When people asked me why I chose to go to India, I would often answer, “why, I was fascinated by the socio-political landscape of such a fast developing and conflict-ridden country,” or maybe, “to seek spiritual enlightenment amongst India’s many religions.” Or there’s another, perhaps more accurate answer; because I wanted to see all of the colourful bazaars and beautiful palaces. I wanted to buy more embellished textiles than I could ever possibly need and sit atop sun-bleached rooftops eating curries and deep-fried fancies. My motivations for travel aside, Udaipur embodied everything I desired from India and more, and was just as romantic and full of character as the often hyperbolic guide books promised.
Days were spent wandering around the narrow winding streets, flattening ourselves against walls to let bull and carts pass by, and ducking in and out of shops exploding with brightly coloured fabrics. If you can trust yourself enough to look upwards (you might stand in cow poo which isn’t funny if you’re wearing flip-flops) then you can see the iconic curved archways and glittering mosaic windows atop almost every building. It’s the norm to take in the higgledy piggledy sky-line, dashed with multi-levelled palaces, havelis and washing lines slung with colourful saris from roof-tops that can only be reached by climbing endless stairs and battling a mild asthma attack. Udaipuris know how to please the tourists and milk this exotic imagery to its full, by scattering the floors of these roof-tops with huge deep red cushions and ornately carved low tables. It’s all about imagining how the place was hundreds of years ago, and it’s really not that hard to do that here.
The dreamiest part is the fact all of this lazily trundling chaos and crumbling-ly beautiful architecture is set around a lake. Now I know what you’re thinking, shame the lake was filled with cola bottles and long lost flip flops, but you’d be wrong. The water is absolutely sparkling clean – and in the hazy golden light of a sunset, perfectly reflects the butter-coloured jumble of buildings that stand on its edge – like an upside down watercolour. The buildings slowly increase in height until your eye meets the city palace; beautifully striking but looking perfectly in place amongst the other buildings hustling for attention on the horizon. The floating palace in the middle of the lake adds yet another level of decadence to the scene. At night, lit up with the light of a million rich people’s dollars – the scene is quite the eastern fairytale, or anyone’s fairytale for that matter. The only way to get to the Lake Palace is via boat, and comes at the cost of a few hundred per night (pounds not rupees unfortunately). And if I told you there was another island and another palace then you’d surely think I was exaggerating but again you’d be wrong, there are around 5 palaces in Udaipur, and we only managed to visit one…
Unfortunately this is where the dreaded lurgy (as Dave calls it) caught up with both Sam and myself. After 5 months of uninterupted health (apart from the odd hospital visit) the stomach bugs got us both bad. Our energy for sight-seeing was heavily compromised and the Udaipur dream trundled to a shaking and sweating halt. However for some reason, when I cast my mind back to Udaipur I only have positive memories, which is certainly saying something considering I felt just as bad as I did when I ended up in A&E with gastroenteritis.
Getting in the tuk tuk to the bus stop that would take us away from Udaipur, through the less touristy streets on the ouskirts of the city, I got the distinct impression that I hadn’t experienced even a tenth of the atmosphere and potential this city had to offer. It manages to stay friendly yet traditional, and chaotic but relaxed. Udaipur, you live up to every inch of your reputation – now when can I go back?