Udaipur: An affair with tranquility
The love for travelling, especially alone, comes from the love for freedom. Melodramatic as it may sound, I think I am at my freest when I pack my bags and just leave. Earlier this year, I realized that the City of Lakes in the deserts of Rajasthan is one the best places in India, or perhaps even the world, to get a whiff of this freedom.
I was sure I would love my visit. The awe-inspiring city of Udaipur was apparent to me even before I landed; from the flight I was able to catch the breathtaking view of the many lakes that Udaipur is known for. Flourishing amongst the old mountains of Aravalis ,surrounded by heavenly lakes and with forts and palaces littering the landscapes- It was all I wanted to see, rolled into one little Rajasthani town.
The Maharana Pratap Airport is a little far away from the city but the journey from there just builds up the excitement of seeing this exquisite place. Earlier, it might have been a little difficult to get around the city but now with so many cab services like Ola and Uber it was no problem at all. I asked the driver for a small tour around the city before taking me to the hotel. The short tour was quite pleasant and also helped me understand the hype around this place.
I wanted to stay at a backpackers’ hostel and selected ‘Zostel Udaipur’ which turned out to be an ideal place to stay. It is situated in the old city near the well-known City Palace and on the banks of the lake Pichola. The hostel has a lovely roof with a gorgeous view of the lake and its famous constructions (Lake Palace and Jag Mandir).
Zostel is also a great place to meet fellow travellers as people from all over the world generally stay there. I rested for some time and chatted with other people, getting to know their travelling stories. Talking to other travellers helps a lot when visiting a new place as they can help you out with the places they have already seen and let you know what you can’t afford to miss.
I started my tour with the City Palace which was at a walking distance from my hostel. I had the option of getting either a combined ticket for the City Palace and the Crystal Gallery or just the City Palace. I had heard a lot about the Crystal Gallery, so I chose to see both of them and I recommend the same to other travellers because after seeing it I realised it was worth every penny.
The tour of the city palace took almost the whole day as the place is enourmous. The palace is, quite simply put, a different world altogether. It gives you an insight of the lives of the kings of not just yesteryears but also the current king or the Maharana of Udaipur who happens to still reside here with his family. We were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of him, driving around the palace. Where the palace ends is where the Crystal Gallery begins. It is a vast display of elegant and intricate crystal furniture, utensils, jewellery, etc. It is said that these were ordered by the British back when they ruled over India but weren’t delivered due to some unknown circumstances. Now it is an exhibition of brilliant crystal beds, chandeliers, spoons and what not. Definitely worth both time and money.
By the time I was done with my tour it was almost evening and close to sun down. That’s when one of the guards told me about the boat ride to Jag Mandir. Jag Mandir was originally made as a palace and now it is used as a restaurant. The boat ride to the Jag Mandir starts from within the boundaries of the palace and so I took the ticket and eagerly waited for my turn. People often say that the journey is the better than the destination itself and the boat ride to Jag Mandir proved the same. The ride was short but exceptionally beautiful. One can understand the true beauty of the city palace only after viewing it from a distance. The city palace was made to look like a boat, and this is only visible when you look at it from a distance.
When we reached Jag Mandir I was very excited, I took a tour of the whole place as quickly as I could and finally sat in the back garden from where the sunset was visible.
Sitting there, with a book in my hand, and watching the sun go down is one of the most peaceful things I have done. The ride back after dark was so drastically different and yet just as beautiful. The palace was lit up at night and so does the famous Lake Palace. The view of both these gorgeous structures makes you want to stay put right where you are and soak in all that beauty, but sadly all good things come to an end. (No amount of time is enough at this place)
I went back to my hostel to change and rest for a bit. It wasn’t very late so I got out on foot and explored what the locals call the ‘Old City’. It had many traditional handicraft shops and small roof top cafes with different picturesque views of the lake. While walking I came across the Gangaur Ghat, named after a local festival, ‘Gangaur’. There weren’t many people there but again the view was just mesmerising. I was able to see Jag Mandir and the Lake Palace at the same time and sat there for a while, admiring and absorbing the beauty of this city. I stopped for dinner at one of the roof top cafes and had a decent dinner with beauty all around me.
Since I had walked and travelled a lot that day I went back to the hostel and called it a night. I had planned to watch the sun rise next morning.
I woke up early and left for Karni Mata temple which is at the top of a mountain and if you aren’t going very early then there’s also a rope way service that starts later in the day otherwise one can use the steps to reach the top.
Once at the top you have the view of Lake Pichola and the City Palace on one side and the magnificent city itself on the other side. It is here that shape of the palace (the ship I mentioned) becomes even clearer.
I waited for some time for the sun to rise, the place was almost empty and I was able to get several great shots. The sun rose over the city, light rays spilled over everything in sight in a few seconds.
After getting down from the temple I went for a walk around the lake and relaxed for a while.
I sat there in the city of serenity as time passed me by. Soon I left to visit one of the most famous tourist attractions, Saheliyo ki Baadi. It is a garden full of fountains, and truth be told much better than what I expected. I had planned to visit the Fort of Udaipur in the evening so soon left for lunch.
Now there are two ways to reach Sajjangarh (Udaipur’s fort), one by car and the other by trekking. Since I was there a little early and it was the winter season I chose to trek my way to the top. The trek starts from the Badi Lake, which is one of the bigger lakes of Udaipur. I didn’t really have the time to enjoy the lake and so left it for the next day. The trek was amazing; the path is full of trees, birds and of course gorgeous landscapes everywhere.
