Udaipur – the lake city of Rajasthan

Arriving in Udaipur

When you arrive at Udaipur bus station you will be flooded with tuk-tuk drivers wanting your custom. They will all try and rip you off, of that you can be sure. The only way I and some other travellers I’ve met have found to counter this mad craze to lose their income is to have Ola or Uber applications open which show you approximately how much the fare will be. Then it’s up to the tuk-tuk driver to turn you away or accept, or you get Ola or Uber. I’ve found it easier to walk to a different street, just away from the station, where you’re more likely to encounter someone more amenable. The first guy at the Udaipur bus station wanted 400/-INR for what amounted to a 120/-INR ride.

Udaipur is very much a tourist town. And it’s easy to see why, it’s beautiful. Nestled between hills and situated on two lakes, Pichola and Fateh Sagar, with its island palaces, temples and a lot of hindu architecture, it’s almost like a step back in time. I spent the first morning walking around and taking photos. The first thing I noticed is that Udaipur is quiet. Hardly any horns! The second is that it was the cleanest city I’ve visited to date. You’ll soon find out it’s where they made the James Bond movie “Octopussy (1983)”. A lot of restaurants will screen the film nightly. I didn’t go. I saw more Europeans here than in any other place I’ve been so far, and from all ages and financial brackets.

Bunkyard in Udaipur
Bunkyard in Udaipur
On my return to Bunkyard Hostel that I’d booked online from Jodhpur, I bumped into Mustafa, a young architectural student just writing his final thesis for his degree, whom I’d met briefly the night before. We were on the roof terrace taking in the morning view and chatting when we were joined by Rahul. Bunkyard is another good hostel, and the views over Lake Pichola are superb. It’s multi-level hostel with the restaurant at the top. I picked a dorm without aircon and it was bang on. I’d found out the night before that Mustafa was in my dorm and now I found out that Rahul was too.

The Bunkyard staff are really friendly, if a bit slow in the morning. I have to admit that I found a place where I can have 2 breakfasts and 2 chais for the price of a chai in the hostel and I don’t have to wait, so I go there instead. Well the three of us sat in the early morning sun putting the world to rights. We were sitting under the sunshade four hours later. These two young men suffer the same disillusionment with their world as I suffer with mine. It was a gentle day goofing off, and attempting to put the world to rights. The next couple of days were spent exploring backstreets and walking out of the city into the semi jungle at the west end of the lake.

Scooter ride to the hills around Udaipur

Saturday Mustafa invited me to split the cost of a scooter with him. 400/-INR for the vehicle for the day and a further 200/-INR petrol. Seemed like a good plan. Off we went into the hills to the west of Udaipur. A totally lazy day out looking at temples and lakes.

First we visited a temple on a little pond. I can’t recall the name of the place and neither Mustafa or I have found it on the net. The place was beautiful and serene except for the half finished block-work and cement structure that had been abandoned. It looked to me that once it might have been going to be a hotel or B&B type place, but to my mind it totally spoiled the view and temple, and I was hard put to try and exclude it from photos. We also visited the Lake Badi where I took photos and was tempted to go for a swim. Both Mustafa and I thought that we should have visited the lake in the morning, for the sun’s direction. It was the first lake I’d seen without a scum of plastic wrappers and bottles floating on it. That said, the shoreline was littered with broken beer bottles, crisp packets and the like. It’s such a shame that the young couples and visiting people don’t take their rubbish away with them. Mustafa, Rahul and I had been talking about this inability to take rubbish away and dispose of it in the proper place. It seems that that the younger, educated Indian is aware of this pollution and would like it to change.

Relaxing in the shade of a tree

Udaipur shade tree
In the shade of the tree
We then spent a couple of hours relaxing under a shade tree with an old man and his wife. Mustafa had asked the man we’d spotted if he’d mind if we shared the shade of his tree and in friendly Indian fashion there was no problem. Apparently the language they were talking was a dialect of hindi and Mustafa had to struggle a bit to be understood and understand. They were sweet enough to let me take their photos but the wife nearly made me giggle when she started to say that she didn’t have her fine clothes on. She was lovely the way she was.

The Monsoon Palace – Udaipur

By now the evening was beginning to roll in. Our intention was to get up to the Monsoon Palace, Sajjan Garha, in time to see the sunset. Sajjan Garh Palace is called the sunset point and it seemed the right thing to do. It is named Sajjangarh after Maharana Sajjan Singh, who built it in 1884. Originally intended to be a five floor astronomical centre and built to watch the monsoon clouds, but was converted into a hunting lodge and the monsoon palace on the death of Maharana Sajjan.

