Where: Udaipur, Rajasthan, India.
When: October 2011.
Why: I visited Udaipur on my Himalaya adventure and Indian back packing trip. On this trip I visited Delhi, Dharamsala, Bir, the Himalaya, Varanasi, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Udaipur, Mumbai, Goa and Hampi.
Udaipur is a romantic, cool, pretty city located in the south of Rahjasthan. Based around a series of interconnected lakes and waterways, with plenty of lush parks and gardens to spend time in, Udaipur is a cool, refreshing place to visit; a pretty romantic Rahjastani city, with marble lace-like, lake side havelis, gorgeous gardens and a wonderful Maharajah’s palace.
Udaipur’s most famous attraction is Jag Niwas, The Lake Palace, an architectural wonder which seems to float upon the waters of the largest lake, Lake Pichola. Jag Niwas stars in the James Bond movie Octopussy, and to be honest this is what most people know Udaipur for and probably what draws them to this city (it’s certainly what drew me).
But Udaipur is not just the Lake Palace – there is a lot more to this lovely city than that. Udaipur is quite a rich city, both financially and culturally, and so there are lots of treasures to visit. The maharaja’s palace is magnificent and interesting; the temples are really cool; the parks are lush, green places; wonderful chilled spaces to spend a few hours in – a rarity in much of this area of India.
Udaipur is also a city geared up for visitors. There are many cool cafes, bakeries and restaurants – and lots of shops and galleries to potter around too.
Udaipur has a lovely location, on the lake sides, surrounded by misty mountains. I wish I had been there for longer so I could have gone off to explore the surrounding area.
I really liked Udaipur. Many of the problems I associate with India, I didn’t find in Udaipur. I didn’t see raw sewage running down the streets, there weren’t cows and trash everywhere. There was building work taking place, modern shops, banks, bars and restaurants. It seemed to be a city that was being looking after, a city that was being invested in; a treasure that was being looked after.
Getting there and getting around
Wherever possible in India, I tried to take the train – as I love travelling by train and Indian trains are really easy to book online. Getting to Udaipur was the one section of my journey where I couldn’t do this, as there is no line connecting Jodhpur to Udaipur, so I had to get a bus.
The fab people at Durag Niwas guest house in Jodhpur booked my bus ticket for me. It cost 200 rupees (about £3). I had to catch the bus from the far side of Jodhpur – so I showed my ticket to my rickshaw driver and he took me straight to my departure point.
The journey from Jodhpur to Udaipur took about six hours, with a toilet stop half way. The bus was comfortable (it had a lot of space), but it had the most annoying horn that the driver used every few seconds. Also, the roads were awful. Seriously, I don’t know how we got that coach down some of those roads. At times, the ruts were so deep that we seemed to be leaning over at a 45 degree angle. And we seemed to travel the most rural, country back road route possible. The bumpiness of the bus was so bad that I couldn’t read – so I just watched the pretty countryside go by and watched the monkeys playing by the roadside.
My hotel booked my ticket for me. I’ve found this website called Make my Trip, where you can book tickets. I don’t know how reputable they are, but they look pretty okay to me, and they have comprehensive information about the bus companies and the journeys available.
Mostly I got around on foot in Udaipur, as Udaipur is quite a compact and walkable city.
I did get a rickshaw to take me into town from the bus drop off point, and I did get a rickshaw to the station as this was a little bit too far out of the town centre.
When I left, I caught the train from Udaipur to Mumbai. The station in Udaipur is located on the edge of town, about 20 minutes by tuk tuk from the lake side. It’s a nice station, with a good ladies waiting room and toilets, cafes, shops and lots of food and magazine sellers etc.
What I did on my holiday
Walked, explored and ate German sausages
I got into Udaipur around lunch time, so I spent my first afternoon just pottering about, exploring the city and getting to know where everything was.
