Relax, shop and enjoy the colors of the city of lake

From Jaipur, I took you to Agra and now I am taking you to Udaipur . We had stopped at the Pushkar fest for a day, but that story is for another day. I found the atmosphere of Udaipur very relaxing and slow paced, like in Hampi. Udaipur’s culture is strongly connected to the beautiful ghats and water bodies of the place .  We stayed for 3 and a half days here and rather than hustling around to visit all tourist attractions, we spent these last days of our 1 week trip, relaxing in the serene atmosphere.

We reached Udaipur early in the morning via train, after attending the Pushkar fest the previous night. The train was mostly occupied by locals who wore traditional Rajasthani attires.  It was great to see this cultural shift from Jaipur.  We were really tired and had missed a good night’s sleep. So we directly headed to Thamla Haveli, where we had booked our stay for the next 3 days. The haveli is an old but well maintained 3 storied building on the banks of Lake Pichola. But we were really disappointed when we saw the room. It was very small and cold,  with no ventilation and no opening for sunlight.  But we being too tired from the continuous travel,  just crashed in the bed and had a good sleep for the next 2 hours. Later we talked to the manager and luckily there was this one room available, with a lake view.  It was love at first sight.

It was spacious and beautiful with an ornate window, opening directly to the lake giving a great view of the Gangaur Ghat. The window area had a cozy cushion seating and an awesome view of the lake. The ambiance was accentuated by the tunes of traditional folk music from the opposite ghat. While tourists came from far and wide, to visit the ghat and enjoy boat rides, we could enjoy the beauty of the lake 24*7 for free.
This turned out to be my favourite spot for the days to come.

We had skipped breakfast, so we decided to have lunch in the open rooftop dining area of the building. Almost all the eateries around the ghat are rooftop ones, to take maximum advantage of the lake view. The food was delicious and filling.

The best thing about this hotel was every major attraction is at a walkable distance and we didn’t spend anything on transportation.

The most beautiful aspect of Udaipur (through my eyes), is that it is beaming with art and music in every nook and corner.

Apart from the streets with every shop displaying miniature art and colorful embroidered fabrics, every common house has beautiful doors and windows of the bygones and the street walls are decorated with detailed paintings.

Now let me list down some places we visited over the course of our stay. On many days, we spent most of the evenings in the Ghat or just at the hotel, relaxing and taking in the beautiful view of boats in lake Pichola.

Bagore ki haveli:

This is a must visit place. It is located on the banks lake Pichola in Gangaur Ghat, which is just at a 10min walk from our hotel.

This restored haveli museum holds rooms that displays settings of the rooms of royalties. One room is full of puppets in colorful silk traditional clothes, in a courtroom setting.

Another one displays the entertainment room of kids with the real board games made of wood and ivory. The doors are adorned by stunning colored glass work.

Dharohar Dance Show:

Apart from the museum, what I enjoyed most is the cultural show at Bagore ki haveli, late in the evening. It was amazing, better than any performance we saw at Chokhi Dhani(read here) . The show is from 7pm to 8pm everyday and the ticket is just a nominal 60Rs for Indians.

You should reach the place early to get the ticket, as there is going to be a long queue. We were directed to a courtyard of the haveli, known as the Neem Chowk. There is a big Neem tree in the center of the courtyard and hence the name. This small open terrace was lit with terracotta diyas and had benches and cushion seating on the floor  on all three sides, so that the audience gets a very close view of the performance. You need to take a separate pass for filming or taking photos.

The show started with an introduction given by a beautiful lady, in both Hindi and English. This was followed by drum beats and instrumental folk music. Then one dance followed the next with puppet shows and a folk drama in between. The dancers were clad in very festive traditional ghagras ornate with embroidery and mirror work. The reflection of the diya lights against the golden laces and ornaments added to the ambiance. The traditional folk dances included:

> Gavri Dance, which was more of a dance drama. It depicted a fight between Goddess Amba and Demon Bhiamwal

> Terah Taal Dance, where dancers played a musical instrument tied to their feet and hands.

