We began our Indian journey in the sleepy, self-proclaimed ‘most beautiful city in India’ and penned more recently ‘cleanest city in India’. Couples make the pilgrimage to Udaipur in droves to seal the deal beside one of the cities many lakes, mirroring one of the lakes’ many palaces.
A quick 50 minute hop from Mumbai, Udaipur is not quite on the tourist trail and often little more than a flash as the train speeds by, or a dot on the ground as flights head north bound to the golden triangle and beyond. That said, a small number do make the effort and are rewarded by some of the cheapest accommodation in Rajasthan and some of the most beautiful lake side views in the north of India.
Truth be told, Udaipur was an after-thought for us. We had planned on spending a few days in Mumbai and the taking the sleeper train to Jaipur. Gemma and I have both been to Mumbai previously and though I liked the city, Gemma did not. That, combined with some of the most expensive accommodation costs in the country and the fact Mumbai gets lashed pretty much constantly by rain from June to September pushed us North. A couple of weeks before leaving we stared at a map of India and looked at the space between Mumbai and Jaipur, we had onward connections so just needed to fill the days that Mumbai would have occupied. We used google and imaged a number of places and then sat down and discussed what we had both found. We both suggested Udaipur instantly, it seemed a world apart from anywhere else. Flights from Mumbai to Udaipur with Jet Airways were about £25 each and within no time we had struck Mumbai from the itinerary and were looking forward to Udaipur.
Having recently been to New York with Toby (my 4-year-old) I saw just how much skipping time zones knocked him out. The first day or two and he was wiped out. With that in mind we decided that Udaipur would be chill level 10. We used Airbnb to book ourselves a house for 3 nights and found a lovely place in a semi-rural location, away from the hectic, noisy streets of Udaipur central and somewhere we could relax as a family to ensure we slipped into India effortlessly.
The flight to Udaipur was about 30 minutes late, and walking out of arrivals, having all just travelled thousands of miles we were exhausted. It was a welcome sight to see the owner of the house we had rented stood waiting for us, waving and smiling as he walked over. The homeowner was a Mr Sultan Singh Deol, a lovely man whose warmth extended throughout our stay at his home Raaga Homestay.
Being back in India was somewhat surreal, being back with all my family even more so. In many ways it felt normal, the huge culture shock one normally gets was gone, the heat, the humidity, the cows randomly stopping traffic as they relax in the centre of the road, all normal. For a minute I felt this was going to be an effortless transition from Western Europe to the Indian Subcontinent. Then, as is heartbreakingly all too common, stood a young boy just a few years into what promises to be a torturous life of poverty. His face covered in thick dirt, his mother nowhere to be seen. At just perhaps 3 years old he walked up and down traffic trying to sell a balloon for what would be the equivalent of just 5 pence. It was a quick snap back to reality. We were in India.
Our time in Udaipur was spent relaxing, enjoying being together and exploring the wonderful city. We came up with what we think is a fantastic walking tour of the city, taking in many of the best parts and encompassing some gorgeous views. Rickshaws (tuk-tuks) are plentiful and cheap with most journeys in and out of the city being around 100 – 150 rupees (£1 – £2) we didn’t take any within the city as we found walking was fine. Below is our invented, tried and tested walking tour of Udaipur.
Udaipur City Walking tour:
Start: Sahelion Ki Bari
Finish: Udaipur Zoo
Time: Full day
Take a taxi/tuk-tuk to Sahelion Ki Bari, a park at the North East side of Fateh Sagar Lake. The park itself is small and filled with lotus pools, fountains, lush greenery and zillions of dragon flies. The park itself opens at 9am, so grab breakfast before heading here. A mooch around the park takes no more than half an hour, before you head out of the gate and around the corner towards Moti Magri which is a nice look out over Fateh Sagar Lake, a desperate museum and cool looking statue. There are also some ruins, but aside from anything else, it’s a nice place to relax and people watch. Just past the guy on the horse is a drinks stand.
Back down the hill, onto Maharana Pratap Memorial Rd you walk along the banks of the lake and round towards Vivakanand park, passing a couple of temples along the way. Just before the park take a right down and across Swaroop Sagar (a scruffy looking lake).
Pretty soon you will be at Grasswood café, which comes highly recommended by me for lunch. Prices are a little on the steep side for India, but the sandwiches are delicious and a great way to break up the day.
After lunch continue on to Gangaur Ghat, Bagore Ki Haveli museum and on further are more temples before eventually you reach a huge temple called Jagdish Temple. Head up the stairs and look around, it’s a great place to listen to locals singing, chanting and worshipping.
Come back down the stairs and head down the hill about 20m before taking a left into what looks like a car park. Go up the stairs and head towards to the City Palace as you feel like James Bond straight out of Octopussy. Minus the suite, woman, money, style, drink and panache.
Situated on the banks of Lake Pichola and taking over 400 years to construct, the palace is a stunning portal into a historical masterpiece that could take hours and hours to fully appreciate. From the palace, you can walk down to Pichola lake for the obligatory boat ride soaking up the self-proclaimed Venice of the East… Despite the fact Udaipur looks absolutely nothing like Venice.
The surroundings of the City Palace extend far and wide and though tired and heat battered add a real sense of immersion into life in 15th century India.
Popping out of the bottom of City Palace (South end near Shiv Temple) you can now head across the road towards the zoo. It was at this point the rain came down for us, we bailed into a pool hall and played pool hoping it would pass but it didn’t. We had to cut our time short and head home after an exhilarating, yet interesting day in the most beautiful city in India.
On our final day in Udaipur we decided the treat the kids to a waterpark. It turns out there are two in the city, we chose Marvel Waterpark simply because it claimed to be the biggest in Rajasthan, which in all fairness doesn’t really mean anything since in India, it seems normal to just award yourself some status or another. Entrance was 350 rupees for everyone over 4ft, which is roughly £4 each. The park is easily reached and I think, open year round. As you enter, Indian music pumps in the distance, bass on full, speakers distorting. Quick note, every female in the park was in t shirt and shorts, most guys were too. The occasional lone crusader stood topless, but that was certainly not the norm.
The park itself is, as expected incredibly tacky and epitomises everything I absolutely love about India. Teens stood in the pools dancing Bollywood style, the slides catapulted the kids at break neck speeds into splash pools just a foot deep and at 1pm the pools/slides shut for 30 minutes for lunch. Imagine a pastel painted place, blessed with searing heat, most of the signs misspelt in English and aching for refurbishment. It was brilliant and the kids absolutely loved the full day we spent there. Naturally, Charlie smashed his knee open, but it was a great day nonetheless.
We left Udaipur on the 10.20pm sleeper to Jaipur, having already been to Jaipur I knew we were in for a treat and laying there, trying to get sleep it felt great to be back in my favourite country on earth, with my family, and with an entire summer ahead of us.