February 16, 2013

Romance in India (Udaipur, Rajasthan, India)

Though we had crossed off many Rajasthan destinations of our To Do list because we wanted to travel at a slow pace for our remaining time in India (Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Bundi), we had known for awhile that we definitely wanted to visit Udaipur, which is lauded as India's most romantic city. Though most Rajasthan towns and cities are located around or near a lake (sometimes man-made), Udaipur's lake is one of the most beautiful, and the town surrounds its waters, creating an almost Venice-like feel. So, after our disappointing 4 nights at Ranthambore National Park (read here), we were looking forward to our time in Udaipur.

The first sign that things were going well was when we remembered that, remembering my night from hell in the budget-class sleeper car of a train (read here), we had booked A/C 3-Tier tickets for the overnight (8 hour) journey from Sawai Madhopur to Udaipur. When we got to the train station, we were exhausted and we boarded the train around midnight and found our way to our bunks in the dark (most of the other passengers already sleeping with their curtains drawn). We climbed into our bunks, covered up with the clean sheets, blankets and pillows provided, and both had an amazing night's sleep - no snoring, no vomiting, no crying babies, no singing neighbors - just us, catching some zzzzz's. Though A/C cars cost more, this level of comfort was definitely worth the extra few bucks and we congratulated ourselves on being geniuses (and because we knew that our next and last train ride was overnight from Udaipur to Mumbai and that we had booked A/C 2-Tier for that train ride). We arrived in Udaipur early in the morning, refreshed and ready to see the city and hired a very friendly rickshaw driver to take us to Nukkad Guest House, where we'd booked ahead of time. Though our room wasn't ready when we arrived (check-in isn't until 10am), we sat in the rooftop restaurant, admiring the lake view, having breakfast and taking advantage of the free WiFi. When we were showed to our room, we happily settled in for a quick nap and then spent the afternoon walking around our neighborhood (near the footbridge) and having dinner right on the water.

Dinner on the lake

Udaipur really is a lovely place. The streets were made for horse carts and pedestrians, so can feel a bit crowded at times with the traffic, but it's still a fairly peaceful place, and it's cleaner than most cities in India we visited because it hosts a large number of high-end hotels. On one of our first days, we decided to visit the Udaipur City Palace, located at the top of a hill and overlooking the lake and town. It was a really beautiful old building but was pretty worn down and, once again, we were saddened by the condition of the historical sites in India. It would be amazing to see the Palace restored and in it's grandeur and to imagine what life was like for the royalty who lived there once.
Looking out the window at Udaipur City Palace
Another day, we joined a French couple and hired a driver, Prem, to take a day trip to Kumbhalgarh, a 15th century fort and the site of the second longest wall in the world (36km), and Ranakpur, a Jain temple made of white marble. Prem, our driver, was young and modern and made a lot of jokes in English, which the French couple didn't understand, so I think they felt a little left out, and Prem couldn't understand why they didn't know English, so it made for an interesting ride. The French couple was pretty mismatched in age. The girl was about 28 and the man was at least 55. One of the funniest parts of the 3.5 hour ride to the sites was when Prem was asking us about our lives.

Prem: "Tom, is Stephanie your girlfriend?"

Tom: "No, she's my wife."

Prem: "Oh, and you two (points at Frenchies), you are father and daughter?"

All: Silence…..oops

To get to the fort, we had to climb a large hill in the heat of the day and, while the fort was large and impressive, it was even in worse disrepair than the City Palace and we were a little disappointed. To add to our disappointment, there were busses of school boys visiting the fort, and they all stared at me and gave me sexual looks and said things about me and laughed…apparently learning bad Indian habits early. At one point (and after 3 months of dealing with this in India), I lost my temper on the boys and yelled at them and then spent the next few hours feeling bad about it…even though the little punks deserved it.

After the City Palace and Kumbhalgarh, our expectations for the Ranakpur were a little low, but we were in complete awe when we finally saw it. It is absolutely breathtaking and, for me, was as beautiful a site as anything we'd seen in India. It was easy to imagine how Jain priests would be able to sit in silent meditation and feel close to god in this place. It was absolutely beautiful.

Tons of intricately carved white marble!
On a hill overlooking the temple, people built small stone structures, representing their wish for a home. (Similar to the structures we saw in Hampi, here.) We're not in the market or anything, but we figured it couldn't hurt! (Note, our's has a landscape roof with a hot tub!)

We hope our neighbors are nice!
On the other days in Udaipur, we spent a lot of time walking around the city, watching people and enjoying the scene. The BEST surprise came when we walked out of our guesthouse one day and ran into our friend, Brittany (Australia), who we had met doing yoga in Arambol (read here) 2 months earlier! It's so nice to see familiar faces when you're traveling for so long, and there's nothing like the camaraderie of a fellow long-term backpacker in India - someone who knows what it's like and who can commiserate with you about the difficulties (like dysentery on a train) and gush with you over the good parts (like volunteering with Tibetans in McLeod Ganj). Tom says there's a kind of bond we all had with other long-termers in India - like we've all been "in the shit" together. And I think he's right. So we spent a few days hanging out with Brittany and her new travel buddy, Jess, and it was wonderful! Brittany, brave soul that she is, is still in India as you read this - she is traveling solo in India for 6 months. Isn't she amazing?!?! We can't wait to visit her when we're in Australia!

One of the best part about Udaipur was that it is a very artistic city, with many galleries, artists painting on the street, and an emphasis on art and theatre throughout. We spent many afternoons in art galleries, visiting with the artists and their families, enjoying the A/C, and having conversations about art, politics, and culture the way you can only really do with artists. We really enjoyed two artists in particular - both their work and the artists themselves. One of the artist's pieces were quite expensive ($500 for a 8'x8' canvas), so we decided to follow his work online and, hopefully purchase some of his work when we are gainfully employed again. We did decide to splurge on a much larger piece of art from the second artist and, while we have nowhere to put a piece of art that size right now, we hope to have a home that will hold it some day. We really love this piece, called Blue Earrings. (We had it shipped to Tom's sister, Mel, in Colorado.)

With Lokesh, the artist

Blue Earrings
We really loved Udaipur and definitely recommend a visit! After 6 nights, we left, excited to meet up with our great friends back in south India. Stay tuned for those posts!

You can see all of our pics from Udaipur here. A few more of our favorites (mostly from Ranakpur) are below.

You can see all of our pics from Udaipur here.

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