Flocking to Udaipur
As do most visitors to India, we flocked to Udaipur.
Swinging southeast from Jodhpur a few hours we entered a much hillier area of Rajasthan. Udaipur: The Venice of the East (or so they say). Sometimes also called the City of Lakes. It is known for picture-perfect scenes and a slew of extravagant palaces, many which are now luxury or boutique hotels and restaurants. This was our longest scheduled stop with nearly 3 full days to roam around, which I took to mean it was a good place for such roaming. While the city has nearly a half million people, the tourists area is really only a handful of twisting streets on either side of Lake Pichola. The medieval old town is full of narrow streets and alley ways lined with shops catering towards visitors. Think tour operators, henna shops, yoga centers, silver jewelry shops and lots of tailors and textile stalls.
Udaipur is especially lovely in the nightime:
This proved to be a great place to wander around, or just sit out on the rooftop deck watching the flurry of activity down below. Our group scattered to take advantage of a cooking class, yoga session, or fittings for tailor made clothing. I surprised myself by opting for a palm reading. I now know my lucky streak might take a dip for a few years, my life partner might be a little crazy (ha!) and I won’t be rich but never have to worry about money. Good to know! 🙂
While I enjoyed walking around and exploring the area, I also felt that it was a bit fake, a bit too sheltered. We were kept at bay, at India’s doorstep but not quite inside. 100% of the shops and stalls are for visitors, not for Udaipurians(?). We did come through town both on the bus and then on our way to the hotel but once we crossed into the old city, and with no real reason to go out, it’s what we saw. Not a bad thing, just worth mentioning. Fewer cows, more touts.
Three things stand out from our visit to Udaipur. The Ganesha Festival, a cultural dance performance and City Palace
What Jodhpur’s Meharanja Fort had in grandiosity (large size and scale), Udaipur’s City Palace had in elegance and detail. Nestled right up on the shores of Lake Pichola, it is complex with more marble and granite than I could ever have imagined. It is beautifully decorated and has been maintained to show off the lavish lifestyles of the royalty from this area. The palace itself was like a maze, which we explored with our eyes wide open and cameras snapping right and left. The mosaics are what I’ll remember most.
Ganesha, one of the many, MANY gods in Hindu Religion, is the God of wisdom and remover of obstacles. There is a 10 day celebration of Ganesha, which happened to end on our third day in Udaipur. After spending 10 days worshiping and celebrating Ganesha in their homes, believers bring their statue of Ganesha to the nearest holy body of water and immerse her (him?). We were happy to catch a festival, even if a small one by Indian standards. Our tour leader explained that it is a newer celebration and custom and one which is quite environmentally damaging and toxic as all of the statues are left in the water, causing pollution from the dyes and plaster of paris. Fish die, the water gets murky, but Ganesha is guaranteed to come back to bless the believer the following year. In the early morning, we saw the quieter version as families and couples come to leave their Ganesha in the lake with prayer, song and lots of offerings. The process was pretty much the same for everyone: Dress up the Ganesha, lay out some offerings and share some with those around you (it seems Ganesha likes coconuts and sweets), do some chanting or pay some boys to play a short round on their drums, snap a picture of the family and Ganesha, and submerse. As the day wore on the celebrating got rowdier, the Ganeshas got larger, some requiring tractors to transport and things got even more colorful.
On our first evening in Udaipur, our tour leader suggested we attend a cultural dance performance. It sounded kind of lame and given that it only cost $1 in admission I thought that to be indicative of the quality. How wrong I was! A lesson I’m quickly learning is that our tour leader is the best and I should just do whatever he tells me!
For one hour we got to watch a performance featuring several traditional dances with beautiful costumes and interesting music. What appears as simple in concept, was amazingly difficult in execution. Such mastery, we were told, is rare and is slowly dying out. What a shame!!
Next, to Pushkar – the second holiest place in India.