town after the noise and pollution was absolute heaven. My rickshaw driver stopped off at the side of the road so we could have some early morning chai before he dropped me at the Lal Ghat guesthouse. After dumping my stuff in the room I went straight up to the roof terrace, with beautiful white arches looking out over the lake. I’d known the view was going to be impressive but still, it was amazing. A still lake surrounded by beautiful old white and cream terraced buildings with a few tiny pavilions edging out into the water. The central Palace Hotel (as featured in Octopussy) gleaming white in the centre in the morning sunshine and the mist still hovering around the far shores with the distant hills fading into the sky beyond.
As lovely as the view was I was exhausted and half an hour later was fast asleep and didn’t wake up until midday. At which point my lonely plans for lots of independent cultural activities in Udaipur kind of went out of the window as I made some new friends. After a prolonged breakfast I went up to visit the City Palace on the shores overlooking the lake with two of the guys Daniel and James. We wondered around the ancient courtyards, galleries and gardens and took in the full testament to what life was like for an Indian Maharaja.Thanks to Daniel’s cheerful brazenness also sat down to drink chai with the palace guards and had a long chat with the chefs in the kitchen. Afterwards we wondered around the back streets eating samosas, Indian sweets, strange fruits and drinking pomegranate juice. The locals here are pretty relaxed and really friendly and chatty to tourists, the town to itself, although undeniably touristy is charming and wonderfully free of noise and pollution, at least by Indian standards. Small temples squeeze out of nooks and crannies and some of the buildings have beautifully dilapidated facades, cows lounge stubbornly on the sides, and often the middle of the roads as the muderous rickshaw drivers whizz by.
After watching the sunset over the lake a whole group of us, from Slovakia, Australia, the UK, Belgium, Germany and Bulgaria in all, caught rickshaws to a nearby musical festival taking place that evening. We sat on cushions in the VIP area (I felt a little guilty especially after abusing the dusk to pay the Indian entry fee and saving myself a whopping ten rupees!) and watched a whole range of dances and performances from around the country. There was mime, swirling jewelled girls, enthusiastic drummers, zithers, singers, a duo performing the Indian equivalent of dirty limericks (in Hindi of course), pantomimes and at one point they had all the musicians on stage do perform a joint symphony which was fantastic, so much rhythm and energy. Afterwards we went up to check out the Indian mini fairground and went on a tiny ferris wheel that was hand propelled and far scarier and less stable than anything else I’ve been on for years! We had juice and Pav Bharjs and got befriended by all the stall holders. Especially Eddie who they absolutely loved! Then on the way back we somehow crashed an engagement party and were asked to have all our photos taken on stage with the prospective bride and groom. After which shenanigans we finally made it back to the guesthouse and sat on the rooftop with rum and whiskey, wrapped up warm (it’s bloody cold at night here!) and talking away the hours.
Today we hired two mopeds and two motorbikes, I wisely elected to remain a passenger after my wee Goa debunkle, and went out exploring. Actually our only plan was to make it to the Monsoon Palace to watch the sunset. We got lost around tiny villages in the countryside, rode around the lakes, lost each other, found each other, went for a superb lunch and eventually arrived at the gates up to the palace to find the sun was almost already set and the gates were closed. We did, however, get to spot a very strange antelope in the grounds around the base of the hill and admire the guardsman’s large and very impressive moustache. After all this excitment I may take the day off tomorrow and go peddaling around the lake, maybe some souvenir shopping, possibly just sit reading in the sun on the roof terrace. So many difficult decisions to make….Happy New Year!