Udaipur old town is a wonderful tangle of lanes and alleyways, with bridges over the waterways and ghats by the lake side. I spent quite a lot of time by the water, just thinking and watching the reflection of the city in the lakes. Udaipur was a nice place to just ‘be’: a pretty place to relax, with lots of nice cafes and gardens.
I ended up in the Edelweiss Bakery – which is a German bakery in the centre of town, where they serve wonderful cakes and German sausages. I was craving a good bit of meat (as most food is vegetarian in India), so to have smoked sausages and mustard was a tasty treat.
After that, I had an extremely early night (I was tired and there wasn’t a lot to do), ready for lots of exploring the next day.
The City Palace of Udaipur is the palace that belongs to the Maharaja of Mewar. He is from the Mewar family – the longest surviving royal family in the world.
This huge building, located on the banks of Lake Pichola, was the most ornate palace that I visited in Rajasthan and I loved it! It was flamboyant and fun and fascinating, and I spent a good few hours exploring the museums and royal apartments. It is the largest palace complex in Rajasthan – so there’s a lot to see here.
After my very early night, I was actually up too early to visit the City Palace (it didn’t open until ten), so I whilst waiting for it to open I pottered about the book shops and souvenir stalls that line the road up to the palace. At ten on the dot, I was at the ticket booth ready to explore!
The first area I entered was the great outer courtyard (Amar Vilas). There were some gardens here, the elephant stables, some posh shops and restaurants and great views overlooking Udaipur. I was intrigued to see the tiger cage, which they used to use when tiger hunting – in the local area! Sadly I don’t think there are any tigers here anymore; it’s hard to imagine they ever were here.
After the outer courtyard, I went in to the first inner courtyard, and went to have a look at the Palace Museum, which contained lots of ancient stone statues of the gods and avatars. Not many people seemed to be visiting this area, which is a shame as it was fascinating and I got to learn a lot about all the different incarnations of the gods and what they looked after. Some of the statues in there were from the 11th century – so very old.
Then I went on a tour of the palace apartments. There were many, many rooms to see; the walls covered in artwork and shrines; with furniture fit for kings and princes (including the Maharaja’s commode). Much of the decoration featured colourful glass and mirrors, or interesting characters. There was an absorbing level of detail which I could have spent hours examining.
There were some beautiful, open courtyard garden rooms, with trickling fountains – the sort of place I could imagine spending hours relaxing; disco stained glass rooms; intricate shrines and great views over the town and the surrounding countryside.
At the end of the tour there was a photo exhibit of the current Maharajah and what he does now, which was interesting.
I spent a good morning exploring the palace and I really enjoyed my visit. This palace is rich and gorgeous: a proper Maharajah’s palace full of treasure and history.
It cost me 200 rupees (£3) to be allowed to take photos and the entrance fee was 60 rupees (about 90p).
Wikipedia has much more information about the City Palace and it’s history.
Boat tours of Lake Picholo depart from a wharf by the City Palace and I think you need to buy a combined ticket from the palace to take this trip. This boat tour takes visitors out on the lake so that they can have a closer look at the Lake Palace; though they still can’t visit the palace itself, as this is accessible only to guests of this exclusive hotel.
Upper Lake (Fateh Sagar Lake) and Pearl Mountain Park
In the afternoon, I walked to the Upper Lake. The walk to the lake took me through some of the more outlying, less-touristy districts of Udaipur, over some of the linking water-lily covered waterways.
The Upper Lake has a very pretty backdrop, of palm trees and the misty Aravali mountains. The Upper Lake was quieter than Lake Pichola. It was much more peaceful and relaxed here. The Upper Lake has three special islands. One of the islands has Nehru Park on it, one a public park and one has the solar observatory on it. (I didn’t go to these).
In some ways, the Upper Lake felt more touristy than Lake Pichola, but was also much more relaxed because it is less famous and not in the centre of town. There were pleasure craft out on the water and a quiet road ran around the lake side. I think that the Upper Lake is prettier than Lake Pichola, as it is more rural. There was a lovely backdrop of palm trees, flowers and mountains.
