Udaipur Is More Than Just Lakes!

I used to have a certain vision of Udaipur in my head. I would think the City of Lakes was all about water, almost like Venice. I wondered if I’d have to be rowed to every site. When I finally had the chance to see this Rajasthani city, I discovered there is so much more! Founded by¬†Maharana Udai Singh, the 16th-century ruler of the Kingdom of Mewar, Udaipur is a delight to behold! While I barely had a weekend to explore this city, the time was enough to convince me of its uniqueness. Follow my lead to see Udaipur for yourself:-

A Warrior’s Pride – Maharana Pratap Memorial

Maharana Pratap Memorial

Maharana Pratap Memorial

Before you go gaga over the list of lakes you’ll check off your list while in Udaipur, it’ll help to know a little bit about the region’s history. After several years of battling against the Mughals, the warrior prince Maharana Pratap was able to rest a while with his father – Maharana Udai Singh during a few years of peace in the new capital of Mewar – Udaipur. A statue of Maharana Pratap seated on his valiant horse, Chetak, is kept atop Moti Magri Hill as a memorial to his courage and service. From up here, you can get a panoramic view of the Machla Magra Hills and the Fatehsagar Lake. While you hike up this hill, you can also visit the Hall of Heroes Museum which has paintings of Mewari history and large models of Chittorgarh, Kumbhalgarh and Haldighati.

Lake Fatehsagar – For Leisurely Walks

You can also indulge in watersports at Fatehsagar!

You can also indulge in watersports at Fatehsagar!

Interestingly, all of the lakes in Udaipur are artificial. They all are interconnected in a sophisticated manner though. Close to the Maharana Pratap Smarak, the embankment around Lake Fatehsagar is ideal for a morning stroll. You might want to indulge in some traditional boat ride or jet off in a speedboat to admire the lush green Aravali Hills all about. For those into vintage cars, there is a museum not far from this lake.

Saheliyon-Ki-Bari: For The Queens And Their Pals

Fountains at Saheliyon-ki-Bari

Fountains at Saheliyon-ki-Bari

When the sun is still not at its peak, take a peek at the fountain-garden which the king built for his queens to relax and spend time with their friends – Saheliyon-ki-Bari. While it might seem a little underwhelming, you might be able to sight some interesting birds in the gardens if you are into birding.

Glide Up To Where You Can See It All!

Cable car ride to Machla Magra Hills

Cable car ride to Machla Magra Hills

If you still wonder how photographers manage to get breathtaking aerial views of all of Udaipur, I’ll let you in on a secret – it’s the hills!!! Get your ticket for a cable car ride to Machla Magra Hills and be prepared to be mesmerized! You can lunch at the cafe at the top after you exhaust yourself taking pictures of the lakes and chocolate hills decked in green.

Lake Pichola’s Palatial Paradise

The Taj Lake Palace at the centre of Lake Pichola as seen from the City Palace

The Taj Lake Palace at the centre of Lake Pichola as seen from the City Palace

It is always a great idea to plan a walking tour after you’ve filled your belly. The City Palace is a fort and a museum that has plenty of stories for the curious visitor. Located by the famous Lake Pichola, the palace allows you to gaze at the elegant Taj Lake Palace Hotel which appears to float on the celeste waves at the centre of the lake. If you don’t mind spending a few extra bucks, explore the Crystal Gallery which has a dazzling collection of rare crystal artefacts from Maharana Sajjan Singh’s collection.

Peep Over The Aravalis From Sajjangarh Fort

It's windy up here at Sajjangarh Fort!

It’s windy up here at Sajjangarh Fort!

After you’ve spent most of your day seeing the top sights in Udaipur, spend your evening atop Sajjangarh Fort, only 30 minutes from Udaipur. Rent a self-drive car using this Zoomcar coupon code and zip over to the Monsoon Palace which affords you a gorgeous view of the undulating hills. Sunsets will never be so stunning! If you are a wildlife enthusiast, you can hike to the surrounding wildlife sanctuary. Who knows, you could get lucky with a panther sighting! ūüėČ

Shop In Old Udaipur

These bags ask to be picked up at Hathipole Market.

