India – Udaipur, When the River Lights Up


Chai masala! Chai masala! This must be at least the 3rd time this morning that i heard someone selling tea in the subway car. Either the Indian folks have no manners, get up really early or i am not entirely sure what time it is.

In the now-infamous Darien Gap crossing we discovered the amazing side effects of Dramamine – sleep. An hour or two after you take it you start to feel a bit slower, there is a buzzing feeling in the back of your head and unstoppable desire to close your eyes. Usually seen as a side effect when driving, it is considered a necessity when trying to get some rest on 3rd class train in India. We dont actually get nauseous on an airplanes, trains or buses…but it definitely makes a short trip of a bump ride. If you ever come to India either stock up before you come or try to find it in bigger towns under the name Gravol.

Turns out the Dramamine knocked me out cold for longer than expected and we would have missed our stop completely if it wasn’t the final destination of our train. By about 11 am there have been numerous vendors wandering through the car selling drinks and snacks. Hyein and I had the misfortune of ordering breakfast from the car attendant the previous night. That morning we were given a box of sweet jalebi, spicy and sweet ‘rice’ dish and something else that I can only describe as a torilla chip. Individually the foods were fine, but everything was very sweet and just carbs on top of carbs…no wonder the general population is a bit pudgy.

By the time we negotiated a decent price for the tuk-tuk and got our room sorted out it was late afternoon. You wouldn’t be able to tell the time of day, if its morning or night because of the layer of dust and smog covering the whole city.

If you do get a chance to visit Udaipur, you just like us and all the other tourists will inevitably book a place in the old part of town, where all the hotels and hostels are glamorously named “Palace”. We thought that we too could be kings for a couple of days at the astonishing price of $10 per night for this royal experience. For this we got a decent room, a great roof top overlooking the city and a very accommodating but private host.

It is possible to walk from the train station to the hotel area, but the India heat, steep uphill and a myriad of little streets will confuse and tire out even the most stubbornly patient of backpackers. Older folks, you got the money…take the tuk-tuk.

Its only a few miles from the train station but the higher we climbed up the hill and into the depth of the old city the narrower the street became.

Its only a few miles from the train station but the higher we climbed up the hill and into the depth of the old city the narrower the street became. The balconies of the homes now at times were directly above you and our driver had to turn around a few times looking for a street big enough for out tuk-tuk to fit through. The final bit of the path was so narrow that even bicycle had a hard time going around corners. We thanked the driver, got off and walked the final 100 meters to our palace. In those two minutes we managed to see 2 cows, 3 dogs, only god knows how many children…all in this narrow path.

And you for a moment think that these narrow streets would hinder traffic somehow, well clearly you have never been to India. The people will not be stopped by just because the streets are a bit too small. Instead they will use their horns to clear traffic ahead of them. Since the laws of physics still apply in India, the only thing they achieve in this mess is absolute rape of your auditory organs. Imagine being inside of your living room with 10 horns going off all the same time, bouncing of the walls with sound having nowhere to go.

After a few hours you ear begin to ring and you hear honking, nervously turn around only to be greeted by emptiness. If i have hearing loss in my 80’s (lets hope I at least make it till then) then i know two possible reasons, that one time in a club in college and Udaipur.

The busy streets of Mumbai separated the two sides of the street with a myriad of cars, taxis and buses buzzing by you as you tried to peacefully walk on the sidewalk. The convoluted layout of the ancient Udaipur physically high speed of traffic and, in general, restricts cars and buses. Providing for a perfect mix of tuk-tuk, scooters and pedestrians all trying to get places, all trying to stay alive on the way.

You end up walking through a crowd of colorfully dressed girls and women going about their business. Somehow in Udaipur, I did not feel that India was a “boys-only” country. There was a normality to the distribution of sexes on the streets, it didn’t feel odd to my western eyes.

Just because i haven’t mentioned our money troubles just yet, doesn’t mean everything is back to normal. Before we left Mumbai we got as much cash as possible so we could stock up for a few days and actually enjoy travelling rather than standing in lines all day.

You know times are hard when even the sacred ones are lining up behind you to get some money.

You know times are hard when even the sacred ones are lining up behind you to get some money. We walked past this working ATM with a sense of pride at our foresight to get all the cash in Mumbai…all $80 of it. We should have been more humble and gotten in line, while the honey lasted. Next day after we bought bus tickets to our next destination, Jaisalmer, and spent money on food we were once again nervously looking around for an ATM. But as luck would have it…they were closed in the whole city!

Fine, we got enough to survive for a day or two…we will be okay. Finally! We are getting into the travel mode, forget all the worries just walk around and enjoy your current place in the world. More so than any other place we visited in India or even the world, Udaipur is the perfect place to just walk about.

Doesn’t matter if you do or do not have a plan, as long as you have eyes you will find your way around Udaipur. Just outside of the completely inconspicuous door to our hotel the neighbors wall boasts a beautiful elephant art piece. Hyein for scale.

Somewhere around the center of old town we found what later turned out to be the Jagdish Temple (GPS: 24.57694, 73.683634).

A Hindu temple constructed in the middle of 17th century it is a beautiful place to walk around, just dont forget to take your shoes off at the top of the stairs.

