Udaipur is often called the Venice of the the east. I haven’t visited Venice, but I’d still prefer it to be called the Udaipur of the west! I’ll let the pictures of the Jag Niwas Palace at Lake Pichola do the rest of the talking:
Lal ghat is perhaps the most tourist-y area of Udaipur, filled with havelis-turned hotels. Most of the hotels and cafes in the areas now boast of roof-top dining, and we explored as many as we could. One particular one, though, stood out. Jaiwana haveli was highly rated on Trip Advisor, and we headed straight there after our visit to the Monsoon Palace.
“Is the roof-top cafe open?” I asked at the reception. “Yes, it is! And if you’d like to use the washroom, then it’s on the ground floor—there isn’t any upstairs!” The man at the reception smiled and answered. We thanked him and then climbed up the narrow and steep staircase to the open-air dining area. It was around eight o’clock,and it appears that we were the early birds that night. The tables were all empty, and we took the best seat in the house—the corner table, with a splendid view of Lake Pichola and its illuminated islands. We picked our menu, and then immersed ourselves in the soft sounds of the waves of the lake and pleasant rain washed air. We could see portions of the City Palace in front of us, and all the heritage hotels—which were once palaces—on the opposite side of the ghat. Below us, were a few anchored boats, and other rooftop cafes, and way off in the distance, was the hill we had just visited. And then, out of nowhere, came a loud noise, startling us.
We looked around. There was an elderly lady seated behind us, and having recognized our searching glances, she offered an answer. “That’s the cultural program at Bagore ki haveli. It takes place every evening.” In the darkness of the candle-lit night, we couldn’t see her face clearly, but something in her voice sounded gentle and elegant. We continued to talk, and asked her about the other items on our list of things to do, and how might we plan them.
Shortly after, our delicious dinner arrived, and we noticed the lady giving instructions to some of the waiters. That’s when we realised, she was probably part of the management of the hotel, if not the owner.
The staff treated us so beautifully, it was hard to believe, especially after the harrowing time we had experienced at another famous tourist destination (more on that in a separate post). They thanked us multiple times and asked us to review them on Trip Advisor. This sweet hospitality, we later realised was common to all the cafes we visited. We made a mental note of the service, and decided that we’d visit again.
As we were winding up, other tourists began trickling in, and the moment we got up, one staff member placed a placard on our table. It was marked “Reserved”.
Before we visited Udaipur, our itinerary included the sound and light show at City Palace. Having heard the cheers of the crowd, and the recommendation by the lady at Jaiwana haveli, we decided to skip that and attend the cultural programme instead—a decision we are very thankful for!
The next morning, we visited the museum at Bagore ki haveli, and returned in the evening for the cultural show.
While my phone wasn’t able to capture the beautiful ambience atop Jaiwana at night, here are some pictures atop the haveli next door—Bagore.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to catch the dance show. They’ll probably cancel it with this much of rain.” Sitting on a bench around a tree in the courtyard of the City Palace, two umbrellas and the narrow roof above us couldn’t prevent us from getting wet.
Earlier that day we had visited Bagore ki haveli and had seen the venue of the cultural program conducted every evening—an openair theatre assembled in the courtyard of the heritage building with a shamiana for a roof.
Eventually, the clouds decided to pause the shower. We left the Palace and walked towards Gangaur Ghat. We stopped for coffee and a cinnamon roll at one of the cafes to recharge our (and my phone’s) batteries and then walked over to the haveli.
We looked at the ominous clouds and asked the guard about the program. “Oh! Don’t worry about the rain! We have all the provisions here. The show is definitely on.”
We bought our tickets as soon as the counter opened and then proceeded towards the theatre. The key to getting a good seat is being the first to enter. We weren’t the first, so the best we could manage was the second row at the mattresses laid out in front of the stage, barely a few feet from the stage.
7 pm. The musicians began performing the rather cliched Rajasthani folk song ‘Kesariya balam’. Soon after, the emcee walked out and welcomed the audience. The stage was ready for some very colourful peformances. First up, Chari dance.
Chari dance is a folk dance performed traditionally by ladies from the Gujjar community of Rajasthan. Living in the desert, ladies often travelled for miles to collect water in a ‘chari’. It is the celebration of this ritual of collecting water that is depicted in this folk dance.
Just as the emcee finished explaining the significance of the dance, the show began—on the stage in front of us, and from the heavens above.
In walked the ladies, dressed in colourful traditional attire, balancing pots of fire on their heads. Down came the shower of raindrops, applauding their entrance. The shamiana held up rather well.
The ladies clapped and swayed, moved around in circles and spun more times than my head could count. Out they walked to thunderous applause, drowned under the sound of the downpour.
There were more dances, followed by the puppet show. Traditionally, it is the puppets who take centre stage, and the puppeteer stays behind a screen. But at this show, the puppeteer takes centre stage, revealing his craft.
The most thrilling performance came, quite fittingly at the end. A lady entered, balancing two pots on her head. Dancing gracefully, she made her way to the table kept at the back of the stage. She placed her hand on the raised floor behind the table, and then placed her palm on her forehead—a salutation to the stage.
She climbed up the table, still balancing the pots. And sat down. She bent forward, and picked up a kerchief placed on the table, with her lips.
The crowd applauded.
She climbed down, an assistant came and placed more pots on her head. In the meanwhile, another assistant unrolled a cloth package on the table. Out came shards of glass. She went back to the stage. She made the saluting gesture, and climbed above the table again.
We may have been seated on the floor, but we felt edgy. More than once my hands clutched my face. If the pots on the head and the shards of glass were not enough, the shamiana overhead was threatening to give way under the weight of the rain. A few drops of water were beginning to trickle down.
We all gasped in silence. I was too nervous to take any more pictures, my palms pressed against each other, in front of my face, praying with the dancer, as she walked on the table and began thumping her feet on the glass.
We all collectively heaved a sigh of relief and applauded for the marvelous performance.
The assistant climbed up a chair, and we assumed it was to help her unload. But no. There were more pots coming.
Eight! The crowd cheered, and the applause didn’t stop. Nine! We all went crazy.
And then the musicians began singing that classic song, “Dama dum mast kalandar”. Ten! The crowd went wild. We were certain the cheers of the crowd could be heard a few blocks away—we knew because we had heard the loud cheers of the audience the day before!
As the emcee walked out to wrap up the show, the crowd still applauding the performance, he announced something even more bewildering. The lady who had just captured our imagination was a ripe seventy years old!
If you visit Udaipur, be sure to catch the cultural show, and please buy the tickets for the camera. Most of the arts on display are on the verge of extinction, and the proceeds of the tickets are the only way these arts can be sustained.
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.
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.
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.