The road up to the Monsoon Palace is not very obvious and it is all hairpin bends once you pass the pay-in point. Again Indians get in for 10% of the tourist’s price. It cost me 300/-INR. The climb up offers spectacular views over the hillsides around Udaipur. Once at the top though it became a little disappointing. The building, once glorious, is now running to ruin, which is such a shame. And today, we weren’t going to be seeing any sunset. There was a high bank of cloud in the west, behind which the sun was slowly sinking. The clouds were spectacular though, backlight by the sun. The views were immense. But the light was disappearing fast now so we hopped on the scooter and headed back from a splendid day out in the fresh air.

Accident in Udaipur

Sunday morning Mustafa and I were sitting in one of the communal areas of Bunkyard discussing what to have for breakfast and whether he should head off back to Ahmedabad in Gujarat that day to write his thesis. Breakfast was decided on and his return was postponed for at least 2 hours. I headed off to put the computer away so we could go and eat. And then it happened. I must have had a blood pressure rush or I fainted, I don’t know. All I remember is that the mural at the top of the stairs rose up to meet me and the next thing that I remember is that Mustafa was pushing me bleeding into a tuk-tuk and he and the driver were rushing me to hospital. The ride was a fragmented dream while my thoughts were beginning to clear, albeit very slowly. The next memory was of lying on an operating table having my head and eyelid stitched. 6 stitches in total, two in the eyelid the remainder in my forehead. According to Mustafa, I’d reached the top of the stairs and then just crumpled and fell, head first, down a flight of 15 stairs. He was so worried and it was his prompt actions and help that pulled me through. I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to him and you can be sure that as soon as I get an itinerary that allows me to head west, I’ll be staying with Mustafa for sure.

So to cut a long story short, Mustafa delayed his return to Ahmedabad until later that afternoon while he saw that I was ok. I had concussion and my sense of balance was seriously disturbed. I dozed at about 14:30 and when I awoke my friend had gone. The next few days were spent recovering. I was still seriously dizzy and having an eye that wouldn’t open didn’t help. Monocular vision with no depth of field doesn’t help with head injuries and balance.

The Bunkyard staff were all very sympathetic and helpful, made sure I was ok and generally kept an eye on me. For two days I lurked around the hostel, staggering into the odd table. Mustafa had told me that I’d need to go back down to the hospital on the Tuesday so the tuk-tuk driver that had taken me before agreed to go with me again as he’d been with me most of the time that I was there in the first instance. I was checked over and given some new medication. Mickey from Satya Dhaam was worried and got two young lads known to his wife to check up on me which was nice of him too. All in all I decided to stay for the remainder of the week, allow my eye to recover and for the swelling to go down, and to move on to Kota on Friday, all things being well.

Udaipur is a wonderful city. For anyone visiting India, go there. I’ll be going back for sure, and it is the sort of place in which I could imagine settling down for a while.


Jaipur in the desert state of Rajistan

Jaipur-the palace of winds

Jaipur, the capital of Rajistan

Well the last few days have been hectic and I haven’t had a chance to write anything for a while. On the 28th of August I set off from Meerut to visit Jaipur in Rajistan, the desert state. There had been riots on the streets of Delhi on the 25th with people killed and buses set on fire at Anand Vihar. All of this was because of the conviction of a Baba, a holy man, the guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, religious leader of Dera Sacha Sauda, who was convicted of rape committed some years ago. I had left Anand Vihar for Meerut the day before, on the 24th, and there was some speculation that the 28th, day of sentencing, could produce the same rioting. Luckily I made it through to Sarai Rohilla Station for the train to Jaipur with no mishap.

Sarai Rohilla train station in Delhi

Delhi Sarai Rohilla stationThe Sarai Rohilla train station isn’t the easiest place to navigate. There is little help, no platform staff (that I could find) and not much by the way of indication where to go. A friendly young police woman put me straight. I had a few hours to wait so, in Indian style, I had a snooze sitting on one bag and using the backpack as a chair back.

Once the train arrived a member of the station staff arrived and began to glue paper to the doors of the train. On inspection I found my name and seat number printed on the paper and confirmed that my seat number was the same as that which my ticket said.

The journey to Jaipur is 4 ½ hours. The train was a double decker and I was on the top deck. The aircon nearly froze me but the ride was comfortable enough. We pulled out at 17:35 on the dot. Travelling through the outskirts of Delhi heading west was yet another eye-opener. People sitting on the tracks chatting. Kids playing on the tracks. One teenager throwing stones at the train trying to break windows. People peeing and crapping by the side of the tracks with no embarrassment. I was happy to leave it behind and watch the scenery change.

