I had a lot of anxiety heading to Udaipur because getting there from Jaipur required taking an overnight train. I'd been fortunate not to have any bad experiences in India, but I'd read online that it wasn't uncommon for single female travelers to be rudely awoken by being groped by a stranger. Not to mention I didn't have a cable/bike lock to prevent my luggage from being taken while I slept. But the train was over an hour late, so after agonizing in the first class waiting room, by the time I boarded I was more than ready to pass out.
I locked my suitcase to the underside of the compartment's fold-out table (the combo lock I brought with me from Paris that's proven too big for most hostel lockers came in handy after all) and curled up in an upper berth bunk facing the wall with one arm looped through the straps of my purse. I slept surprisingly well. When I awoke around 7am and descended from my bunk to look out the window, I saw dense greenery somewhere between a forest and jungle passing by.
From the policemen outside the train station forcing the horde of waiting auto drivers back (literally - one of them was brandishing a cane), I could tell Udaipur was different from the previous cities. It was (marginally) cleaner, more touristy (I hadn't seen this many white people since leaving Istanbul), and the locals were friendlier and less leery.
My guest house was located in a quieter section of the historical center, with panoramic views of the city palace across the lake and monsoon palace perched atop a hill in the distance. Sitting in the rooftop restaurant with a cup of masala tea, I felt relaxed for the first time since arriving in India.
Part of me wished I had more time in the so-called White City but, as my friend in Delhi had said, you can cover pretty much everything in a day. Below, some highlights.
1. City Palace. You can see this massive cream-colored complex looming over the lake, and on the inside it's just as grand as you'd expect it to be - tranquil courtyards, intricate mosaics, amazing views, etc. Inside the main gate you can purchase a separate ticket for the boat ride that leads you to...
2. Jag Mandir. One of two main islands on Lake Pichola. The other, the white Taj Lake Palace designed to look as though it merely floats on the surface of the water, has been completely converted into a luxury hotel (30,000 rupees per night, I'm told), and is therefore off limits to non-guests. Jag Mandir, on the other hand, has a fancy restaurant, lovely garden, and what used to be a temple.
3. Bagore ki Haveli Museum. I got seriously creeped out being one of only a few visitors present on the afternoon I went. Case in point: a room full of nothing but Rajasthani puppets in all their mute, inanimate glory and a gallery of different types of turbans displayed on rows upon rows of model heads. The building used to be a palace, so I admired the architecture and design more than any particular exhibit.
4. Monsoon Palace. The royals constructed this palace atop a hill overlooking the city to escape from the uncomfortable monsoon season climate. Nowadays the surrounding area has been repurposed as a nature preserve and the palace itself reduced to mere viewpoint - albeit a pretty spectacular one. Vestiges of its grandeur remain in the facade but, as one tourist warned me as she descended the stairs from the upper level, "Don't touch the walls - they're disgusting!" True enough, there were many odd stains and a lingering stench. Blood or shit? Animal or human? To be honest, these are questions I've often asked myself since arriving in India. Regardless, this was one of my favorite places in the city. Many monkeys make their home in the hills, and are fun to watch scampering about the grounds. And if you stand near the edge of the sunset terrace, you can hear the melodic horns of trucks and buses reverberating up the hills as they make their way through the valley roads.
5. Lake Pichola. There are various points where you can go down to the water (just near the museum is a popular spot) but, as in Morocco, I only ever saw boys and men stripping down to go for a dip in the water. While they swam and splashed around, women did laundry the old-fashioned way nearby - wetting the clothes in the lake water, then beating the cloth with a wooden paddle. I handed my dirty laundry over for same-day service, and couldn't help but wonder if that was how it was washed. I didn't really care though if that was the case, since when I got it back the clothes smelled much better than when I first gave them over.
The rest of the photos to be uploaded soon to Flickr!