On a hill overlooking the lake was Pearl Mountain Park. This is where Udaipur was founded, and in the park you can visit the remains of the original castle. You can also visit a huge statue of some old Mewar Maharajah who won some famous battle or something. He sits on top of the hill on his horse.
The park itself is just nice to stroll around and there are great views from the top of the hill (and an ice cream shop too).
Entrance to the park cost me 30 rupees plus 20 rupees for photos.
Bagore-ki-Haveli Museum and the world’s largest turban
Next to my hotel (and next to the Edelweiss Bakery) was the Bagore-ki-Haveli Museum. This is a small, local museum, set in the haveli of the former prime minister, Amir Chand Badwa.
I love small local museums, because they often contain the most random stuff. In the Bagore-ki-Haveli Museum was the World’s Largest Turban – so I had to go and see it.
The hosts at the museum were great. All of staff were super friendly and helpful – and they let me in for free. I can’t remember why (I think they had no change) but the man on the door let me in for nothing, and just told me to come back and pay later – which I did. I think I was the first visitor that morning. I certainly had the whole place to myself for the whole visit.
The museum is set in Bagore-ki-Haveli, a gorgeous lake-side haveli that had recently been restored (in fact, some areas were still being restored at the time of my visit). The haveli is set around a central courtyard, with a tangle of rooms coming off – each of which contained exhibits. A lot of the exhibits in the museum were from the everyday life of the haveli, and everyday life in Udaipur (I seem to remember a whole room dedicated to mustaches), and they also had an exhibit about the restoration of the building.
My two favourite sections of the museum were the puppet museum and the turban exhibit (including the World’s Largest Turban). The puppet museum contained lots of puppets (including one of Prince Charles) and the steward showed me how he made them. The turban exhibit showed turbans from throughout history, and the World’s Largest Turban (it’s pink and looks like a strange, giant brain).
At the end of the tour, there was an area which contained some modern art. I really liked these pictures and images, and it was cool to see some modern art and to see what Indian artists today are making and thinking.
I spent abouttwo hours in the museum. It was great and I highly recommend it. It’s also only 30 rupees entrance fee (50p), and 30 rupees for photos.
I couldn’t find a webpage for the museum, but they have go their own Wikipedia page.
Up to this point, most of the focus of my visit had been in the lake side areas of town; so in the afternoon I ventured into the area behind the City Palace. I had heard about a Tibetan market that was in this part of town and I really wanted to get some more Tibetan woolen blankets – after missing my chance to buy them in Dharamsala.
The market was interesting, but extremely quiet and a bit strange to be honest. They did sell blankets, but they were all a little bit out of my price range. The stalls were fun to look at for half an hour or so, though. I think there was an Indian market there too.
What I didn’t do on my holiday
The thing that had bought me to Udaipur was the Lake Palace and you can do boat tours around the lake, so that you can look at it close up. These boat tours depart from the jetty by the city palace and cost 300 rupees (about £4.50). I seem to remember that you buy the tickets from the City Palace museum ticket office. I didn’t do the boat tour, though I so wish I had. I think I was worrying about money and the boat trip was a little bit too expensive for me.
I also didn’t watch Octopussy – though many bars show it most nights. A German girl and I went to watch it in a lake side bar on our last night, but the waiters asked us would we mind if they watched the football instead.
The other key site which I missed is the impressive looking Jagdish temple, which sits at the end of the City Palace road. This temple looked amazing, but I wasn’t sure whether I was able to visit, or the etiquette for visiting this holy site, so I left it. I probably should have been braver and just asked if I could have had a look, but I didn’t want to impose so I didn’t. Oh well.
Where I ate and drank
The nice thing about Udaipur, was that there were nice cafes and restaurants – places that I wanted to eat, with amazing views and interesting food. I found that there was much more choice of food, than elsewhere I had been in India. Whilst in Udaipur I had German Sausages, a meze platter and a curry (one of the only curries I had in India).
