Researching for our trip to Udaipur, we had heard and read about the amazing views of the Aravalli hills from the Monsoon Palace, especially at sunset. The Monsoon Palace was constructed specifically for the purposes of observing the monsoon clouds—and what better time to visit the Palace than in the monsoon!
It had poured heavily the day we reached Udaipur, and it appeared that the heavens above would deny us our visit to this Palace. Amazingly enough, the rain stopped in the early evening, and we headed out to catch the setting sun under a rather overcast sky.
From what we had read in the travel reviews, it was a long trek uphill, and not much upstairs, apart from a neglected building; that one must carry food and water, as there were no food stalls; and keep them safe as there were lots of monkeys who would snatch away your food. And so we went, fully prepared with snacks and water, tucked in a canvas bag, secured safely with the modern miracle called a zip.
It turns out, either this place hasn’t been reviewed by travellers for a while, or I ended up reading every old one!
So I’m going to attempt to set it right, by debunking all the myths (and adding one observation) about the Palace.
The building didn’t really look neglected or decaying.
There is a restaurant there.
There are also public water dispensers (as with most other monuments)
There are no monkeys (except for one big Langoor, that had probably been hired to keep the red ones away)
There are lots of multi-legged insects. Not dozens or scores or hundreds, there were literally thousands of centipedes/caterpillars/millipedes (I have no idea which of those they were) on the stone steps and walls—possibly due to the rains.
What each of the travel reviewers did get right, though, were the views. To quote one reviewer, “the views are to die for”.
Such was the breathtaking view of the Aravalli hills at sunset, that neither my words, nor my pictures could do justice to it.
We spent a couple of hours drenched in the golden hues of the sun, and as grateful as we were to be in presence of such magnificence, there was one greedy thought still lurking within, “if it weren’t so overcast!” Oh well. 🙂
So what were the great views, that captivated us, you ask? I’ll leave that hanging for one more day.
We had had a rather strange morning. Waking up at 3:30 am, to be stuck in a traffic jam around 5 am, and then racing against the sunrise to get to the top of Tiger Hill. We missed the famous golden Kanchenjunga due to bad weather, but took away some interesting memories nonetheless.
We are extremely slow travellers. And on that foggy morning, we were the last of the tourists to slowly descend the hill, soaking in every inch of the natural beauty and scores of colourful flags. Somewhere along the path, lay a beautiful temple with more strings of flags than any other place we’d seen.
It was also very quiet, ignored by all the tourists scrambling to get into their cars to visit the next item on their list of places to see. We wondered why this one was missing on anyone’s itinerary.
Our own ‘package’ didn’t include this, and with our driver asking us to hurry up, all we could manage were a few quick photographs from the outside.
I did a quick search on Google, and sadly, could not find the name of this temple; there weren’t any tourist brochures or itineraries that mention this place. I’m not sure if visitors are permitted to enter (they must be, if there are so many flags here!) If they are, and if you have the time, perhaps you could add this to your list. If you’ve visited the temple, I would love to hear your story.
Travelling during the Indian monsoon is tricky. Apart from the dangers of landslides and floods, there is the danger of being trapped inside a cold hotel when it is pouring outside. Fortunately, we are not crazy enough to venture towards perilous terrains or poorly administered areas.
Our first monsoon vacation was to Gwalior last year, during the Independence day weekend. I’d assumed that the rains would keep people away. We couldn’t be further from the truth. And I’d assumed that the monuments would be fresh and clean after a wash. I can’t quite comment on that. But that didn’t stop us from being mesmerized.
In the city, with the high rise buildings, its hard to lay our eyes on one continuous skyline. In fact, we sometimes give up on our chances of seeing it. And that is where smaller towns come to our starved senses’ rescue, especially during the monsoon. The massive and magnificent structures we visited were made all the more beautiful in the backdrop of the most amazing expansive skies.
Sure, we did get caught in the rain. We had to cancel our plan of visiting other places because there was a huge downpour while we were inside Jai Vilas Palace. But when you’re marooned in a Palace, it’s really not that bad!
This year, too we planned a vacation for the same weekend—but because there were so many more like-minded travelers, we couldn’t get tickets! So we did something that we felt was smart—we travelled a couple of weeks later, when most of the city tourists would be away (and we secretly hoped that hotel prices would be slightly cheaper; they weren’t). We also hoped that the impact of monsoon rains would be lesser. But when we checked the weather predictions, we were made well aware of the risk we were taking.
Day one in Udaipur, saw us marooned inside our home. But we did manage a visit to the Monsoon Palace. On day two, we literally headed for the hill to avoid getting wet in the rain, and just managed to make it inside the City Palace, before the downpour began. And like the year before, we found ourselves marooned in yet another palace!
So what’s our take on travelling during the Indian monsoon? Well, the weather is going to be cloudy, with a chance of great views!
Yup, these pictures were taken with a phone 😉 These are panoramas stitched together from individual pictures taken with a Moto G3. Click/tap to view my Flickr photostream.
We’re in November! The year is fast ending. Now where did this year go? For those who know me, it’s been one heck of a roller coaster the past couple of years. And given all that’s going on right now, it would be madness to even think about participating in, what the blogosphere calls, the Nanos. So I’m not thinking about it. I’m jumping right in. If I can manage it, hurrah! And if I can’t, well, that’s okay too.
How about you? Are you going to blog every single day in the month of November? Are you planning to write a novel? Are you crazy enough to do both?! Let me know 🙂
I had previous written about our experience on the boat ride towards Sangam and the jolly boatman who thought we were out to steal his job! This is a picture of the boat on which we sailed. We reached Sangam—the confluence of the holy rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati—at Sunset, and it was breathtakingly beautiful!
As we were stepping out of the hotel room, we saw a tall, broad man peering through the viewfinder of a DSLR. The SUV behind him was open and the valet placed our bags in the boot.
As we closed the door, the driver kept his camera on the front passenger seat and hopped in. He had a small goatee and wore an earring. His black leather jacket and slim fit jeans completed his look. Like almost all the SUV drivers we had interacted with on the mountains around the river Teesta, he looked like a rock star.
“My name is Mahesh,” he announced in a jovial voice as soon as he closed his door. “So you’re headed to Darjeeling, eh? How was Gangtok?” His laid back manner appeared as if he had known us for a long time. And we eased into a conversation without any hesitation.
“It’s absolutely beautiful! So much to see. So clean. And people are so friendly. We’re already planning our next trip here!” It had rained for three days and there was not one camouflaged puddle, and the roads were free from slush and filth. The hospitality we had received at the hotel was outstanding, and we didn’t really want to leave.
“Yes, I love Gangtok,” said Mahesh. “Every time I come here I like to take pictures. You’ll see a huge difference between Gangtok and Darjeeling. That’s such a dirty place.”
As we made our way along the narrow, winding roads, we approached a fork—one road led steeply uphill, while the other continued downhill. Wedged in the middle of the fork was an SUV. The driver had apparently taken a wrong turn uphill, and was backing down slowly. Cars had begun piling on all sides. And something miraculous happened—everyone waited patiently as the driver reversed, moved forward, turned a little, and reversed again to repeat these mini movements for maneuvering the tricky slope.
We told Mahesh how amazed we were by the orderly conduct of the drivers in Gangtok. In the Delhi-NCR region, people honk even if the traffic signal is red! And here, people waited silently for what seemed like an eternity for the driver to course-correct. That done, we proceeded downhill.
“There is very good enforcement of law here. People don’t go breaking rules.” Mahesh was clearly happy in Sikkim. “I come to Gangtok every now and then. But one day I will come here only to take pictures. I want to photograph the traffic ladies here. And want to compare and contrast them with police in Bengal.”
As Mahesh was speaking aloud his artistic dreams, the scenery outside took a beautiful turn. Beside the road, a shallow stream was flowing on a bed of hundreds of smooth pebbles, with hills all around. We had got used to the natural beauty of Sikkim by now, but it appeared that there was no way for us to document it through the windows of a moving vehicle. As if reading our minds, Mahesh slowed down. “You can take the picture now! See, I want you take as many pictures as you can. I want, that when you go home and you see these pictures, you will remember me!”
We continued smoothly, when Mahesh parked the car to the side of the road beside a huge boulder. He paused, looked outside his window, and quite abruptly, grabbed his camera and hopped out without a word. Puzzled, we looked at each other, and then tried to follow his movements. A short distance behind us, Mahesh was straining his eyes and looking up. He peered into the viewfinder of his camera while we kept wondering what it was he was looking at. He came back and placed his gear on the passenger seat and we resumed our journey. “There was a vulture’s nest up there on top of the boulder. I thought I saw two baby vultures there. But couldn’t get a decent photograph.” If there was a hint of disappointment in his tone, it went away in a few minutes.