The Himalaya Towers Hotel – Jaipur

We were a bit late in arriving in Jaipur. I was due in at 22:05 but we got in about 10 minutes late. I had taken the time to book a room at the Himalaya Towers Hotel using the Oyo app. On Google maps it looked like it would be a nice quiet place just outside the centre of Jaipur. It wasn’t. It was about 17km away and south of the airport. The Ola Cab didn’t know where it was and I was hassled and hustled by a taxi driver with excellent english. Eventually I did opt to go with him as he seemed to be the only person with any degree of knowledge. The cost was 500/-INR which here is exorbitant.

The hotel was, in all fairness, clean and tidy and not too expensive. About £7 a night. But what I hadn’t counted on was the expressway. I told you about the Indians love of the horn in this post. At about four thirty the trucks started going by. They have multiple horns. They play tunes like Woody Woodpecker and various other horrible “melodies”. So that was me awake with just over 4 hours sleep. I walked out at 8am and caught an Ola car to a hostel called Mai Thik Hoo that I found on the Hostelworld App.

Mai Thik Hoo Hostel in Jaipur

mai thik hoo hostel jaipurMai Thik Hoo was a brilliant place and it was quiet! The staff are super friendly, helpful, speak great english and young. I was the oldest person there and they insisted on calling me “sir” which I hated. We got over it. If you are backpacking in Jaipur go to Mai Thik Hoo, you won’t regret it. I arrived at about 08:30, checked in and met a lovely girl called Liliana from Mexico. Yay, a chance to speak spanish again. We talked for a good while and decided to team up to see some the famous Jaipur sites. The boys from Mai Thik Hoo called up a tuk-tuk driver that they trust (the kept stressing that they feel responsible for their guests) and for the princely sum of 500/-INR Liliana and I took off for out tour.

The Pink City

We were taken first to a part of the Pink City where we got out and took some photos (or clicked some photos as the Indians say) and then headed off to Gaitore Ki Chhatriya, the Royal Cremation Ground of the Kachhwaha Rajputs.

Gaitore Ki Chhatriya – Jaipur royal memorials

Gaitore Ki Chhatriya will cost you 30/-INR to get in and it’s a bargain! There are three “courtyards” and they are incredibly beautiful. Built of marble, all hand carved and following the Vedic rules for building a memorial. Vedic rules, they state that crematoriums should be in north of the village and sloping southwards. A body of water should be nearby. A lake or a river is perfect backdrop for these memorials. The crematoriums and memorials should be constructed in a concealed location in order that they cannot be seen easily. I won’t go into it any more here but here are two links for those that are interested. [ 1 ] and [ 2 ].

The Amber Fort

Next stop was the famous Amber Fort of Jaipur. This fort is a spectacular piece of architecture sitting on top of a ridge. The Fort is known for its artistic Hindu style decoration. It is truly huge. It is actually located in Amer, about 11km away from Jaipur. As we were on a limited whistle stop tour we decided that to go in to the Amber Fort would use up too much time so we contented ourselves with walking round the outside and seeing the views from some of the ramparts. We also walked down into Amer from the fort and saw the Shiva Temple there too. It would be easy to spend a day in the fort alone. For those that want to know more, I have linked the wikipedia entry here.

Panna Meena ka Kund

Panna Meena ka Kund - Jaipur
Panna Meena ka Kund
We were then taken to Panna Meena ka Kund. This is another stepwell like the one in Delhi mentioned in this post, but more beautiful. There really isn’t anything more to say about stepwells but this one is situated near Anokhi Museum on the Jaipur – Amer road, It is a beautiful place that was built during sixteenth century. The place was mainly used as a place for social meetings. People from nearby places would come here to get water, go swimming or just to pass time with friends and family. This beautiful well has a unique architecture and style.

The Water Palace – Jal Mahal

Heading back into Jaipur from the Amber Palace we stopped at the Water Palace. Our tuk-tuk driver told us that once one could visit it but these days the government has shut it off to visitors. So we took some pictures, (which you can see here) of this amazing piece of Rajput style of architecture, bought cucumber snacks and kulfi which is an incredible rich, dense, creamy non-whipped ice cream and headed off to the Monkey Temple.