I’m sure its not blood sacrifice…oh, it could be the same pigment used for bindi (remember those forehead markings from our previous post?). Just confused myself a little bit on wikipedia. This red powder traditionally used to be made with turmeric but now you can find vermillion based powders. Vermillion is basically mercury sulfide…so either i’m wrong somewhere or there is a chance that in India you might be accidentally putting mercury on your forehead.

The temple is quite small and if not for the most intricate carvings on the exterior, you could walk around it in under 2 minutes. Intrigued by the detail on the walls and trying to avoid stepping on dirt on the floor with our bare feet it took us some time to walk around.

It feels strange to take a picture here, but i know that the person holding our camera is also barefoot and will not be able to run far down the street without any shoes…so we trusted them with our most precious possession.

A few minutes walk from the temple and you will find yourself on a lakeside plaza with an open view to the whole city – Gangaur Ghat.

If you walk along the lakeside, towards the bridge and cross over to the other side of Lake Pichola you will be able to see the city palace, Gangaur Ghat and the building that looks like it is floating in the middle of the lake, all in one sweeping view.

Is this what Venice will be like? I dont want it to be like this, i dont want it to be anything like this. To me this captures that one feeling of somehow finally seeing India. I dont know what movie or documentary ingrained in my brain this to be the representative view of India.

The still water of the lake, the beautiful Mughal architecture, brilliant yellow and blinding white of the stone building facades reflecting the setting sun.

The still water of the lake, the beautiful Mughal architecture, brilliant yellow and blinding white of the stone building facades reflecting the setting sun.  The night view is even more impressive as it seem that the town rises up out of the lake. That’s it! The lake is a natural part of the city, there are no fences nor high banks surrounding it. There are no floods here, so people have built this town and integrated the lake into it. Some of the house windows open up right over the water. Thats why it felt so “Indian” to me, there are no boundaries here…just people next to a lake…without a lifeguard or a sign telling them that water “can be wet”.

Whenever someone I know reads my blog and i ask them what they thought about it, inevitably the comment about food arises.

Yes, we care about food. No we are not gluttons, this is the way we see, feel, taste and learn the cultures. We wander the streets, get yelled at by annoyed drivers for blocking the road, we smell the cow poop, say hello to the friendly gentleman in the corner shop…but we look forward to the time of day when we finally found a busy spot to sit down, rest and order “whatever she is having”.

That means only one thing – I should stop asking people for their opinions!

Plus this place I HAVE to share with the world. So you already know about thali (its collection of 7-8 curries served with rice, sauces…). Well if you are ever in Udaipur please, please stop by the Natraj Dining Hall (GPS: 24.572037, 73.699601). They serve lunch and dinner all you can eat thali for 250 ruppees! Everything you see there, unlimited for $4 per person. All the dishes are vegetarian, but who cares this is India we are talking about!

So we are casually walking back to our hotel with bellies full than pregnant lady as we notice a rush of people walking past us in ornate garments, all caring little boats with candles.

We stop to say hello and ask what is going on? This girl on the street tell us that it the Deep Poornima (Kartik Poornima) festival held on the full moon during the lunar month of November-December. If you are good Hindu then you should have been fasting during the day for the past month, but we asked around and most people haven’t heard of the festival yet alone of fasting for 30 days.

Hurriedly explaining everything, the girl beckoned us to follow her.

We quickly walked along the maze of the ancient town, with each new turn of the street supplying yet more people carrying little boats.

Soon we were back to the lakeside plaza, where hundreds of people have gathered to launch their candles into the lake.

Hinduism is not a religion, it is a lifestyle.

We were in the middle of it all, yet no one told us the rules to follow…there were no rules, just be here and you are part of it.

Not to ruin on anyone’s parade, but i did feel sad for the lake and it’s ecosystem as it looked like no one was going to clean up the rafts from the lake. 

And while in the past people used natural materials to make the floats, these days its mostly polystyrene foam that ends up contaminating the lake.

It is a beautiful celebration at night and i hope that in the future the launch of a million lights onto the water continues, but with biodegradable materials. I couldn’t help but have this thought in my mind as i walked around the festive people. At least this is an easy fix that should happen in the next few years.

Next day was spent lounging around our regal palace, standing in line for the ATM (….again) and taking pictures of monkeys.

Before we take that bus to the desert city of Jaiselmer, i have to….nay, i WANT to say how much I enjoyed Udaipur. Its just perfectly small (the old town) to see in a couple of days without fear of missing out on something. It felt like both of the days we were there the town was in the middle of 2 different festivals. The streets are small, noisy yet irresistible for walking just a little bit longer. You feel like you want to explore every little alleyway in hopes of finding something yet undiscovered by a western eye.


2 Comment

  1. Max says:

    а почему именно Удаипур изза храма или просто удачно на пути город был расположен?

    1. says:

      Po puti skoree vsego, no gorodov mezhdu Mumbaem i Delhi mnogo. V Udaipure ochen krasivo sochitaetsya ozero i sam stariy gorod, hotel posmotret’ na Indiu iz dokumentalnih filmov.

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