Having two full days to spend in Jaipur proved to be of no help in shaking off the lingering travel fatigue. Apparently, one is not considered a serious traveler until one has done India and now I realize why people said so. It can sap the energy out of those who don’t fully open their minds to the highs and lows of the Indian experience. And on my sixth day, I was in for another test.
the seemingly floating lake palace on lake pichola
As our next destination was quite far away from Jaipur, we decided to take the train again this time. Because our train departed late that night, we got to witness a different scene at the station, the usual touts and scams aside. Many of the locals practically kept staring at us. Intently. When I said intently, it meant that they stood around 2 feet away as a group and stared with eyes wide open as if I came from outer space! I found it really surprising as this was not at all the case during the previous days. People elsewhere generally seemed impervious to the presence of foreigners as India (or to be more precise, the places we went to) were quite touristy, so this scene at the train station was certainly strange. Then, there were also the rats as big as cats running openly on the train tracks.
down in the train station at (almost) midnight… thanks to a train delay
For a change, we decided to try the AC-1 (First class) cabin to see what it was like. At Rs 1,200 (around $24) for a 9-hour overnight journey, it was a steal. First class meant that we had lockable cabins, with 4 berths to a cabin. Pillows and linen were provided. I slept all the way to Udaipur – our fourth destination during this trip.
udaipur is not called the “venice of the east” for no reason… and among the contenders, is probably the most worthy of the title
Of the 5 cities we were visiting during this India trip, I was probably most excited about Udaipur. Dubbed as the Venice of the East, it is famous for its floating hotel – the Lake Palace as well as being the shooting location for several scenes of Octopussy, the James Bond movie. Many of the city’s lakeside hotels are said to have this film on constant playback for guests to watch.
doing laundry on the lake in early morning
We arrived in Udaipur just before 7AM with the usual group of touts greeting us. By this time, we were used to the entire drivel to the point that we were already expecting it. In typical fashion, the question of “where are you going” was uttered complete with an entire battalion of touts, rickshaw drivers, taxi drivers and curious lurkers swarming on us as we exited the station. As we only had one day in Udaipur (we weren’t even staying there for the night!), we decided to go with a driver who turned out to have a car that did not even have side mirrors!
view of the city palace from a hilltop
For this leg, there was only one place I wanted to see and that is the tranquil Lake Pichola complete with the Lake Palace Hotel and Jag Mandir seemingly floating in the middle. As the sun was rising, our driver took us on top of a hill with a good lookout of the city. The majestic view was a good introduction to the white city. Immediately, all the main sights became visible including the City Palace and a couple of luxury hotels surrounding it. The city as a whole seemed so much more relaxing compared to the places we had just been.
another awesome view
Despite our limited time, we made sure to stop in the City Palace. Although many cities in India can lay claim to have their own city palace, the one in Udaipur is the largest in Rajasthan and is probably the only one that can boast a scenic lakeside location. There are several sections inside, each showcasing elaborate interiors that are hard to match in terms of grandiosity. There are also great views of the Lake Palace Hotel from some of the upper terraces.
in and around the city palace
We went to the city outskirts later that day, but in my opinion nothing else in the city could match the sights around the city center and the lake so we returned there later that afternoon. We made a quick stop at Jagdish Temple, an old and very impressive building filled with lots of detailed carvings at the outer building walls but still fully functional to this day.
in jagdish temple
I wanted to get a great view of the City Palace’s backside so I asked the driver to take us to the other side of the lake. From this particular vantage point, I could see why Udaipur is called the Venice of the East. And of all the cities laying claim to this, I believe Udaipur is most deserving of the monicker. Beyond just having bodies of water surrounding the city, it has a romantic atmosphere and medieval looking architecture that it shares with the real Venice. There is no denying that Udaipur is still chaotic but this is one setting where the chaos found in many of the city’s side streets seems to add to the overall charm of being there. Mix it up with a sense of intrigue and adventure ala James Bond and you’ve got the picture-perfect town. And did I mention that the tourist crowds were far smaller here?
i could just sit and appreciate the scene around the lake the whole day
Where to feel more like James Bond? The film Octopussy was basically filmed in and around most of the city’s main sights. Here’s a rundown:
- City Palace Complex of Udaipur
- Lake Palace Hotel
- Jag Mandir Island
- Monsoon Palace
You don’t have to have your own private plane like James Bond to get to Udaipur. Several local airlines such as Kingfisher, Air India and Jet Airways fly to Udaipur from major cities such as Delhi and Mumbai. I arrived in Udaipur via train from Jaipur, which was a 9 hour ride.