Wanderlusting: Udaipur

It’s usually during these times, when I’m cozily cooped up in my studio on quiet, lazy evenings that wanderlust strikes hardest. I sincerely do not believe in that cliched adage, “Money can’t buy you happiness.” Other than a warm cup of coffee with a dash of cinnamon sprinkled on it, happiness for me comes in the form of plane tickets and a travel itinerary for that next big trip that could go on for weeks or what ever span of time I feel is necessary for me to temporarily escape the mundane daily grind. Not that my day to day activities are boring; it actually gets pretty spontaneous and exciting most of the time. It’s just that travel has always been number one on my priority list, and it is during these trips, when I lose myself in strange and exotic new places that I feel that I am most alive.

But since I have sworn a vow of poverty in preparation for a trip on September, I content myself by musing and browsing through photos of past travels. As I type this, I am trying my hardest to stop myself from packing my bag and disappearing for the the rest of the week into the rustic town of Vigan. Yes, despite the rainy weather.

Udaipur in Rajasthan, India is currently that one place I fondly recount memories of when I’m wanderlusting – the sights, the sounds, the food. The romantic White City isn’t called “Venice of the East” and “City of Lakes” for nothing. This vast expanse of scenic beauty is home to temples and Rajput era palaces of utmost elegance, and four picturesque man made lakes – Fateh Sagar, Pichola, Udai Sagar, and Swaroop Sagar.

When I feel alive
I try to imagine a careless life
A scenic world where the sunsets are all
Breathtaking

Scenic World (Beirut)

While it is a must that one should experience travelling from one city to another via Indian Railways, I and my friend took a quick flight from Jaipur to Udaipur due to time constraints. We had limited time to explore the Rajasthan area as we had to be in Punjab at a certain date for a good friend’s wedding.

A piece of advice when taking train rides: It’s best if you book at least a day prior to your trip so that you can get to pick the best available sleeper coaches. But if you don’t mind squeezing in at the fan-cooled general coaches, then by all means, book on the same day. Don’t forget to be friendly with the chai wallahs walking through train cars. Especially for long overnight rides when you experience difficulty sleeping, you’ll find that fresh cup of masala tea they would readily serve you with a smile most soothing.

We stayed at Hibiscus Guest House, a beautiful inn tucked away in a lovely labyrinth of streets lined with local crafts and textile shops, and restaurants. A foot bridge that leads to the main town is just a short walk away. The rooms are tastefully decorated with exquisite furniture, handwoven tapestries hanging on walls, and fresh flowers in bowls and vases – all of which I took mental notes of for future interior design purposes. We had a good view of the lake from the roof top.

Afternoons and evenings when we didn’t feel like going out were spent lazing around in the guest house’s well-maintained garden while eating, poring through their collection of coffee table books, and/or playing with their friendly Great Dane named Oscar. We had our first dinner at a nearby pricey restaurant that offered a breathtaking view of the city basking in luminous yellow light.

The palaces and temples are farther away from each other as compared to those in Jaipur. As such, we rented a car through Real Rajasthan Tours to save time. Admittedly, I had two regrets when we visited Udaipur: (1) Not being able to spend more days in the city; and (2) not having been able to try local modes of transportation. If you have longer time to spare, it’s best to experience taking bus, auto-rickshaw, and tonga rides when hopping from sites relatively close to each other. Taxis are also readily available.

On day one, we explored the City Palace complex with Jagdish Temple as our starting point. Formerly called the temple of Jagannath Rai, this Hindu structure is a major monument towering in the city center. It is dedicated to Vishnu, and was built by Maharana Jagat Singh in 1651. The temple boasts of its splendid architecture, intricately-carved pillars, and lushly decorated ceilings and halls.

Note that most of the sites charge extra fees for taking photos, thus, I was unable to be as trigger-happy as I should normally be when we toured the city.

Shilpgram Village is Udaipur’s rural arts and crafts center, exhibiting the lifestyles of the tribal folk of Western India. If not for pottery and other handicrafts, do visit for picturesque sceneries of the surrounding Aravalli Hills.

I saved the best for last – Saas Bahu Temple, a small yet stunning temple complex carved in marble. I dub it as the most beautiful temple I’ve beheld so far. Located in the small town of Nagda, the almost 2-hour car ride took us through smooth rolling hills, and views of Udaipur’s lovely desert landscapes and serene lakes. This pair of temples are covered with thousands of gorgeous carvings, including an array of erotic images from the kama sutra. I could have stayed there for one whole day marveling at this grandiose structure. Surprisingly, it also has the lowest entrance fee of all the temples we’ve been too (15 rupees if I remember correctly) and also the least foot traffic.

While the former is dedicated to Vishnu, the nearby Eklingji Temple is to Shiva. Sadly, photography was not allowed within the temple premises. Named after a form of Shiva, Eklingji is a temple complex with 108 beautifully sculpted small temples within its walls and a four-faced image of its ruling deity in black marble housed in its elaborate hall.

We set aside one day for the famous Jain Temple at Ranakpur, a large, stunning structure made entirely of light colored marble. However, upon learning of the travel time needed to get to Ranakpur, we opted to just spend the day leisurely by taking a photo walk and indulging at a hole-in-the-wall cafe on the banks of Lake Pichola, just simply taking in the gorgeous sights and sounds of the city for one last time before departing for Punjab later that afternoon.

To end this post, let me take you on a visual journey around the White City through a series of selected photographs from around the main town, the neighborhood where the guest house we stayed in is located, the City Palace, and on the road to Nagda. I’m definitely saving that trip to Ranakpur for my return.
***Photos are best seen in full view.

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