> Ghumar Dance, where dancers performed in circles.

And the highlight of the show and the show stopper was the Bhavai Dance. The dancer was over 70 years of age and she came in gracefully, carrying a clay pot on her head. On regular intervals, she would move towards a corner where a member of their team would add consequently smaller clay pots on top of the existing one. And as the dance progressed, the number of clay pots reached around 10 and the lady danced beautifully, while balancing all these pots effortlessly and handsfree. Towards the climax, she started dancing on the edge of a metal plate and later on a bed of sharp glass pieces. The audience sat breathlessly and applauded wildly once the performance was over.

This show under a moonlit sky, is the perfect way to imbibe the colorful culture of Rajasthan.

We didnot take the camera pass here, so I don’t have any pics of the performance.

City Palace:

We walked to the palace around 10 in the morning, before it started getting too crowded. It was just 10min walk from the haveli. We hired a guide here and he explained the history of Udaipur and the stories of various royals of the place.

The palace displays all the precious artifacts of the royal family and the palace grounds are great for a walk, after.


Ravanahatha player of Gangaur Ghat :

The lake front opposite to Thamla Haveli, is called Gangaur Ghat. In the evenings, the Ghat is a popular spot for tourists as well as the young crowd, as it provides a picturesque view of the lake, colored by orange waves. We sat on the steps leading to the lake, feeding pigeons and listening to the alluring folk music from the Ravanahatha.

Ravanahatha is an ancient stringed instrument and you can find men in traditional Rajasthani attire, playing this in popular tourist spots. He was playing the same tune over and over again, and it blended in with the whole serene setting. The man was also selling CDs of his songs. You will also find locals selling handmade beaded jewelry and other curios here.

Sunset point at Karni Mata Temple:

Another great spot for getting a panoramic view of the city, is to visit the Karni Mata Temple at Machla Hills. There is a rope way leading to the hill and since the temple is at its highest point, we could enjoy the beauty of lake Pichola and the city soaked in the evening light.

The construction work was going on in the temple. So we didn’t go in. We just spent the evening there till the moon came up and changed shades of the city.

Shopping:

All the lanes near Gangaur Ghat has rows of small shops selling miniature paintings, hand painted jewelry, colorful clothes and home decor items. But two major shopping places nearby are ‘Hathi Pol’ and ‘Bada Bazaar’. These are located at a walkable distance from our stay and you will find traditional rajasthani clothes, leheriya and bandhini fabrics, Juttis, bags etc.

One of the wholesale shops here, Leheriya Bandhej, sells lehengas, traditional bandhani dupattas, and chanderi kurti materials at steal away prices.  Another store next to this is Apsara (if I remember correctly) which has much more options.They only sell these in sets of three and hence makes great gifting option.

On our way back from hathipol, I came across an old shop called Ashok Delights, displaying a variety of colorful window hangings. I just walked in to take a look at them and found them very old and dusty. But to my surprise, the shop turned out to be a treasure trove of wooden curios, some even antique. The owner of the shop was very friendly and interactive.

From small tricky puzzle boxes to intricately painted miniature hanging gods to even cute wooden carved earrings and wooden flats called methiyadi; this shop reminded me of the wizard shops in diagon alley from Harry potter. You could spend a whole day exploring the items that are loosely stacked till the roof of this old family owned shop.

The next great find was a small shop displaying handpainted meenakari earrings and miniature paintings. The owner of the shop is a famous miniature artist and he takes painting classes to interested tourists. He will give you a sketch of the miniature painting of your choice, on a silk cloth and will teach you how to do the painting using natural plant based colors and tiny handmade brushes.

We also bought camel leather bound diaries made of handmade paper. These comes in many colors and embossed patterns.

Cafes and eateries:

Unlike Jaipur, every lane in Udaipur has atleast one cafe or eatery. It’s all mostly small family run businesses and mostly serves pizzas, sandwiches and beverages.