These bags ask to be picked up at Hathipole Market.

As if your day couldn’t be more power-packed, there’s more you can do with your time! After nightfall, head over to Udaipur’s Old Town and ditch your rickshaw to walk through the narrow alleys lined by little shops on both sides. Don’t forget to haggle for a good price while you fill your shopping bag with tiny pieces of art, shoes, bedsheets with traditional patterns, hand-stitched blankets and more. Hathipole Market also has numerous cafes and rooftop restaurants that glitter at night and add to the romance of the city.

Kumbhalgarh’s Great Wall – No This Isn’t China! ūüėÄ

Kumbhalgarh Fort - the second longest wall in the world!

Kumbhalgarh Fort – the second longest wall in the world!

After a busy first day, your second day should be a relaxed one. Wake up at leisure and enjoy a lazy long brunch at your hotel before you set off for Kumbhalgarh. 100 odd kilometres from Udaipur, a drive of over 2 hours brings you to Kumbhalgarh Fort in Rajasthan’s Rajsamand district. This fort is a World Heritage Site and the second longest wall after the Great Wall of China. Only¬†parts of the fort are accessible to tourists, but one can easily see what a marvel this structure is! Maharana Pratap was born in Kumbhalgarh and there’s a museum close to the fort which tells the story of this place through interactive models and a short film. The experience at the museum is quite insightful.

Dal-Baati From The Dhabas

Dal-baati!!! My favourite Rajasthani dish!

Dal-baati!!! My favourite Rajasthani dish!

After the Kumbhalgarh Fort trek, satiate your appetite at a nearby dhaba. Don’t count your calories as you order platefuls of dal-baati and churma! ūüôā

Are you convinced yet that you should be going to Udaipur?

Let me know through your comments below!

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Road Trip to Bishnoi Village

Last year, when I opened my travel calendar with a trip to Jodhpur, I thought I was going to fall for the tourist trap of visiting the regular sightseeing spots in the “Blue¬†City”. I did not know I would end up surprising myself with¬†a road trip to a small but important village right around the corner.

The road watches us zoom past

The road watches us zoom past

En Route to Bishnoi

When I told my host in Jodhpur that I was more keen on seeing quaint hamlets than grand palaces and forts, he looked offended. But he recovered quickly and arranged for a jeep for my Rajasthani road trip. I would be going for a drive to the village of Bishnoi! My Rajput driver hailed from Pakistan. He told me stories of his childhood and how he still longed to see his uncle who continues to live in his home country.

The earth is gravely and the trees, thorny

The earth is gravely and the trees, thorny

The drive was a noisy one, with the old jeep’s engine sputtering to stay alive. Even though the road was narrow and dusty, the CEAT tyres ensured that the journey was smooth.¬†All along the way, I listened to the story behind the name of the village. Bishnoi actually means twenty (bish) nine (noi). The Bishnoi tribe that lives here, follows twenty nine tenets¬†set out by their guru. While some principles are quite regressive, I fully support some others which emphasize on the conservation of nature and kindness towards animals.

A peacock shies away from our jeep

A peacock shies away from our jeep

I knew we had almost reached Bishnoi when I spotted a peacock strolling by the green plant cover. We were at Guda Vishnoiyan – a great place to spot some exotic birds. The place was peaceful, with no other human in sight.

The simple landscape of Bishnoi

The simple landscape of Bishnoi

I got off my jeep an explored the area on foot. I saw land divided¬†into plots. That must have been the humans’ side of the village. On the other side, there was no segregation. The trees were happy to share space with their neighbours and be home to a number of birds.

The little lake at Guda Vishnoiyan

The little lake at Guda Vishnoiyan

From the Pottery Wheel

I had started to daydream as I gazed at a¬†lake that the trees looked over. I soon remembered that we had to reach a¬†potter before sunset. Off we drove to the potter’s workshop! I had a lovely evening meeting the humble craftsman who even let me try my hand at spinning the pottery wheel.

