Udaipur: The Calm City

Another morning, another bus. This time, an organised bus with all commuters safely seated, but with a driver who had an apparent death wish. Erratic braking, breakneck acceleration, and endless hooting left all the passengers in a shambles once we dismounted in Udaiper, unsurprisingly, ahead of schedule.

Udaipur is a quaint city, with the feel of an aged beach town. Perched atop several artificial lakes, the city is calm and serene and a welcome break from the intoxicating cities we had been exposed to. From the hotel rooftop restaurant, we could see over onto the city, the lakes, the footbridge on the left, and the ghats across the way. We threw some beers and drinks into the mix on arrival (“Rajasthani breezers” to be precise), and the results were sheer holiday perfection. Just a few minutes in Udaipur sets your soul right, leaving you wanting to greet everyone you meet with a cheerful “namaste“.

Feeling adventurous, we went out on foot into the curved and undulating streets littered with cows, donkeys carrying gravel on their backs, and the usual noise pollutants of scooters and tuktuks. Our adventures led us to an art shop, where an Indian Barry Gibb sat crosslegged before us and began to speak of his art. Whilst lectured on his riveting methods and brushstroke techniques, we were given miniature paintings on our finger nails by the rest of his crew – a tiger, a peacock or a camel. The painting is truly remarkable for a tiny brush on a fingernail as a canvas, though I imagine they’ve made renditions of these 3 little pictures on hundreds of fingernails.

That evening, with no desire to sight-see further, we stayed in for cards and drinks. After a few drinks and rounds of “Maharajah’s Chalice” (Ring of Fire, with karma sutra playing cards) it was decided that we sample some paan masala. Considering I had already picked up a sachet at a local stand, I decided to commence the preceedings.

It looks like gravel, and it tastes like gravel – but with a smack of fennel seeds. It may be popular in India, but it’s a no from me. I just can’t see the appeal of chewing gravel over smoking a cigarette or the local bedi – It immediately gives chronic dry-mouth, it coats your teeth with a mucosal-orange layer, and Google also tells me that it’s not great for your breath either (despite public views holding otherwise). The spitting process is also not very pretty – people throw their head backs with vigour before spewing the goods out onto the pavement narrowly missing other’s legs. I lasted three minutes chewing the stuff, before spitting in similar fashion. Fun for a try? Yes. More than a try? No sir, no way.

There’s a certain fatigue that a place like Udaiper brings out on you. That gentle holiday slump, where your muscles boycott the day’s activities, and the only thing you can excel at is lying around. As a result of this (and possibly cause of a slight hangover from “Maharajah’s Chalice” the night before), I attempted to visit the palace complex which houses 11 different palaces, but walked around struggling to find the ability to appreciate the structures and art galleries within. It should be said that the City Palace and the art and sculptures therein are brilliant, but my body was on holiday mode from such activities. So much so, that after my brisk palace viewing and a quick kadai paneer at a restaurant marketed as “the highest rooftop restaurant with an elevator in Udaipur”, I slumped over to the hotel to peoplewatch from the rooftop bar instead of scouting out the other renowned temples in the area. As far as people watching goes, this was a most rewarding session: I saw (and had a good laugh at) a couple having professional photos taken of them running through the scores of pigeons on the ghat by the lake; it was apparently a difficult shot to get right, as I had to witness several attempts of the comedic bird-charging. I hope they got the shot, and didn’t admit defeat in the end after all the effort.

As evening fell, feeling guilty for not accomplishing much that day, we boarded a sundowner boat cruise on Lake Pichola – thankfully one without expected tourist rolling-commentary. Circumnavigating the island palaces whilst facing a light, warm breeze, we caught a glimpse of one of the finest sunsets. The light refracted across the sinuous landscape, leaving a stunning array of reds and oranges. It was additionally great to actually see the sun clearly for a change – something not very common in northern India as a result of the pollution and dust.

We saw out the evening at a local restaurant by the boat jetty which offers a great view of the lake, and the gentle breeze which blows off of it. As darkness fell and we shared our meal, we sighted several massive bats with giant wingspans flying across the sky in unpredictable patterns. Watching in amazement, I couldn’t help but note that these creatures served as a reminder that even in places such as Udaipur, India is never subdued.

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