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We roll in to Udaipur
Udaipur was the last stop on our two-wheeled itinerary, and wasn’t very far from our previous halt in Chittorgarh. I’d picked up a nasty cold the previous day, though, so we took it easy on the road. The result was that we finally rolled into our homestay, Sun Heritage Home, around lunchtime. After a quick check in, we left our luggage in our room on the terrace, and (after stopping to admire the view of the City Palace from the roof) headed out for a bite to eat.
Easing in to Udaipur, and saying goodbye to our faithful steed
Lunch was at the Oladar Village Café around the corner. There, we realized just how geared towards tourism the entire city was. Even though we weren’t in the really touristy part of town, everything had a somewhat hipster vibe, as if everything and everyone had been marinating in the thousands of international cultures that constantly flow through the city. We even overheard a young professional on another table coordinating a group tour of some sort, while puffing a cigarette and picking at some sandwiches and coffee. We, on the other hand, ordered something local, and were a bit disappointed in the result.
What remained of our first day was spent recovering from the last two weeks on the road.
The rest of day was spent relaxing and recovering from the last two weeks. Also, my bike was being picked up to be shipped back home, so we couldn’t really go anywhere until that happened. It was finally on its way home by around dinnertime, leaving us (meaning me) feeling a little lost without our dependable steed. But still, life goes on, and we needed to have dinner. So we walked around the corner again, to a cosy-looking heritage hotel called Hotel Mahendra Prakash.
The hotel itself looked wonderful, and we sat outside on the lawn to eat. The food wasn’t anything too special, though, and neither was the service. The staff were probably left over from when the hotel was still a nobleman’s mansion. But we didn’t mind all that much, because we had some occasional visits from the in-house dachshund who guarded the kitchen. Dinner done, we turned in, looking forward to some exploring the next day.
Seeing Udaipur like the locals
The next morning, after a bit of breakfast on our terrace, we headed out towards the Jagdish temple, in the heart of the old city. We decided to walk through the little bylanes instead of taking the main road, because we wanted to see old Udaiur really looked like. And it was fascinating. Tiny houses squeezed together, many of them painted blue, and some with traditional wall art. And some still retaining the traditional Rajasthani architecture. But the walking itself wasn’t easy, with the tight little alleys constantly going up- and down-hill.
The little bylanes had tiny houses squeezed together, many painted blue, and some with traditional wall art.
The road around the Jagdish temple was a shock in comparison. The traffic! The noise! The hordes! So we took refuge in the tiny Radha Krishna Restaurant next door, and fortified ourselves with tea and kachoris. Incidentally, we had had breakfast here during our last visit to Udaipur a few years ago. It’s become somewhat posh since then.
On a street food trail
While nursing our tea and kachoris, we hit upon what we wanted to do that day: we wanted to find some nice jalebis to eat! So we asked around about where we could get the best jalebis. Of course, there were some conflicting opinions, but the name that came up most often was Jai Bhole, at Delhi Gate (here’s the Google Maps location). So off we went. It wasn’t far, and our Google Maps navigator helped, but it was hot, and the little lanes we walked through were as crowded as the main roads.
We asked around about where we could get the best jalebis, and the name Jai Bhole came up most often.
It was an interesting walk, though, and we got to see more of what Udaipur was like without the tourists. But what struck us was the sheer number of shops selling sweets and fried snacks. And in massive quantities! If we had stopped to eat one single thing at each shop we encountered, we would’ve been there for days! Still, Jai Bhole was our destination, and after getting a little side-tracked at a tiny jewellery shop, we finally got there.
Jalebis at Jai Bhole
Jai Bhole was a very basic place, just like the others we’d seen to far, but quite a bit bigger. And far more popular. So much so that there were wooden benches lined up outside for people to sit and eat, despite the traffic going by on the main road. So that’s what we did, too: ignored the traffic, and tucked into our hot jalebis. They were good, for sure, but I have to say I preferred the ones in Bundi. These ones weren’t as sweet, and had a slightly sour aftertaste from the fermented batter (which is common, but which I’m not all that fond of). Still, we were happy to have found some good jalebis.