We opted Cafe Satori for dinner. This is a small cozy cafe run by a lady and her son. We ordered coffee and pizza. The food took quite a while to be served, and we spent the time reading books available here. The cafes around the ghat are not cheap but the food tastes homemade. The owner lady was interactive and friendly. After dinner we all sat together and chit-chatted for sometime.

I had my eyes on Cafe Edelweiss right from the time I read rave reviews on this German eatery, in Zomato. So the next day’s breakfast had to be here. This is also a bakery and had some chocolate brownies and pastries on display. We tried tea and pancakes from here. The crowd is mostly foreigners and the food was alright.

For a light dinner we opted for  smoothies from Cafe Greenwood.  Owned by a young couple, the place is small but nice.

Our best and most affordable find was Lotus cafe. Hidden in a quaint corner, this is an eatery with no frills. The service is great and the food is very tasty. And the best part is that this is the most pocket friendly restaurant, we came across here.

We left Udaipur with colorful memories and I hope I could share some of them with you. Do comment below if you liked the post and follow us on Instagram and Facebook for more content.

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Day 1 : The grandeur of The Pink City
Day2 : A walk through the art, architecture and history
Day3 : The Majestic Taj

Day3 : The Majestic Taj

Blue and white

I took you through the colorful palaces and history of Jaipur in the last two travelogues. I am sure many of you would have already planned your Jaipur trip. And incase you would like to include visiting one of the Seven Wonders Of The World in your schedule, this post is for you.

Agra is about 238km from Jaipur, and having come this far, we couldn’t just leave without visiting the Taj Mahal. We asked our hotel owner to arrange a cab with a driver, for a one day trip to Agra and back.

We started at around 6am from Hotel Vimal Heritage on Monday. The morning was cool and pleasant. Our cab driver reached on time and we started our journey, excited to visit this grand structure.

There were barely any vehicles on the road, since it was early morning and the road mostly had farmlands on either side. We got passing glimpses of peacocks on the fences of the farms. The driver stopped at a road side restaurant, Motel Gangaur, for breakfast. It is the only building in the area and is brick red in colour). A part of the building is turned into a curio shop. If you see this hotel and you are extremely hungry, KEEP GOING. The prices are over the roof and the service is bad(Rs100 for a bowl of curd that comes with single paratha of Rs 150). We realized that car drivers usually stop at hotels that offers them commission or free meals if they bring them customers.

Our plan for the day was to go to Fatehpur Sikri first, then visit Taj and the Agra Fort. But our driver suggested that we will stop at Fatehpur Sikri on our way back and that it is better to stop at Agra Fort first.

Agra Fort:

We continued the journey and reached Agra Fort at around 11am. We hired a guide here and from him we came to know that only 25% of the fort is opened to public. The rest of the Fort is occupied by the Indian Army. Agra Fort is a UNESCO world heritage and is made of red sandstone.

I chose to wear this extremely light, cotton, hand block printed indigo dress with pockets.

Parts of the fort are made of marble with gem stone inlay work. But the sad part is that most of these has been looted and we only get to see the empty designs, which were once adorned by gold and semi precious stones. The fort is not as well maintained as the palaces and forts we visited in Jaipur.

You can make out the semi precious stones and the empty designs from which the stones were taken off.

The garden, The Anguri Bagh, is similar to the one in Amer fort with geometrically arranged patterns. Also this was once the venue for the famous Meena bazaar, the private markets organized for the queens and maids.

The ceiling in this picture looks very ornate right. But the sad part is that this is the empty designs left after the gold inlay work has been melted and looted off by British armies.

This fort also has a Sheesh Mahal or Mirror palace like the one we visited in Jaipur, but not open to the public.

At the top of the fort, we have the Musamman Burj, which is an octagonal tower with a courtyard facing the Taj Mahal. You can make out the domes of the Taj in the fog.

In the meeting area,there are two benches : one made of white marble for Shah Jahan and another made of black marble (onyx) for his son Aurangzeb.

Story Time:
Shah Jahan was kept on house arrest in this tower by Aurangzeb(not a bad deal considering how beautiful his chamber is, with an awesome view of Taj Mahal), and later he died here. One story is that, Auragzeb assassinated all his siblings for his greed for the throne. Shah Jahan wished to get another Taj constructed in black marble for himself, next to the white one and this posed a threat to the already deprecating wealth of the empire. Hence his son kept him under house arrest.

And according to another story (which according to our guide, is the true story), Aurangzeb kept Shajhan imprisoned, so that he will not have any more offsprings from his other wives and thereby pose a threat to his throne.



Here is something interesting
: In this arch you can see stars, that depict Christianity; lotus, that depicts Hinduism and the typical Mughal motif.

Taj Mahal

We got down at the parking lot available for Taj visitors. There were many electric autos waiting to take people to Taj. You will be surrounded by people claiming as guides offering to help you. They were quoting steep charges, so we decided to not hire any. We got into an electric auto and came to know that Taj is closed to public till around 1.30pm. So we were dropped off at the Khadi emporium in the premise. The products made and sold here includes mosquito repellent bed sheets made of natural bamboo fiber and banana fiber saris. We didn’t have plans to buy any of these and resumed towards Taj. On the way another guide approached us who quoted a reasonable price(I think it was 200 or 250 Rs), so we hired him.

We were baffled to see the humongous crowd and the long queue for the entry, even on a Monday. Our guide, took us to another entry gate at the back side of the Taj where the crowd was less. But the waiting time for security check was too long and it was another hour before we entered the compound. Now what can I say, I have never noticed the tiny humans in any of the online pictures of Taj and therefore never contemplated that the structure is so colossal. And let me tell you, hiring a guide is a good idea because we wouldn’t have known about this view and taken this video otherwise.

You have to leave your slippers outside in a counter and enter barefooted or wear the socks sold here to enter the tomb. We decided to go barefooted. It was sunny but not very hot. We followed the queue while taking in the beauty of the garden and the mausoleum. Apart from the floral motifs with precious stone inlay work, what showcases the craftsman ship at that era, are the verses of Quran framing each arch.

Eventhough it looks like painted calligraphy, each letter is carved out of black marble, and inlaid in white marble, even the smallest dot. The perfection of the craftsmanship is mind blowing. Also the size of the letters are bigger towards the top and what looks like parallel lines, are actually extending outwards. So when a person looks at it from the bottom, it gives the illusion of the letters being the same size as at the top as in the bottom, framed by parallel lines.

Laid inside the chamber, are the false coffins of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan. The original coffins are at a lower level and is not open to public.

There was an old man inside the chamber who showed us the reflections from the precious stone inlay work, using a pen torch. He also called out our names loudly, to demonstrate the echo. The lattice work in single marble slabs are intricate and exquisite.

By the time we got out of the Taj premises, we were starving. But our guide wanted to take us to the famous Agra petha shop, before letting us go. So once you are walking out, you will see many small shops with people calling out to you for buying mini Taj replicas and Agra pethas. They sell the pethas for as less as 100Rs per box. But our guide said that these are not authentic and are made from bottle gourds/cucumber.

He took us to this very small shop in a corner where the shop keeper seemed quite uninterested in us. A boy in the shop started cutting out small pieces of the different flavored pethas from plain ones to mango, rose, butterscotch and even paan flavored ones for us to taste. The owner claimed that these were authentic and organic made from ash gourd and was priced at around 300-450 Rs per box depending on the flavor. We took a box of plain pethas which had rose water syrup.
Unlike the pethas I have tried in South India, which is too sweet with crusty sugar coating, these were mildly sweet and drenched in slightly sticky syrup.

Next we walked around looking for the restaurants we had short listed with the help of Zomato. But as it turns out most of these were closed by now and we had to settle for the first veg restaurant we saw around.

Buland Darwaza :

After our late lunch, we were not too sure that we can make it to the famous Fatehpur Sikri and Bhuland Darwaza on our way back to Jaipur. We reached the parking lot available in Fatehpur Sikri, at around 4.30pm and we knew that the ticket counter closes at 5pm. The autowalas around started quoting steep fares for just 1km and so we avoided them and started walking towards the place. Now when you do that, we prepared to have the guides and auto drivers follow and stalk you throughout negotiating for prices. Finally we caved and got into one auto that quoted the least and already 2 men claiming to be guides were sitting with the driver in front. One of the guys, who was a local with red betal covered mouth, offered to show us around. We asked him about the tickets and he said he will take care of it.

The auto took us till the steps of Buland Darwaza and left. There was no ticket counter around and we followed this guy inside through the gigantic gateway. Buland Darwaza is the highest gateway(42 steps leading to this 40m structure) in the world and is the main entrance to the palace. Passing the gateway we came to a courtyard with the tomb of Salim Chisti at its center, made of white marble.

Behind this, there is a courtyard full of tombstones.

The ‘so called’ guide took us to a silk shawl seller sitting next to the tomb, who wanted us to buy the shawls to place over the tomb so that our wishes comes true. We courteously dismissed the offer as these plain clothes were priced at Rs 1500 and above. People also tie strings at the latticed walls of the tomb for their wishes to come true. We did not go inside the tomb chambers. Instead we sat on the steps and listened to the beautiful sufi songs sung by a group of musicians, in the courtyard colored by the setting sun.

As it was getting late, we expressed our concern to the guide in getting tickets to visit the palace areas, but he again assured that he will take care of it and took us next to a house near the entrance of the gate where his family sold curios made of marble. We just looked around and didn’t buy anything. When we came out, he said that’s all there is to see and asked for his fee. Since we had already done our research on the area, we argued that he didn’t take us to the palace areas and other structures around. He then apologetically admitted that the ticket counter is already closed and we realized that he was trying to fool us by just taking us here and calling it a day. We payed him just half of what we had agreed on and returned back to the parking lot in an auto. So if you are planning to visit Fatehpur Sikri, reach here before 4 and visit the palace grounds first and then come to Buland Darwaza. Don’t let these fake guides fool you.

We started our journey back, tired but happy to have visited the Taj. The last thing on our check list was to try the famous Laal Maas from Jaipur. We had shortlisted two restaurants and finalized ‘The Spice Court’, as per the suggestion of our driver. He dropped us in front of this courtyard garden restaurant and we were lucky to get seats without having prior reservation.

The Laal Maas or the spicy red lamb curry was worth the wait. The lamb was cooked to perfection, that it almost melted in the mouth. The gravy was red but not too spicy and was the perfect accompaniment for hot rotis.

By the time we finished the dinner it was around 10.30pm and we had to wait for another 1 hour before we got an Ola Auto. All the autos we booked were beig canceled by the drivers after 15-20min. But finally we got one and reached back at the hotel nearing midnight. We crashed in the bed, hoping to wake up completely rested the next day.

Things to remember:

1. Incase you go with your hotel to make travel arrangements for you(Jaipur to Agra), make sure you directly approach the head of staff or in our case the owner herself. Because incase you ask a receptionist to arrange a cab(as we did at first), they will usually hire someone who will give them commission and the driver will quote a higher amount to cover this.
2. There are a lot of dhabas on the way to Agra. So ask your driver to stop at one of these, rather than going with his suggestion of restaurant.
3. Always stick to the plan and don’t let your drive decide where to stop first.
4. Don’t hire a guide at Fatehpur Sikri.
5. Do bargain with the auto walas before hiring any as they will come around for nominal rate if you stick to your price.
6. Don’t buy Agra pethas from the street vendors. Buy only from authentic shops.
7. Don’t hire a guide whose rate is more than 250Rs. They quote from Rs 1000 and will try to fool you. But will come around if you just walk away.
8. Travel light and always carry skincare wipes and water for quick refreshment.
9. Don’t forget sunscreen.
10. Have an itinerary planned out after reading travel blogs and videos. Having a preplanned list of things to do and restaurants to try always helps.

You might also be interested in:

Day 1 : The grandeur of The Pink City
Day2 : A walk through the art, architecture and history