Our next stop was at the ‘Lovers Meet’ viewpoint, from where one could see the confluence of the rivers Rangeet and Teesta. Mahesh asked us to soak in the view and take our time—something, that we later realised, no one had said throughout any of our road trips.
Once we had crossed the viewpoint, Darjeeling was not very far.
“Welcome to Darjeeling! I hope you enjoy your stay here. It won’t be as nice as Gangtok, you’ll see. But I hope you have a good time.” As we finished unloading our bags at the entrance of the hotel in Darjeeling, Mahesh’s phone rang, perhaps a relation had called. Still chatting on the phone, he nodded his head in acknowledgement of our small goodbye and reversed the vehicle to begin his ride back home.
Our scenic journey over that week had many exotic destinations and experiences that we would remember for months, if not years to come. And looking back, we now realise how important the role of our drivers was in our journey.
Throughout our trip, we had travelled with many drivers, some for transfers, and some for sightseeing. None of them were particularly remarkable, and stuck strictly to their jobs. For them, it was about getting us from point A to point B, as per the itinerary. While our driver in Gangtok had allowed us a small extension of our sightseeing time to accommodate our slow pace of exploration, the drivers in Darjeeling would keep calling us and telling us to hurry up. Towards the end of our trip, though, one driver left a lasting impact on both of us.
We had left Darjeeling to spend a day in Kalimpong, a town where my father had spent some part of his childhood. It seemed like our driver didn’t want to drive and tried to talk us out of visiting an old monastery by saying that all monasteries looked the same! We got him to take us there, albeit grudgingly, by arguing that it was included in our itinerary, and no, they weren’t all the same to us.
As we were making our way to the hotel after completing our sightseeing, I noticed a sign board.
“Hill top!” I squealed with delight. “That is where my grandfather used to live! Could we stop for a few minutes, please. I just want to have a look at that house.” The light was fading fast, and we had to leave the next day. If we had a shot at laying our eyes on the old house I had heard so much about, this was it. “That’s not part of the package!” retorted the driver and continued onward.
That’s not part of the package. It was simple, and as inconsequential to him, as that. But to me, those words stung. It took a while to get over it, and we both vowed never to take packaged tours after that.
We returned to Delhi the next day, our cameras and phones full of pictures and videos. We told our friends stories of beautiful buildings, clean marketplaces and the blank foggy vistas that hid Kanchenjunga from us throughout. We praised the hospitality of each of the Summit hotels we stayed in, the colourful strings of prayer flags and the scenic routes we travelled. We shared our disappointment of missing the Kanchenjunga, and the little joys of travelling with one very interesting driver who took us from Gangtok to Darjeeling.
It was a pity we didn’t take down Mahesh’s number, nor did we take any pictures with him. But what we do have is the memory of the road trip we shared. Every time you look at these pictures, you will remember me, he had said. He was wrong. We remember Mahesh even without looking at the pictures.
During our day trip to Mahabalipuram last winter, we reached ‘Krishna’s butter ball’ around that magical time when everything touched by sunlight gets a shower of gold dust—including these huge boulders that stood silently admiring the profile of the more popular attractions nearby.
To get an idea of it’s scale, there’s a little child who managed to sneak into the view, and of course, those trees look quite dwarfed!
Photo taken with Motorola Moto G3. Click / tap on the image to enter my Flickr photostream.
A prominent feature of Rajasthani architecture are the windows with their characteristic floral silhouette. When visiting monuments in the region, it is hard to resist the temptation of framing the magnificent views with the window. Ah, what a feeling it must have been, living in those palaces!
Alas, for women, not a very good one. The queens and princesses had their share of riches and maids and all luxuries that a royal household could provide. But freedom? Trapped in a tower, looking out of the window was the only freedom they had. Called jharokhas, the beautiful latticed windows were built to allow women to look at the world outside, without themselves being seen.
Here is one such window at Bagore ki Haveli, Udaipur. I wonder what must be visible through those tiny windows within the main window.