Hunting dhokla, finding roti-chana
Having tasted the sweet, we now craved the savoury. But for some reason, we decided we wanted to eat dhokla, something that’s not really traditional in Rajasthan. Anyway, after some asking, we were pointed in the direction of Vasudev Doodh Bhandar (here’s the location). We were told that the cart in front served good dhoklas. So our street food trail continued.
It was even hotter at that point, so we made our way through the crowded streets as quickly as we could. After a few wrong turns, we finally got there, only to find out that the dhoklas were sold out and only roti–chana was to be had. Since beggars can’t be choosers, that’s what we ate. We did also find some dhoklas a few shops down, but they weren’t great. Ah well, at least we could boast of having eaten kachoris, jalebis, roti-chana and dhoklas, all in the course of a single morning.
Dusk at Hanuman Ghat, possibly the quietest spot in Udaipur
That evening, it was back to the old city again. This time, we headed across the footbridge over the narrow northern bit of the lake, to Hanuman Ghat (location). This was the area we’d stayed in during our last visit, and it was every bit as chaotic and crowded as last time. The fact that this peninsula has lots of upmarket hotels and restaurants doesn’t help things a bit. But sitting on the shores of the lake next to the peaceful Hanuman Ghat temple, it was easy to forget the chaos a few metres outside the entrance and across the lake.
Sitting on the shores of the lake next to the peaceful Hanuman Ghat temple, it was easy to forget the chaos a few metres outside.
Assembly-line thali dinner at Udaipur’s famous Natraj Dining Hall
On the way back, we had to take a detour because one of the tiny lanes was blocked with traffic. Again, things became much quieter away from the main tourist scene. Along the way, we got it into our heads to have dinner at the popular Natraj Dining Hall. Our auto rickshaw took a lot longer to get there than we expected, because of one-way restrictions in the old city, but we finally got there.
As we ate, the place quickly filled up, until people were standing around and waiting.
And we were lucky that we got there early. The place was pretty empty when we sat down, but as we ate, it quickly filled up, until people were standing around and waiting. All through, the waiters bustled about serving everyone their bottomless Rajasthani-Gujarati thali and using hand gestures to tell each other when something needed refilling. If ever there was a combination of restaurant and assembly line, this was it! And the food was pretty good too, though far too much!
Happy and full, we headed back in another auto rickshaw (though we could have walked, we later figured out). Back on the terrace, we proceeded to work our way through a quarter bottle of Old Monk while admiring the view of the illuminated City Palace in the distance. A day well spent!
Taking it easy on our last day in Rajasthan
The next day—our last full day in Rajasthan—we decided to take it easy. That morning, we strolled through the nearby Gulab Bagh park, seeing what sights were on offer. Sadly, the little toy train that chugs around the park was on the blink, so we had to walk. Still, it was peaceful and there was lots of shade. And in the middle of it all was the lovely Saraswati Library building, sitting at one end of a nice lawn.
Lunch with a view of Udaipur and Sajjangarh
For lunch, we took an auto rickshaw out of the city to the Hotel Fateh Garh. This one came recommended by a friend, so we thought we’d take a look. It turned out to be quite some distance away, on a hill on the other side of the lake. The hotel itself was very impressive, built in the heritage style, and incorporating lots of the original rocks from the hill into its architecture.
The monsoon palace looked down on us while swallows took quick sips from the pool and an Egyptian vulture circled far overhead.
We had a few drinks on the pool terrace, with the view of Lake Pichola and Udaipur in the distance. On another side, Sajjangarh (the ‘monsoon palace’) looked down on us the highest hill around. And above, swallows flitted about, diving down to take quick sips from the surface of the pool, while an endangered Egyptian vulture circled far overhead. The only thing that was slightly out of place were the two vaguely Balinese statues by the pool, but we were in a forgiving mood. Lunch was another traditional thali, this time with dishes from all over Rajasthan. Nice enough, and made nicer by the view. We were quite satisfied as we trundled back in the same auto rickshaw, who had waited for us.