The Edelweiss is a famous bakery located in the middle of old Udaipur. It’s a German run bakery which serves amazing cakes, coffees, sarnies and sausages. If you’re feeling a little homesick and want a taste of the west, this is the place to come to. It’s a nice, relaxing place to spend an hour. It was full of tourists when I was there, and busy so we had to share tables, so it was a good place to meet people, and I had a lovely conversation with an older English lady who was visiting the town. It was nice to share experiences over cake and coffee.
Cafe Edelweiss has a page on Facebook.
Savage Garden Restaurant
Savage Garden was a very pretty restaurant, based around a blue courtyard garden. I had the meze platter here. The restaurant was nice, but I seem to remember it being a bit overpriced. However, the location and the setting were great. I probably would have had a much better meal had I not been on my own, as it’s the sort of restaurant where you sit at a sunny table with friends, drinking a bottle of wine. It was a very un-Indian place, more European. I bet it’s really romantic at night.
The restaurant has a page on Facebook with more information.
Hotel Devraj Niwas
Hotel Devraj Niwas is located on the banks of Lake Pichola, overlooking the Lake Palace. The hotel’s outdoor terrace has one of the best views in Udaipur and is a magical place to go to eat, drink and relax.
I visited here with my German friend at dusk and we had a magical evening, drinking beers on the balcony, as the sun set and the lights lit up on and around the lake; the moon and stars reflected in the still waters. It was magic.
Hotel Devraj Niwas offered nightly showings of Octopussy, and this is why we had come here, but the night we went to watch this they asked if we’d mind if they watched the football instead. We didn’t mind as we were too busy watching the scenery.
This was the only place that I ate a curry in India – it was very salty and not what I’m used to. It was nice to have a curry in India though, as I didn’t find this available anywhere else on my trip.
Hotel Devraj Niwas itself seemed to be really elegant, with an indoor swimming pool downstairs. If I return to Udaipur and I’m not on a tight budget, this is somewhere that I would consider staying.
Where I stayed
You know when backpackers annoyingly do the ‘you will not believe how little I paid’ story – well, this is mine. I paid 100 rupees a night (about £1.50) for a bed in a dorm at the Lal Ghat, a hotel/hostel on the banks of Lake Pichola. This place was so cheap, I could have had a private double room for £3 per night.
And you know what – it wasn’t that bad. The toilets were a bit stinky (I think cos they were shared with boys), but the beds were clean and not uncomfy, and the shower was warm. It wasn’t the best place I’ve ever stayed, but it was definitely the cheapest.
Each of the dorm beds was in its own little curtained off cubicle (a bit like a hospital), and there was storage under the bed (you had to lift up the mattress to get into it). There were also some shelves above the bed, and a light for reading.
The hostel had a wonderful location, in a haveli on the banks of Lake Picholo, underneath the City Palace, next to the World’s Largest Turban museum. The hostel had a computer room and library, and they served basic food and offered a cheap laundry service. The receptionist man wasn’t very friendly, but I only saw him when I checked in so that was okay.
The rooms were based around a central open area, and there were chairs and tables on higher balconies, overlooking the lake.
It wasn’t the most luxurious place – but it did and it was preposterously good value.
Incidentally, whilst I was in Udaipur they were having rolling black outs, so the power went out for two or three hours every day. Irritatingly, these were never at the same times, so it was hard to plan around them. It was a pain in the bum when I was trying to organise onward travel on the computer – as the computers shut down just as I was about to book my tickets. I visited Udaipur just before Diwali, so they may have been trying to conserve power for the the celebrations, although the locals seemed to suggest that the black outs were a regular thing.
Please note, some, if not much of this information may not be correct, or may be out of date. All these articles show is how we found these places when we visited and what we personally thought of each place. Where possible I will include links to site which will contain more up-to-date info. All of this is our own work and any opinion expressed is that of the author only.
All photos copyright of J Clemo-Halpenny, unless otherwise stated. If you would like to copy or reproduce any of these images, please email me to ask permission.