A world full of clay

A world full of clay

As I observed the intricate designs on myriad clay objects, I became more curious about the techniques used to fashion those forms. The master patiently demonstrated¬†how to shape the clay mould as it rotated on the wheel. Pottery isn’t as easy as it looks. It requires a lot of perseverance and practice.

The magic of kiln

The magic of kiln

Printing Blocks

My next visit was to a fabric painter’s place. His small room was full of colourful pieces of cloth with symmetrical designs all over. This art form was block printing. The real trick in this is to create a block with the pattern you like. The next steps are fun – dunking the block in dye and dabbing your cloth piece with it.

Block printing artist at work

Block printing artist at work

The patterns come through beautifully! With dyes in assorted colours and blocks in assorted shapes, you can create some really complex and wonderful designs! These Rajasthani prints are then used on table cloths, bedsheets, clothes and many other things.

Stories come alive on pieces of fabric

Stories come alive on pieces of fabric

The sky was turning dark when we were done touring the village. I silently watched the sunset from the deck above the lake. It was a colourful end to a colourful road trip.

The sun sets over this sleepy village

The sun sets over this sleepy village

I’m chronicling my road trip adventure for CEAT Tyres in association with BlogAdda.

Eating, Shopping & Staying Smart in Jaipur

This is the concluding post of the Jaipur-series. You can read about my trip to Jaigarh and Amber also.

Food is an essential aspect of any trip that cannot be ignored. To truly taste the Rajasthani culture, one must taste its local cuisine. And to do this, my relatives and I headed to Chokhi Dhani. Chokhi Dhani means “good village” in Marwari, and true to its name, this theme-park exuded an earthy charm. The turbaned receptionist sprinkled rose-water on us, smeared a vermillion tilak on our foreheads and greeted us with “Ram Ram-sa!

It was a chilly evening but the warmth of the locals nullified the dip in the temperature. The scene was that of a small village-fair, with kathputli (puppet) shows, music & dance performances, mehendi¬†(traditional tattoo) tents, food-stalls that served chai and pakodis,¬†magic-shows and a series of game-stalls where one could try one’s hand at shooting, archery and umpteen other recreational activities. There was a special dandia-floor for people with twinkle-feet who could join the dandia (a dance in which a pair of sticks are used as props) & garba dancers. Further inside, the fair unfolded into an exhibition of local arts and crafts. Tourists could browse through and buy locally sourced garments, furniture, toys, leather-goods and gift items. Chokhi Dhani offers photoshoot opportunities in the local apparel, and also elephant, camel & horse-rides! I had my first camel-ride here, and felt my heart in my mouth as I struggled to balance myself on the wobbly seat several feet above the ground.

The village-home-style dining experience was the main attraction of the night for me. We sat on flat cushions spread on the floor and were served on leaf-plates and bowls and an earthen tumbler. The men who served the dishes egged us to eat more – “Khao, khao! Aur khao! Kitne duble patle ho gaye ho!” (Eat up! Eat up! You’ve worn thin!) The food was a sumptuous Rajasthani fare of¬†bajre-ki-roti (millet flat-bread), makke-di-roti (corn flat-bread), soybean-chat, pudina-chutney, gatte-ki-subzi (gram-flour curry), daal-baati-churma (lentils, wheat-ball roll & sweet), halwa, sarson-da-saag (mustard-leaves veggie), mithi khichdi (sweet mashed rice) and salad (mostly lettuce). And everything was smothered in desi-ghee (clarified butter). I stopped only when my stomach threatened to burst open my jacket ūüėõ

My trip to the Pink City ended with more shopping on my last day there. And you must know that returning empty-handed from a place like Jaipur is nothing but foolishness. So I’ll save you some embarrassment with some shopping tips.

