We arrived in Udaipur in our "first class" compartment on the overnight train from Jaipur. For once we wished that we hadn't. The vaguaries of the Indian Railways system meant that we had to share a 4 person cabin with 3 Indian men who boarded the train at 4 in the morning. Oblivious to our sleeping presence, they entered with very loud rendition of a recent Hindi hit song. On top of this, for some unknown reason, this particular sleeper train did not supply blankets or pillows. Very uncomfortable for a chilly Indian winter's night.
We arrived at 6.30am and checked into a decidedly tired looking Raj Palace Hotel. Not cheap, not nice and 1 night only! We quickly scouted around town and discovered the Udai Kothi Hotel, just across the currently dry river bed. What a difference! The room was clean and nicely furnished but the "piece de resistance" was the rooftop terrace. Not only were the views over the "Lake" fantastic, but it also hosted the only rooftop pool in town!
Udaipur is known for its lake, and the Lake Palace Hotel (starring in Octopussy, James Bond film) is meant to be the epitome of luxury. We were fortunate to eat dinner there and although it was very nice, rumour has it that the Oberoi hotel in town is meant to be even more plush. I think the Lake Palace loses a bit of its charm because the lake which surrounds it is currently dry! The result of two years of drought in the Rajasthan region.
Even though the hotel loses some of its ambience, the town itself retains a certain magical quality, with many views of the now dry lake giving it a relaxed and spacious feel. The town's cows (and camels!) have certainly not had grazing this good (in the now green lake bed) for quite some time. In fact most cows in all towns so far visited seem to survive by eating out of rubbish bins and chewing old cardboard boxes. No wonder they don't eat them here!
Andrea took advantage of the many tailors and dressmakers in town to update her travelling wardrobe and also have a few things made to send home. Even I had a shirt made! We quickly learnt that the quality of various shops varies greatly and after a few disappointing final results, Andrea was very pleased with a couple of dresses that she ordered. Made to measure and for a fraction of the London price.
Amidst the shopping frenzy, we took a few hours to take in the sights of Udaipur. A sunset visit to the Monsoon Palace, a couple of kms away, provided stunning views of the town and the now dry lake and from its elevated position was the perfect spot from which to watch the sun go down. Even here though, there is no escape from the predatory, commission hungry rickshaw-wallah. In this case he took it upon himself to drive us to a nearby "art school" where he hoped we might be interested in watching students work and hopefully buy some paintings. There are many of these "schools" in Udaipur, although to me they looked to be nothing more than rebranded sweatshops. I'm not sure why we would be eager to buy the work of the "students", surely we'd prefer to buy the work of those who have graduated, although there didn't seem to be any of these around!
The City Palace was the other main tourist hotspot and we duly paid our extortionate foreign tourist rate and joined the massed throngs. Although spectacular in terms of architecture, the art collection housed inside had more than a hint of propoganda about it. Think, "Our illustrious leader slaying enemy and horse with single slash of sword", or "the great Maharaja refuses to accept pretty slave girl as gift from nobleman and sends her back to her village" and you'll be pretty close to the mark. The palace is also home to another 5 star hotel called Shiv Niwas and so we decided that budgets are there for breaking and promptly booked ourselves in for dinner. Again the hotel was not quite as flash as we had expected but the food was very good and relatively speaking reasonably priced.
We have felt as though we were on holiday here in Udaipur - maybe it was the pool, or pretending we weren't backpacking.... we will surely be back!
Next stop Jodhpur...