Udaipur was the only destination in our whole trip where I felt like the foot was taken off the accelerator, even if it was for just a brief time. With the nickname ‘Venice of the East’, I had high standards, and Udaipur does its best to live up to these expectations. It is a warren of charming, winding streets, majestic palaces and shimmering lakes. I had seen on the map that our hotel was right opposite some (massive) gardens (which were so big they included a zoo and a library) and I was excited, ‘coz boy was I ready for some lush!
We stayed at Hotel Vishnu Priya, which was probably the flashiest place we stayed on tour – although the staff seriously need to learn a thing or two about customer service (and that Westerner’s really do use and NEED toilet paper). I really appreciated being so close to what ended up being Gulab Bagh, the largest gardens in Udaipur, because it meant each morning Mum and I could get up and do some exercise (for a change). Otherwise, I think it would have been preferable to stay further up the hill, closer to Jagdish Temple, just because it was more of a touristic area, with lots of cafes, shops and restaurants.
If you have two full days in Udaipur, here’s how I would recommend you spend them:
- City Palace: As one of the largest royal palaces in India (it took almost 400 years to build!), I was super glad that we actually got a tour guide for the morning that we were here so that I could just play follow the leader as we explored the massive grounds (and learning something while I did it). Certainly not essential though, it would have been quite easy to have just spent the morning wandering around. The palace is accessible by walking alongside Lake Pichola up to the entrance. The views are fantastic; make sure you pause to enjoy.
- Jagdish Temple: an intricately carved temple, paying homage to Vishnu; the Hindu god of preservation. Despite being a tourist attraction, I think there is far more beautiful things to see when in Udaipur. However, given that it is in the middle of town, it only takes about 10 minutes and it is especially significant for the reason that it has been in continuous worship since 1651, I suppose it is worth taking a look.
- Rajasthani Culture Show (on Gangaur Ghat): At the museum down by the water, this show is a good opportunity to witness some authentic music and dancing. The show goes for about one hour, so it pays to get there a little bit early to ensure at least a semi-decent seat (it was pretty hot; it pays to sit near a fan if possible). An additional fee is required if you want to take photos.
- Ethereal white marble Lake Palace (Jag Niwas) and the Garden Palace (Jag Mandir): Basically just cool structures that sit on the lake, but if you want to get closer (by boat) there is a whole lot more to be seen. They look like they are floating on water and are both very beautiful. Get closer by taking a lake cruise (catch a boat down on the waterfront). Jag Niwas Is actually now a luxury hotel with 83 rooms and suites which feature white marble walls. The royal family used to use Jag Mandir as a summer resort and pleasure palace for holiday parties.
- Walking tour: Udaipur is a good place to walk around – you definitely still get the intensity of the traffic, but it is a little more manageable than Delhi and Mumbai in terms of still being walkable. We did a walking tour where we got to check out a bunch of spices, oils and a fruit and vegetable market. There are so many goats, cows and dogs just roaming the streets.
- Bike tour. Get up early to do this, else you’ll be cycling in the heat. There are heaps of companies that offer tours. The one we went with picked us up from our hotel, drove us into the country where we biked mostly in rural areas (verging on the city just a tiny bit – quite an experience!) through villages and along the lake. We stopped for breakfast by the lake before heading home. Expect to pay about 1500 rupees.
- Monsoon Palace: Located 5km west of Udaipur, the Monsoon Palace derived its name from the reason it was built – to watch the monsoon clouds. The palace features in the 1983 James Bond film ‘Octopussy’. I would suggest going up at sunset; it really is a beautiful sight. There are sweeping views of the city and surrounding lakes and countryside. There are loads of monkeys, but interestingly enough we noticed that after the sun had gone down the monkeys were nowhere to be seen. There is also a very odd museum at the top, containing descriptions of a bunch of weird animals – not what you expect! For 300R it is certainly worth a visit, but you are really just paying for those panoramic views; the palace itself is extremely run-down.
- Eat at Flavours. This place was SO cheap. Another rooftop (I swear we only ate at rooftop restaurants!) restaurant, the food was super delicious. It was pretty hot though – they lacked air con / a decent fan, so it was pretty hot. Another rooftop restaurant was Vairoo, which was more expensive, more classy but still delicious. I had the aloo gabi (cauliflower and potato spiced curry) and would highly recommend. Next door was Olorados, which served as a convenient breakfast and lunch option for our group on many an occasion. It served a wide range of Western and Indian options and everything we tried was pretty decent. Lastly, Gingers Café (down on the waterfront) had beautiful views and served lovely coffee and cake. Easy place to spend an afternoon, with the water literally lapping at your feet.