The Monkey Temple

This temple is dedicated to Shiva. Upon our arrival a very slick young man with good english entered the tuk-tuk and started giving us his sales pitch. He lives in the area and has worked with the monkeys all his life. They can be viscous and carry rabies and apparently we really needed his help. Liliana and I took an immediate dislike to him. He wanted 200/-INR from each of us to walk us up a hill of about 800m to a temple. There are supposed to be loads of monkeys around. We were also hassled to buy peanuts for the monkeys, being told it was “good karma” to feed them. Anyone who has any knowledge of the laws of karma knows that that’s pure BS. The result was another young lad took us up for a quarter the cost. Maybe he only had a quarter the knowledge because he really didn’t seem to know what he was talking about and contradicted himself a few times. But there again there wasn’t really much to say. Hey ho. We saw not one monkey! However when we got back down we found them all asleep near where our tuk-tuk was parked. In all honesty this was the most uninteresting part of the trip and we were both happy to get back to the hostel.

Pink City revisited (day two).

Liliana and I arranged to wake early and get back into the Pink City fairly early to try and maximise her last day. We caught the metro from Civil Lines, where Mai Thik Hoo is situated, and headed for Chadpole station. While India wakes early, not much starts before 09:00. We arrived at Chadpole and put on Google’s location service so that we could navigate. Both of us wanted to see more of the Pink City than we saw the first day (all the photos are above). We also wanted to go to Jantar Mantar, the Palace of Winds (Hawa Mahal) and the Albert Hall Museum. Unfortunately we ran out of time for the latter.

Temple Shri Maji Tawar - Jaipur
Temple Shri Maji Tawar
Drum machine in Jaipur
Drum machine

On exiting the metro station we happened upon a beautifully decorated temple. I haven’t been able to find anything online about this place so I asked Mickey from Satya Dhaam to translate the hindi in the photo. This is what he said it says. Maji Sahib Shri, Shri Tawar Ji. He also says that he thinks the temple is to a person called Maji Tawar and the Sahib, Shri and Ji are honourifics or marks of respect for the named person. I have searched google and can find nothing more. It seems a shame that no one has written anything because it was quite beautiful. It also contained a drum machine. The strangest drum machine I have ever seen as you can see in the photo.

The next few hours were spent with Liliana taking photos and shopping for presents and souvenirs. It was fun but tiring. The shop keepers always want you to buy more and more. You tell them you haven’t any money, they say “use a card”. You tell them that you are backpacking and don’t wan’t the weight, they say “we’ll send it to the hotel or your home”. It’s never ending, very tiring, stressful and irritating and a lot of time was wasted just trying to say NO. The people of Jaipur have a much better command of European languages. We were hassled by a young man speaking excellent spanish who wanted us to go to a particular café overlooking the Palace of Winds. Looking for his commission I suppose. By now I was hot, tired and my blood sugar levels were dropping fast and all the both of us wanted to do was sit down, have a bite to eat in relative quiet. I lost my temper with the guy and asked him, none to subtly, if there was any danger of us being able to do what we wanted to do without him hanging around hassling us. He left and so did we.

Palace of Winds – Hawa Mahal

The Palace of Winds (or Palace of the Breeze) is a super impressive structure built of red and pink sandstone. However it is really just a screen to allow the women of the palace to watch parades without being observed. It is attached to the women’s quarters of the palace. Built in 1799 and supposed to emulate the crown of the Lord Krishna. There are 953 small windows covered with a lattice work that allows the breeze to pass through and creates a form of “air conditioning”. The whole structure is only one room deep but the lower floors have small patios or terraces. There is a lot about Hawa Mahal on the web and this is the wikipedia entry.

Jantar Mantar – astronomical instruments

Salads finished we headed for Jantar Mantar. Jantar Mantar is is a collection of nineteen architectural astronomical instruments, built by the Rajput king Sawai Jai Singh II, and completed in 1734 CE. It features the world’s largest stone sundial, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site, which, in my experience means higher entrance costs, longer queues and more tourist prices and rip-offs. The observatory comprises of nineteen instruments for measuring time, foreseeing eclipses, following the placement of significant stars as the earth circles the sun, finding out the declinations of planets, and deciding the heavenly elevations and altitudes. Most of this information is from wikipedia and I won’t repeat it here. It is enough to say that it is very technical and very impressive. The instruments are huge with a view to increasing their accuracy. The Giant Sundial, known as the Samrat Yantra is one of the world’s largest sundials, standing 27 metres tall. Its shadow moves at 1mm per second, or roughly 6 cm every minute. It rained when we were there so this phenomenon was lost on us.

And that was it – we were out of time. Liliana had to get back to the hostel to get her stuff together for the train at 17:00, so we grabbed a tuk-tuk and headed back. All in all a good day. Personally I have to say I was super to be speaking Spanish with Liliana and we both enjoyed the days and each other’s company.