Shopping in Jaipur – What, Where & Why :-

  • Colourful jootis &¬†batuas (small handbags) from street-side shops, because of the unique designs & the slimming effect they have on the feet.
  • Cotton kurtas with Rajasthani cuts and prints (especially bandhani) from the bazaars or exclusive boutiques, for the comfort they provide in the summers. The bazaar-kurtas start from as low as 80 Rupees and the shopkeepers insist the cheap ones are of excellent quality when you ask to see something more expensive! ūüėÄ
  • Finished¬†jewellery¬†of German silver, precious and semiprecious stones, because of the workmanship of the jewellers and the intricate designs on the ornaments. Remember to collect the authenticity-certificate if you buy (semi)/precious stones.
  • Soft blankets/comforters/quilts from Bapu Bazaar, because these are light, wrinkle-free, washable & the softest blankets in India.
  • Wood, lac, mirror and painted-glass artefacts (pen-stands, wall-hangings, key-chains, coasters, show-pieces & even ornaments) for giveaways to your friends & family back home. Remember to pack lac-items well; they are fragile.
  • Multani-mitti-pressed saree, for its soft, off-white look.

Travel-tips that others won’t share with you (specific to Jaipur):-

  • Plan your heritage-site trips well and start early as most forts/palaces close for visitors by 5 or 6 in the evening.
  • Elephant rides can be availed in the early mornings and late evenings only as it gets too hot for the animals to walk about in the afternoons.
  • Hire a full-day cab so you can leave your shopping bags inside and travel freely.
  • Wear sneakers when you hit the road. Resist the temptation to wear short flowing skirts and stilettos to sites where you’ll have to walk for miles and ascend many steps.¬†(Just to give you an idea, it’s very hard to walk on cobbled streets even with good quality sports-shoes.)¬†Remember: It’s always a choice between glamorous photos and memorable experiences.
  • Pack some food and water for the road with you. Energy-bars go a long way in satiating a growling stomach when you can’t find a restaurant in sight – these are compact, weather-proof, & pack a punch! Remember to buy bottled water whenever you can. Once inside a fort, the vastness and the glaring sun can leave you parched in no time.
  • Take a leak wherever you find a restroom, irrespective of whether you need to. (In India, you can never tell when or where the next loo will be.)
  • Hire guides. They’re worth their weight in gold. They are also good photographers and excellent for you if you’re a solo-traveller, because you can’t always bug strangers (fellow tourists) to retake your pictures til they get the perfect shot.
  • Carry scarves. You’ll need these both in the summers & the winters and to add a dash of colour to your outfit. (Rajasthan is so vibrant, it can make any colour look drab!)
  • Don’t be shy to loosen your purse-strings a little. Every experience is worth every penny it commands.

Please share your Jaipur-experiences with me and write to me about all the things you’d like me to talk about.

Beyond Jaipur – Jaigarh & Amer

After an eventful first day in Jaipur, I was all set to explore the outskirts. Day-2 was going to be a big one, and I packed a lot of munchies in my handbag to keep me fuelled for the long walks that the enormous palaces would demand. I remembered to wear my new dangler-earrings that I’d bought the previous day.

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The now familiar sights passed me by as we drove past Hawa Mahal and Jal Mahal. Then the scene began to change and I reached Kanak Vrindavan, a beautiful garden at the valley of the Nahargarh Hills. This garden has an elevated stage to the immediate right of the entrance, where tourists have the opportunity to dress up in the full Rajasthani attire of lehenga-choli (ankle-length skirt & blouse) and a veil that rests on a cone on the head. I strongly recommend every visitor to get their pictures taken in the traditional Rajasthani get-up right after entering the garden. That way, you can bide your time by strolling through the garden while your photo develops. Here, you will also find trinket-sellers you can buy mementos from. I couldn’t resist the urge to buy some key-chains, bangles, earrings and necklaces.