It took me around 1.5 hours to reach the top but it all worth it. The trek had some vantage points which showed totally different facets of the city and I was glad to to have taken the trek.
The fort itself is quiet impressive and almost all of it is open to visitors.
I was able to see the whole of Udaipur from up there, from lakes to the mountains to the city, almost everything was visible from there. I wanted to watch the sunset so I waited there and it was very pleasant. As the time passed the wind started growing stronger and stronger, at one point I was sure I would float in the air if I jumped. That feeling is something you can’t put in words; it’s like what Di Caprio would have felt when he was shouting “I am the king of the world”.
The sun set over the mountains and the sky started growing dark slowly; this gave the sky an orange tinge and made the landscape even more stunning.
After that I took a cab down and went back to the old city. There I sat in another café with the City Palace as my view while I enjoyed coffee. I wanted to explore the old city more so I left on foot to explore. This time I ended up at Ambrai Ghat, near the famous restaurant Ambrai. I booked a table there and went to the Ghat to wait; the picture in front of me was something one can never get enough of. People were sitting everywhere and the place was full of teenagers.
I enjoyed the solace and felt very much at peace but as I had had a long and tiring day, I soon left for dinner and called it a night. I had heard something about the Army Cantt area and wanted to watch the sunrise from there the next day.
I got up early the next day and left for the army cantt area. One of my fellow travellers had told me about it. It was a long, lonely and honestly, a little scary drive till the army area actually started. After crossing the army area I reached a small village-like place and after a few minutes, I finally reached the destination. It was almost pitch dark. It is a stretch of road with a dead end and from what I had heard it is almost always deserted. It can be called the backside of Lake Pichola and the whole of City Palace as well. Lake Palace is visible from there; it is absolutely quiet and you can hear the wind blowing. The lights are really dim, so even more stars are visible. I waited for the sun rise which took a lot more time than I expected as it came out from behind the mountains but it made the whole lake light up like nothing else I have ever seen. The orange washed over the hills and the water and the landscape that was in front of me was breathtaking.
I left soon after the sun rise, had breakfast and read a bit again. I didn’t have much on my itinerary so went shopping in the old city but soon got bored; so I started walking around again to explore and that’s how I stumbled upon a very nice café called the Anarki café. It was on the edge of Swaroop Sagar, they offered good coffee, food, music and board games. I spent a little time there, had lunch and left to explore some more.
I realised that it had been two days since my arrival in Udaipur and I still hadn’t seen the most visited lake of Udaipur, Lake Fathesagar; which again is huge and very calm.
I crossed many boating stations and thought about taking a ride but in end decided against it. I reached the Paal area of the lake where people usually come for morning and evening walks, I walked around for some time and then went back to the old city.
Old city was growing on me and I didn’t feel like leaving, so I went to a lake side café called the Jheel café where you can practically sit with your feet in the Lake Pichola. The owner told me about another café called the Sun and Moon Café which is the highest vantage point in old city.
I went there, took the highest table and read my book until sun down. The view was amazing and I could see the Lake Palace, City Palace, Jag Mandir and even Sajjangarh from there. As the sun was setting I was again able to see the beautiful orange spilling over everything in sight.
I went back to the hostel and had dinner. I had to go to bed earlier than ever because the next day I had to go star gazing, something I’d been looking forward to the most.
My final day in Udaipur couldn’t have been better. I woke up at around 4 a.m. and left for star gazing; which is not that easy as we need almost no light and hopefully a new moon (which it was). For star gazing I went to a place called Ubeshwar Ji, it is a temple around 20-25kms away from Udaipur, again on top of a mountain. To reach Ubeshwar Ji I had to cross the Badi Lake at night, which was very spooky. It was a long drive with the headlights of the car being the only source of light. The way was a little risky and very steep but I brushed aside all my qualms once I reached the top and all I could think of was how surreal the view was. I have seen the southern lights in New Zealand so trust me when I say it’s only second to that.
This place is one of the lesser known places in Udaipur. The stars, silence and the mountains accompany you here. You can see a valley in front and again a range of mountains. The mountains and stars combine to form a new reality, a reality where you forget everything. It was a moment of pure peace, there was nothing on my mind, and I just sat there in the middle of the road and gazed at the stars till the sun began to rise.
After sunrise I kept going forward to Peepaliya Ji, which is higher than Ubeshwar Ji and even more secluded. I could see the sun rising and mountains coming to life, but the higher you go, the clouds get thicker. You can take your car till this spot.
At the edge of this cliff, you feel like streaching your hands to catch the clouds. It is the closest I have been to heaven on earth; all you can see around you is greenery and clouds. This is what the gods must feel like, watching over us from above.
I sat there until I was cold to my bones and then turned back to finally go to Badi Lake.
Badi Lake is the least visited lake as it is the furthest from any kind of civilization. There are usually really few people here and at times you might just find yourself alone at the lake, making this beautiful creation exclusively yours. These are the places you have to visit if what you’re looking for is peace, away from the hustle and bustle of cities and just a place to be alone with your thoughts.
After a while I left for the city, I took the longest route possible; covering Fathesagar, Swaroop Sagar and finally lake Pichola. I had to pack as I had my flight in the evening but I just didn’t feel like going back. After the day I had I didn’t think I would be able to go back from this small piece of heaven; but sadly I had to leave, hopefully onward to my next adventure. So, I packed my stuff and promised myself to visit this place again when in need for some peace and maybe just maybe stay a little while longer next time.