So this week, when the Daily Post asked us to show windows, I felt cheated. But considering what it must have been like for the women who looked out of these tiny windows, I don’t have any reason to complain.
I wanted to write about the stereotypical portrayal of Rajasthan – a traditionally attired instrumentalist, strumming his Ravanhatta and playing Raag Maand and perhaps the most popular, and misinterpreted Rajasthani folk song “Kesariya Balam”. But I’ll shut up this one time, and sit with the Rajput royals and look out for the monsoon clouds atop Sajjangarh in Udaipur.
As we scouted hotels near Lake Picchola, we were caught between conflicting traveller reviews—those that spoke of magical lake views, and others that complained of poor hygiene and stench. Considering that we were traveling to a city with lots of water, during monsoon, we decided to keep ourselves away from Lal Ghat.
We browsed through OYO rooms and zeroed in on the cryptic “OYO Homes 062 Fatehsagar Lake”. For reasons better known to OYO, the website does not provide the exact name of the hotel or the location without a confirmed booking!*
After confirming our booking, we looked for reviews of the property. There weren’t as many ratings of the house as compared to the other hotels, but all of them positive. Well, we would find out for ourselves.
Our flight landed in Udaipur half an hour before time; the air was cool, much cooler than the muggy national capital we had left behind; the scenic Aravalli range surrounded us throughout the drive to the city—a beautiful start to our trip.
Our talkative cabbie, Chetan, seemed to know a lot of touristy information on Udaipur—as did all the other rickshaw drivers we rode with. One would think they were all getting paid to promote tourism! None of them, however, had heard of Khudala House. So, we followed the map and gave directions. When we were near our destination, we caught sight of water for the first time—and what a beauty she was! As our eyes feasted on the beautifully blue Fateh Sagar Lake, growing ever wider in front of us, the GPS lady quietly said, “turn left, and you will arrive at your destination.”
We hopped off our cab and walked around the driveway. The property may not have had a lake view, but it was royally beautiful. Walking to the right, we were greeted by a row of statues posing against a great green leafy wall.
Ahead of us was a neat lawn and dining tables surrounded by flowering plants and bonsais.
And behind the lawn was the grand entrance to the house.
Our host, Mr. Dhanajai Singh, later informed us that the house was built in 1941 by his grandfather. About 35 years ago, his father, and present owner Capt. Jaiveer Singh added more rooms. The majestic original structure has now been leased to the restaurant 1559AD.
We walked back to the front gate and towards the newer, smaller (relatively speaking, of course) building on left of the driveway. A loose curtain of painted bottles and a stone wall decorated with divine statues marked the division between the old and new.
Here too, the visual delight continued. A beautiful lawn outlined by balsams in full bloom and surrounded by dozens of bonsais.
Our host graciously allowed us a complimentary early check-in and gave us very helpful tips on sightseeing in Udaipur, including the recommendation of a morning walk at Fateh Sagar, and advice of exploring the Old City on foot.
Our room was spacious and included a big bathroom, a dressing room and our own backyard! We ate home-cooked breakfast in a common dining room filled with interesting objects and memorabilia. Abhay, the soft-spoken housekeeper who single-handedly looks after all the rooms, took care of all our requirements. And then there was Bully, the boxer, whose droopy eyes looked at us curiously (I heard him bark only once). The owners were very warm; and sans the presence of impersonal staff and eerie hallways that are characteristic of hotels, we felt at ease during our stay.
The restaurant 1559AD is as beautiful inside as it is outdoors. We were too busy admiring the ambience and relishing the food to take any pictures (actually, we had left our phones behind in our room next door, and regretted it!)
Rickshaw drivers did not know where Khudala House was. So we had to use nearby landmarks to explain where we were staying. Once we came to the T-point in front of Fateh Sagar, we told our driver, “turn left, and its right there!” “Yeh to 1559AD hai,” (this is 1559AD) our driver said. “You should told me this before.”
During the three days we spent in Udaipur, we were mostly tourists. But at the end of the day, we came home.
* When I did a new search a little while back, our comfy homestay’s name was very much mentioned—though there were other properties with cryptic names. I don’t know if this hiding of names is a random thing. Any ideas why OYO does this? If you know anyone there, could you ask them to change this?
Photos taken with Motorola Moto G3. Click / tap on the image to enter my Flickr photostream.