The ride ahead was uphill as we rose over the Aravali mountain range. After an hour-long drive, I reached Jaigarh Fort that was built to protect the Amber Fort. By then, it was lunchtime and I was beginning to feel hungry (despite the incessant munching on chocolate-filled cookies all through the ride). But Jaigarh knew how to trick my mind Рthe parking area was right next to the National Handloom Expo shamiana! My hunger for food vanished into thin air as my hunger for shopping surfaced. Jaipur is famous for its many precious and semiprecious stone-jewellery. Mirror-studded wall-hangings and pen-stands carved in wood make for good gift-items. I spent 45 minutes roaming through the expo area and brought back a pair of bright coloured Rajasthani jootis, a set of coasters with traditional Rajasthani glass-paintings, some ornaments and a silk-blend saree for my mum, which had been softened by placing it flat under a layer of Multani mud (commonly used for facials).

After my mini shopping spree, I walked into the restaurant next door and ordered a biriyani with vegetable koftas. Eating solo can be boring, but not if you are a good observer and silent listener, which I am. I watched as a couple of foreign tourists pored over the menu and summoned the waiter. I expected a difficult conversation full of broken English & Hindi, but was pleasantly amused when the male diner ordered for a plate of butter chicken and a few naans in fluent Hindi and also added his dietary preference for good measure.

I began touring the Jaigarh Palace complex by walking up to the enclosure that guarded Jaivan, the colossal cannon on wheels. The guide informed me about its claim-to-fame and helped take some pictures of me. Once inside the Jaigarh Palace, I took another guide to hear the stories of the olden times as I sauntered through all the courtyards and gardens and also saw a puppet-show. There is an underground passage that connects the Jaigarh Fort to the Amer Fort,¬†but it takes an hour on foot to reach the entry-point to that subterranean tunnel. The only other way to get there was to take an electric car on hire, which I did. The buggy-driver, who also was my next guide, drove slowly and carefully down the cobblestoned slopes as he told me about the centuries old history of the tunnel which incidentally had been opened to tourists only a month before. My real task began once I reached the passage. It was well-lit at first as I was walking through a roofless stretch, but the tunnel got dark an narrow when I went further inside. Many explorers who were returning said that it gets very scary with hardly any lights and none that I met had actually finished the stretch. My guide had told me I had 40 minutes to navigate through the tunnel and get back before the buggy-service stopped. I stepped up my speed and the tunnel got lonelier as the screeching of bats echoed off the walls. I felt unsure about my decision to continue despite my boldness when I saw a group of strong young men return without going any further than I had. If I carried on, I’d be all alone in a deserted tunnel. I thought hard and let safety score over spunk. I jogged back to my buggy and a smiling driver-cum-guide.

I took my cousin’s car to the Amer Fort and Palace area as the tunnel-route yielded me no joy. I looked in wonder at the reflection of the Amber Fort on the Maota Lake. I only had 30 minutes before the complex would close for sight seeing, I read from my ticket and looked sad. This is when one of the guides said he would work his contacts and get me to stay for an hour. I was skeptic due to the high price that he quoted and decided to walk it alone. But he followed me and warned that it would take me atleast 2 hours to fully see the palace and I would not learn of the significance of any room I saw. I resigned and let him lead the way. I was glad I did that! The entire premise is expansive and extremely beautiful, and only a seasoned tour-guide can show you around all the places and tell you all the stories. He took me through the courtyards, the offices, the cooking-area, the Sheesh Mahal (Hall of Mirrors) that has mirrors from Italy and coloured glass from Belgium, the underground living quarters of all the queens and the kitchen garden. It took us an entire hour even with my speed! The guide said it was a good idea for me to wear sneakers as we were able to run around, unlike other people who turned up in fancy shoes. He was a fantastic guide who did a fast-forward version of the storytelling (on my insistence) he’d normally reserve for regular tourists. He went on to advise me against travelling alone (I always take these pieces of advice with a pinch of salt ūüėČ ).

Coming up Next >>

  • Chokhi Dhani
  • Shopping in Jaipur – What, Where & Why
  • Travel-Tips that Nobody Gives You

Jaipur – In the Pink of its Health

Jaipur was snap decision I made in the month of November last year that cost me twice the regular airfare (and now that I think of it, could have afforded me a foreign trip to a nearby island). But the ‘Pink City’, as it’s commonly known, was worth every Rupee spent (referring to a time when the Indian currency was not so undervalued).¬†This was essentially a solo-trip (if you discount the fact that I stayed the nights at my cousin’s house), thanks to relatives who’re too busy to take leave from work to be with you, but generous enough to give you the spare car with a driver¬†to show you around. And this setup worked wonderfully as I could pace my entire trip my way and cover almost everything in 4 days.

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Jaipur welcomed me at night with winds that were just starting to freeze… winds that would require me to layer-up but not shrivel up (that they do when winter completely sets in). I looked out of the window on my way to my cousin’s place and gazed in wonder at the empty streets (9 PM is when people in my city step out to eat/shop/party) that were narrow but clean. And then I saw that rare vision of a man in a white cotton¬†dhoti-kurta and a multicoloured¬†pagdi¬†(visible from under his helmet) riding a pillion¬†with only a brown khadi¬†gilet to shield him from the cold.¬†I felt overdressed and pretentious in my full-formal office-wear (the downside of leaving for a trip straight from work) and a dark sweater, and my cheeks turned pink (The Pink City was starting to paint me in its own colour) as I remembered packing two leather jackets and assorted scarves (against my father’s advice).

Next morning, I hit the road with a fully loaded camera (and an equally loaded stomach) and clicked away at every other thing that caught my eye. Jaipur is so beautiful, it makes you want to capture everything you see! The roads are adorned with gateways (that appear every 100 meters) that have princely architecture. Every second building is made of red and pink sandstone and it’s easy to see why this city called the “Pink City of India”. My first pink-monument-stop was the Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) that rose proudly above the ground like an oversized beehive. We next drove to Jal Mahal (Water Palace) that appears to float on the Man Sagar Lake but what the human eye sees is only the top floor of a 5-storeyed mansion.

It was almost noon when I reached the City Palace complex which used to be the seat of the Maharaja of Jaipur. The palatial quarters display the most intricate amalgamation of Rajput, European and Mughal architecture. The palace also functions as a museum and exhibits many ancestral possessions. It takes one good hour to walk through all the facades, courtyards and gardens.

I stopped for a quick lunch at a roadside eatery and glanced through my checklist (I am yet to graduate to the travel-without-a-plan clan) – I had many more interesting places to go. The Albert Hall Museum beckoned me with its Indo-Gothic architecture. This is the oldest museum in all of Rajasthan, and rests at the centre of Ram Niwas Garden. Albert Hall has a fine collection of sculptures, paintings and other artefacts and it’s common to find school-children on excursions walking down the corridors. The area is full of pigeons and their feathers that even the pigeon-netting can’t keep off.

The weather in the afternoon was pleasant as the sun cancelled the effects of the cold. I decided it was a good time to check out the street-bazaars as it was still too early for the shoppers to crowd up the alleys. I headed to Bapu Bazaar and was bedazzled by all the jewellery¬†on display. After about half an hour of making my way through the maze that had scores of shops strung together, and striking what I assumed was a good bargain, I walked out with a German Silver ornament-set in my bag and a broad smile on my lips. “Jantar Mantar chaliye“, I said to my driver.

Jantar Mantar literally means “calculation instrument” in Hindi, and is a paradise for astronomy enthusiasts. Modelled on the Delhi structure with the same name, this observatory figures on the World Heritage List. There are a multitude of instruments that tell you the time, date and even details of your zodiac constellation. The site is very well maintained, but this unfortunately means you cannot climb over the instruments to pose for pictures (this was previously allowed). My last stop for the evening was Birla Temple – a tranquil end to a hectic day. I had travelled largely within Jaipur on my first day, so I would venture out of the city for my second.

Coming up Next >>

  • Kanak Vrindavan Garden
  • Jaigarh Fort
  • Amber Fort and Palace