Our last dinner, on the shores of sparkling Lake Pichola
That night, for our last dinner in Rajasthan, we headed back over the footbridge to Hanuman Ghat. This time, though, we continued on past to Ambrai Ghat on the southern tip of the peninsula. We had a dinner reservation at the Ambrai restaurant in the Amet Haveli hotel, right on the edge of the lake.
Our table was on the edge of the lake, and the City Palace and the Lake Palace cast their reflections on the dark water.
We had some trouble getting there, but the setting was magical. Our table was right on the edge of the lake, and both the City Palace and the Lake Palace cast their glittering reflections on the dark water. The imitation cannon on the Ambrai Ghat next door startled us when it first boomed out into the night, but we got used to that soon enough. While the setting at Ambrai was incredible, the food was just OK, and the service was a let-down. But it was worth it just for the view, and that’s probably why things will never change. Still, it wasn’t the worst way to spend our last night in Udaipur.
After two weeks on the road on our motorcycle, Udaipur made for a great last stop. Whether it was exploring the city’s bylanes and food or kicking back to a beautiful view, it let us see the sights and take it easy in equal measure. But there’s so much more to see and do, so we’ll probably have to go back a third time.
Also read: Jaipur: Our motorcycle tour kicks off
IQ’s top tips for Udaipur
- The old city around Chand Pole and the Jagdish temple has the biggest concentration of heritage, but is also the most touristy.
- There’s accommodation for all budgets to be had in the old city, but if you don’t like crowds, there’s great places to stay just outside the old city as well.
- Use your GPS to navigate through the old city. Sometimes, it’s closer to walk than to take an auto rickshaw because of all the one-way roads.
- Udaipur is full of art and artists, so you’ll love it if that’s your scene. Just ask around a bit before you settle on a price for something to buy.
- The lake cruises from the City Palace jetty are expensive. You can get far cheaper rates at the government jetty a little further down, though they might not be as posh.
- If you’re looking for some quiet time by the lake shore, head to the Hanuman Ghat temple. Both times we went, the courtyard outside had just a few devotees, and they left quite quickly.
- If you’re dreaming of a meal at the Lake Palace, don’t. Only guests who are staying there are allowed on the island.
- Radha Krishna Restaurant next to the Jagdish temple is a great little hole-in-the-wall café for a quick glass of tea and local snack.
- The restaurant and dining hall at Natraj are on two separate floors. If you want the thali, head to the dining hall. If you want to order a-la-carte, then the restaurant is for you.
Udaipur is full of shops that sell sweets and all sorts of vegetarian fried snacks. They’re usually called ‘mishthaan’ (‘sweets’) shops, but they serve savouries as well, and are a great place for a quick bite. They might not be great for vegans, though, because most Indian sweets incorporate dairy in some way. The snacks should be OK, but it’s best to check that they don’t have ghee (clarified butter) in them.
Most of the action in Udaipur is centered around the shores of Lake Pichola near the city palace. So if you can find a place to stay in that area, you can walk to most of the popular spots and avoid having to take an auto-rickshaw.
On the road
In case you’re wondering how I took the videos while on the road… First, I tried strapping my GoPro Hero5 onto my helmet’s face guard with a few of these useful extra-long Velcro-type straps, but that threw my helmet’s balance off. So I alternated between strapping it onto my chest with an elastic chest harness, and mounting it on my bike’s crash guard with a handlebar mount. I used a protective case too, and strapped it in place, just in case. The Hero5 doesn’t last too long on a single charge, so I had to take along an extra battery and an external charger. I used these high-performance microSDXC memory cards for the hours of footage (Tip: You can use them for your phone too, and they come with an adapter to fit DSLRs and card readers).
Safety always comes first for me, so I made sure I was kitted out with some good safety gear while riding. This is the gear I was using during our motorcycle tour, and I had absolutely no problem with any of it.