A 1.5km line stretching as far out as the eye can see; sarees (the traditional cloth of cotton or silk worn mostly by Hindu women in South Asia), with mirrors that glitter in the tinsel light; polished Rajasthani shoes and a sea of crisp, colourful turbans; making it to the city of lakes during the festival of lights, Diwali, has its own delights. The mornings are punctuated with the peal of temple bells and the mechanised roar of the newly installed electric drum, streets lamps carry miles of festoons, every house is lit up with the joy of children scurrying to grab the last bite of the delectable local fried gulab jamuns (deep-fried cottage cheese balls boiled in a sugar syrup).
Head out to the less explored. Yes, you can get the picture-perfect postcard finish at the Lake Palace, the enviable selfie with impeccable opulence at the City Palace and a romantic boat ride on Lake Pichola.
But have you tried befriending a local artist who shows you so much affection that you are greeted with a customised portrait and card with artwork that is of super rare calibre? Were you regaled with stories of how the Mewar tradition of war extends to their weddings (why else would a groom need to carry a sword, ‘drink’ his mother’s milk and set out to the city palace to strike their sword against a statue of the elephant god, Ganesha, remover of obstacles?). Have you just lazed around at the ghats (a flight of steps leading down to a river) and paused to wonder at how the golden rays of the setting sun bounce off the ripples made by your feet encircling its surface?
Go off the beaten track, befriend an Udaipuri, risk the adventure of a late night bike ride across town, race up the one of the many hillocks to marvel at the glittering city below (Karni Mata and many other temples, right near the Fateh Sagar lake) and experience the joy, even for a short while, of stepping out of your comfortable city life and truly appreciating the grit, the talent and the beauty of a hardy people, a people of lakes and deserts.
Places to visit:
City Palace, Jagdish Temple, several palace complexes in the middle of Lake Pichola such as Jag Mandir and Taj Lake Palace, Saheliyon-ki-Bari (a regal pleasure garden with a delightful set of fountains that really set off the romantic mood!), Monsoon Palace (or Sajjangarh—a little away from the city centre and the views from the top are honestly best during the monsoon as the name suggests!), jog around the Fateh Sagar Lake and marvel at the observatory in the middle of it, Gangaur Ghat (the site of many a Hollywood/Bollywood film, such as Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani in 2013, Octopussy in 1983, The Fall in 2006 amongst many more), Karni Mata temple (there is a ropeway to get there, which costs about INR160/person, which had a waiting time of 1 hr when I went, so I skipped this to go to the Deen Dayal Upadhyay garden opposite. With an entry ticket of INR10, the sweeping views of the valley and lake below was the best ROI on time and money in a long time!), Ambrai Ghat, Shilpgram (a crafts village, check for whether it is in season), Neemach Mata temple
Places to eat at:
Almost all restaurants have the most breathtaking view of the lake, so there is plenty to choose from. However, for the ones that evoked pure love, for the food and for the company, I’d recommend the following:
1. Breakfast at Jaiwana Haveli/Rainbow restaurant, which directly overlooks the Lake Palace
2. Lal maas (mutton curry with yoghurt and spices) at Ambrai (make prior reservations)
3. A really special date at Upré
4. Ker sangri (a traditional Rajasthani dish made with dried ker berry and sangri leaves) and bharta daal (lentils) at Charcoal
Food input credits: Gautam Tewari and Gaurav Gandhi