A Day in Udaipur
I arrived in Udaipur early in the morning via overnight bus. 4:00 AM in the one of the world’s most poverty stricken countries is a fairly scary place. I’m walking around with about $1000 worth of gear, which is equivalent to the yearly salary of many Indian workers. I can’t quite figure out yet why I haven’t been robbed yet. I walked in darkness until I found the nearest rickshaw taxi.
“Can you take me to Hotel Poonam Haveli?”
“Yes sir 100 rupees.”
I’m already getting ripped off but don’t have the energy to haggle. I think to myself that the 20 minute ride is worth the $2. I hop in the back. I have no idea where I am. This cab driver could kidnap me easily and no one would ever find out it was him. This has to be safer than walking though.
I woke up the next day, excited to get my first glimpse of “The City of Lakes”. I walked to the balcony and gazed over Lake Pichola. The jagged hills, historical Indian architecture, and primitive boats moving slowly across the lake were all glossed over by a smog based haze that made the place seem magical. It was one of the most breathtaking views I have ever seen.
I went out onto the street and the vendors began haggling me to buy cheap rugs, jewelry, and artwork. I gave the first vendors a few moments of my time but quickly realized I would not get anywhere if I stopped to listen to all of them.
I felt hungry but was afraid to eat anywhere. I stumbled around until I found another traveler that looked like she knew what she was doing. She was headed to a place for breakfast, and so I joined her. Her name was Meeka and she was from Norway.
“Hey thanks. I feel so out of my element. I have no idea where is safe to eat here. In the last town I just went wherever my Indian friends wanted to go,” I began as we sat down at a rooftop restaurant overlooking the lake.
“Yes it’s tough at first. I was in the hospital a few weeks ago. I had really bad food poisoning.”
“Glad I asked you where to eat,” I laughed, revaluating my people sense.
It turned out that Meeka was exploring the city too. We decided to team up and left for the street.
Right around the corner was Jagdish Temple. We walked up the long staircase, removed our shoes, and entered the temple. Like many other sites in the city it was constructed by Maharana Jagat Singh. It is devoted to the Hindu God, Shiva and adorned with hundreds of other Hindu gods that are carved into the walls.
We walked into the main room, and a small ceremony was in progress. Hindus do not have a set day of worship as in Christianity. They make pilgrimages to temples when they wish good fortune from the gods. I sat down near a group of elderly Indian women that were participating in the procession. A crazy old Hindu priest was chanting and shaking a stick over the heads of the women. He passed around this yellowish putty-textured pastry ball. The women dug their fingers in one after another.
I was at the end of the line and the gooey ball worked its way closer and closer to me. The old woman next to me licked her fingers, preparing to thrust them into the ball. As she pulled her finger out of her mouth a strand of saliva was still bridging her mouth to her finger. It broke and rested on her finger as she used the finger to pinch a loaf off of the pastry. She smiled at me and passed the treat, happy that I was participating in her culture. The saliva had been transfer from her finger onto the only untouched piece. This was my cue to leave. Thank you for showing me your culture, but I’m going to pass this time.
We made the short walk over to City Palace. As we walked through we viewed elegant paintings of elephant fights, tiger hunts, and glorious celebrations. Those ancient Hindus knew how to live well.
Most of the relics were in honor of a former ruler named Maharana Jagat Singh. Singh had inherited a rich, but poorly planned Udaipur, and he had a vision that would change the city. Udaipur, like most cities in India throughout history, was way over populated. It lacked the water it needed to sustain its population. Singh had his subjects divert a nearby river to create a large lake. Udaipur had the water it needed to grow. The people were happy and celebrated by having tons of babies until the city became overpopulated again.
Indians love company. They have a very social culture, and place little value on space. When the next ruler took over he soon became unhappy because when he went through the streets he could see gaps in between the people. “My city is far too under populated,” he declared, and commissioned the construction of another lake. The people were happy and the population continued to grow. This process continued with succeeding rulers until the city had five really dirty lakes and way too many people.
When we walked through the other side we saw large murals depicting the glorious battles of Maharana Pratap. Pratap was basically this kick ass leader that possessed just about every noble quality a man could have. When he rode his elephant horse into battle he could single handedly take on 100 men, slay a full-grown elephant, and cut a man clean in half with one fell swoop. He took on a very powerful Mogul army, implementing guerrilla warfare tactics to wear them down before finishing them off in a final battle.
When the evening came around we went out on the street in search of something to do. Because the James Bond hit Octopussy was filmed here, all of the restaurants show it in the evening. Literally almost all of them had signs up with the message “James bond here”, “Octopussy at 7:00”. It was funny because the amount of restaurants showing that same movie at that exact same time seemed to exceed the amount of tourists out at night. I felt bad for the guy that did it first.
We really didn’t want to spend two hours of my short stay watching a movie, so we ventured through town looking for other places that could be interesting. There wasn’t much, and we had all but decided to give up when we saw a blue light coming from a second floor restaurant called Pushkar’s Café. We walked closer and heard dance music.
“Potential,” I thought.
We went in and sat down at one of the hookah tables. I started bullshitting with some backpackers and had some beers. Then Pushkar came out and introduced himself. He had a very likeable personality. A few hours later he turned the venue into a dance party and DJ’ed it himself. The scene turned from a mellow hookah bar into a European dance club with drunken backpacker girls stumbling all over the dance floor.
I strongly recommend Udaipur if you tour through Northwest India. Keep in mind though that it’s not for the average resort/cruiseliner-going type of tourist . You will learn a lot about Hindu culture, but also see some of the major problems in India. It is highly polluted. I first grasped what highly polluted meant when I was in this town. My throat was constricted for the duration of my stay, and I could barely see the hilltops because of the heavy smog. Additionally, the streets are packed with a continuous stream of people and motorcycles.
Pollution and overpopulation is standard in any Indian town. I’m a bit hard on it because I believe any government should take action to reduce these problems. Some of these actions, such as implementing techniques to gradually reduce population size or removing the stray animals from the streets go against Hindu beliefs, and so I don’t expect these problems to go away anytime soon.
That said if you decide to visit Udaipur I recommend the following schedule.
9:00 AM Wake up
10:00 AM Visit Jagdish Temple
11:00 AM Tour City Palace
12:00 PM Lunch
1:00PM Hire rickshaw taxi to visit Ranakpur Jain Temple*
5:00 PM Take boat ride on Lake Pichola to watch the sunset*
7:00 PM Go to Pushkar’s Cafe for food, drink, and hookah. Dance party likely.
*Did not experience this for myself, but would definitely do it if I visited again.