I will start by saying that Udaipur is probably one my favourite places in India so far–it was therefore particularly fortuitous that I was there for my birthday.
The city is built around Lake Pichola. It was founded in 1568 by Maharana Udai Singh II and served as the new capital of Mewar following the sacking of the last capital by the Mughals.
In the middle is Jagniwas island which houses one of the more famous hotels in India run by the Taj Palace group, the Lake Palace hotel. The palace was built as a summer palace for royalty, but now that it is a hotel you have to pay at least $800 a night to see the palace. There is however a lesser known island palace right behind it that is open to the public on Jagmandir island, that was built in 1620. It is also a privately owned hotel and restaurant so you do have to shell out some money for the pricey restaurant but the food is reputed to be pretty good.
However, that is one of the nicest things about Udaipur; there is no shortage of restaurants with phenomenal views. I discovered at least three places with amazing views within a two minute walk of our hotel. As an example, the selfie below is a shot from the rooftop restaurant in our hotel (again, not annoyed, sun in my eyes):
Unfortunately Udaipur is quite touristy and pretty much everything around the lake is a shop, hotel or restaurant that caters to tourists. The merchants do hassle you quite a bit as you walk by, but once you’re in a lakeside restaurant the atmosphere is very relaxing. My advice for dealing with aggressive merchants is to smile, and just say “No, but thank you!” with a really cheery voice. It seems to work for me, but perhaps that’s just because I’m swarthy.
There are also quite a few things to see in the city. The main highlights are the City Palace Museum, two car museums (the one in the hotel is the best), the Crystal Gallery (housing the Maharana’s crystal collection from the 1870’s) and the monsoon (Sajjan Garh) hilltop palace about 10 km away from the lake which has the best views of the city and surrounding hillsides.
The City Palace dates back to the 1600’s but as you can clearly see in the photos, there are many additions from more recent times:
I was particularly intrigued by the colours used in some of the rooms inside the palace. The example below looks particularly modern:
The detail in some of the rooms was impressive. They achieve the shinny colourful walls you see below by using a combination of metal and mirrored surfaces for the side panels and ceilings:
I’m still not convinced that the colour schemes on the two walls pictured below complement each other, but it’s certainly an interesting look:
Don’t actually know the person in the photo below, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to steal her photo set-up:
People I ACTUALLY know posing in front of that same window:
As you can see, Udaipur is fairly large and much of the city is nowhere near the lake. On the other side, there are beautiful lush green hills–you can only get a slight sense of that here, but there are more pictures later on that show that side of the city:
Some more shots from inside the fort palace:
As you can tell from the fan below and electric lights, these palace rooms were used by local royalty until India declared independence in 1947 (royalty was officially abolished at that time).
A photo of an intricate door–at first glance it looks like a normal painted door, but a lot of the decoration is actually carved out. I took a picture from the side to show the carvings:
I’m sure that you’ve started to notice that Ganesh is my favourite Indian god:
Another view of the city from up high:
A close up of the summer palace that is now a pricey hotel is shown below.
Udaipur is also famous from the James Bond movie, Octopussy. I seem to recall that the palace below is featured in the movie, but I’m told that there are other places in Udaipur that are more prominently featured. In any event, given that multiple restaurants and bars in the city play the movie every single night for tourists (I pity the unlucky servers), you can easily watch for yourself.
After visiting the temple, we went down to the Whistling Teal for some lunch in their relaxing garden (food not so good, but not terrible). Be warned, the restaurant is about 500 metres south of where Google Maps places it, so best to ask around. Below is a picture of Kieran and Laura, a very relaxing place as you can see.
Some random shots of the city:
This is the hillside palace, Sajjan Garh. Getting there is a little bit complicated, especially if you’re going alone. If you go in a big group, you can get a minivan to take you all the way to the top. For six of you, it should work out to about $8 CDN each. I went alone which entailed hiring a tuk tuk for about $8 CDN. I then had to pay the entry fee which is another $4 CDN and because tuk tuks can’t make it up the final 5 km of steep hills I also had to get a jeep to take me up for an extra $2 CDN. Overall not a crazy price for the experience but it’s certainly easier to go in a group. This is the parking lot and entrance to the palace complex where the jeep drops you off:
The palace. It is quite run down but you are permitted to enter and look around. However, people mostly go inside to get a better view of the sunset.
Some photos of the lakeside part of the town and the hills surrounding:
I wasn’t able to resist stealing yet another photo set-up for a couple doing their engagement or wedding photos:
A picture of the sunset from the palace:
My final picture of the night, a photo from the spot near the lake where my tuk tuk driver dropped me off:
The following day was my birthday and I decided to spend the afternoon at a cooking class with Flo and Josh.
The restaurant came highly recommended by Lonely Planet and for good reason–it is still the best restaurant that I’ve encountered in India. The cook and owner of Millets of Mewar, Manu, has no formal training. He taught himself to cook by travelling and simply watching chefs that he admired at work. Manu is also very interested in healthy cooking so he tries to use minimal oil and good ingredients. The result is not only the best food I’ve had in India, but also very original food–everything we cooked and later ate was unlike anything else I’ve ever tasted in an Indian restaurant. What is especially crazy is that the prices are very reasonable, nothing on the menu is over $ 4 CDN.
The cooking class was also quite the bargain. He taught us how to cook a cashew curry, an eggplant curry, a kofta curry (cottage cheese mixed together with a variety of ingredients), a lentil curry, and a potato dish stuffed with cottage cheese. At the end he also prepared a lemon rice dish with pomegranate seeds. The final price for the three hour class with the massive amounts of food that we couldn’t even finish was about $20 CDN a person.
What I found particularly interesting about the class was that all of the dishes we made came out of the same base sauce, a tomato sauce. We then added a few additional ingredients to the various curries and had lovely dishes that were totally distinct. If you are in Udaipur, take a class from this fellow or at a minimum eat at his restaurant, I can guarantee that you will not regret it. You do need to book the night before.
Some photos from the cooking class:
The finished dishes:
Two pictures from a brief walk after the cooking class:
Given that it was my birthday, I decided to treat myself to a couple of custom made suits. I have yet to see the results (they ship them home for an additional $15 CDN) but the fabrics seemed like a nice silk cashmere blend and I only paid $200 CDN per suit including shipping. One of the suits is an Indian style suit however, so short of dating an Indian gal in the near future, I am unsure whether that particular suit will be worn.
I’ll finish with some photos of my birthday night dinner. Yup, given that our lunch was so tasty, we returned to Millets of Mewar for dinner: