Udaipur is a city of two different worlds – chaotic streets and relaxing rooftops. Down in the street you will find motorbikes and tuks tuks playing the same old game of whoever honks first, goes first and shopkeepers enticing you into their clothing/spice/food stall to make a sale. Pedestrians weave in and out of the crowds while tourists stand around looking at maps on their phones and get honked at for messing up the system (we tried not to be the latter but it’s easier said than done).
The busiest and most touristy area in Udaipur was across the lake from our hostel. It had the same feel as Old Delhi or even downtown Toronto – streams of people fruitlessly trying to get to ahead of a never-ending crowd. We often popped over to that side via a small pedestrian bridge for meals or to visit the Jagdish Temple, a small Hindu temple open to the public. One thing that was new for us on the ground in Udaipur were the cows! We hadn’t seen many cows in Delhi but they were everywhere in Udaipur. They roam the streets and don’t even blink an eye as cars and tuk tuks zoom past. Once you get used to it, their presence in the street feels just as natural as any bicycle or pedestrian. I’ll let Steve speak to that more in his upcoming and highly anticipated “Brews and Bovines” blog post.
On our side of the lake, things were quieter and friendlier. We roamed around a lot without seeing any other Westerners. The locals liked to talk to us and tell us about their businesses. We met one art school teacher who proudly showed us his shop’s #2 ranking on TripAdvisor due to the quality of his students’ work.
The other world of Udaipur is up on the rooftop. Every building in the city seems to have a rooftop patio with a view. Restaurants, hotels and family homes are all built upwards to maximize the views of the lake and numerous surrounding palaces. In doing so, they create a cool multi-layered skyline. We ate almost every meal on a rooftop patio and grew to have some favourites. One nice thing we noticed was that rooftop patios are not something reserved for tourists or the elite classes in Udaipur. We saw many family homes in our neighbourhood had rooftop patios that were used for everyday life – eating, relaxing, hanging laundry, and even drying chilies.
Udaipur also shines at night. We both agreed that Udaipur has one of the best city skylines either of us have ever seen at all times of the day or night.
Even though Udaipur was very relaxing and friendly, we did end up with a few funny stories along the way including almost falling for a classic Udaipur sales trick. It goes something like this…
A friendly guy approached us and claimed was friends with our hotel owner and wanted to make sure we were having a good time in Udaipur. He said there was going to be a royal wedding the next day with many famous people and a procession of elephants. He would be glad to show us the best spot to watch from, which just happens to also be the spot where Dame Judi Dench came when she visited Udaipur recently (James Bond fans will know that Udaipur’s Taj Lake Palace was featured in Octopussy so there is a tenuous 007 connection with the Judi Dench name drop). At that point our friendly local informed us that he just happened to be the tailor that made the Dame a custom tunic while she was here. Would you like to see pictures? Of course you would! Well, they just happened to be in an album in his shop which is right across the street! What luck!
Once in the shop, we were presented with a lovely picture of the Dame in a tunic (she was by herself so really could have been taken by anyone anywhere but I digress). Doesn’t she look lovely? Wouldn’t you like to have a custom tunic like that? [Enter speech on how fabulous their custom tunics are and how fabulous they would look on us.]
Yes, quite an elaborate scheme to get us to the shop. Luckily we did not succumb to the ploy and just thanked them and left. It wasn’t until later that Steve tried to look up the details of the royal wedding and found out that it doesn’t exist but it is a common story to get tourists into shops! We saw our good friend again after that but he didn’t try to engage us. The whole experience turned out to be pretty funny!
Another good sorry from Udaipur was how we managed to get our SIM cards, finally. Our hostel owner told us that if we walked over to Jagdish Temple area there would be a ton of shops selling SIM cards so we headed over. We wandered around for a bit but couldn’t find anything. Eventually we asked a guy at his electronics shop and he said it was just a bit further. A few minutes later a different guy pulled up beside us on his motorbike and asked if we were looking for SIM cards. Turns out the electronics guy saw us walk too far past the shop, so he called his friend who owned the SIM card shop and told him to track us down for the sale. The SIM card shop was tucked back on a side street and I don’t think we ever would have seen it on our own.
What we didn’t know was that in order to get SIM cards, we needed a passport-sized photo to submit with our file. So, the SIM card guy had to walk us over to the local photo shop. It didn’t look like much from the front but the owner took us in the back and he has a whole photography set up with the lighting and backdrop. He took our photos and even photoshopped them to make us look better and then printed them on the spot with one of those little portable printers. Finally, the SIM card guy said it would be 800 rupees (about $18) for the cheapest prepaid plan – 100 minutes, unlimited texts and 1.5 GB of data PER DAY for the next 30 days! That is what I use in data each month back home so we jumped at that. We later found out that was the ‘tourist’ price but oh well. Still an amazing deal by our standards.
After three nights in Udaipur, we decided to move on to Jaipur. Jaipur is known as the “Pink City” because of the colour of many of the buildings in the old town. It is also known for great shopping and several historical forts. We were sad to leave but interested to see how another Indian city would compare to our very different experiences in Delhi and Udaipur.