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Rediscovering Rajasthan: Exploring the architecture, ghats and sunsets of the city of lakes, Udaipur

Editor’s note: You may have heard the saying ‘the journey is the destination’, but some travellers actually put that philosophy into practice. Presenting, #FTravellers — on-the-road (or air/sea) dispatches from travel enthusiasts on long journeys.

The travellers we're now featuring are Ambika Vishwanath and Hoshner Reporter of The reDiscovery Project. Ambika and Hoshner are doing an in-depth journey through Rajasthan, and will be sharing their travel journals on Firstpost.

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Dispatch 1

Text by Ambika Vishwanath | Photos by Hoshner Reporter

“Welcome, please, only to have a look, not to buy, you want a room, only 500 rupees” familiar refrains of any backpacker town across India surrounded us as we heaved our backpacks up the marginal slope to our guest house. Bikes hurtled past us down the narrow alley lined with slightly dusty stores selling paintings, antiques and bright red and yellow mirror work clothing and wall hangings. There might have been elements of a familiar backpacker zone but we were definitely in Rajasthan. A few metres down the road we reached our guest house and room up on the fourth floor with a stunning view of the iconic Pichola lake and beautiful City Palace on the opposite bank. Dusk was upon us and lights were beginning to appear on the palace and the many havelis around in the old city of Udaipur, as the faint outlines of the Aravalis faded into the darkness. As we sat on the terrace of the guest house, check by jowl with other houses and connected rooftops, breathing in the cold clear winter air, our Rajasthan adventure had begun.

 Rediscovering Rajasthan: Exploring the architecture, ghats and sunsets of the city of lakes, Udaipur

Twilight at the Lake Palace

Over the next few weeks as we traverse parts of this vast colourful state past massive forts and through Rabari and Bishnoi villages to Jodhpur and beyond to Bikaner at the edge of the Thar and the museum-like havelis of Shekhavati, we will bring you tales of our travels, but for now we begin in the lake city of Udaipur. Founded by Maharana Udai Singh II, who shifted the capital here, Udaipur is well known as the city of lakes and has also been given the strange moniker of Venice of the East. I am not quite sure of that tag, which might be better suited to a place like Sunderbans or the backwaters of Kerala, but it has served to boost tourism. We spend our first couple of days simply walking the old streets and alleyways, with the typical Rajasthani style of lattice windows and tiny balconies jutting out of the few remaining old havelis. Our guide during the walking tour we opt for, run by the friendly chaps at Go Stops hostel, points out the differences between the many balconies and windows, the ones within the walls of the old city have a larger one for men and smaller one for women with a sun and moon carved above signifying a Rajput household. Outside the walls of the old city, once guarded by nine gates, lattice windows are similar but without the sun and moon. We also hung out at the Udaipur World Music Festival which had some funky acts from Cuba, Israel, parts of Africa and India. Set against the backdrop of the Fateh Sagar lake, it’s worth a visit next year if they do it again.

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The colourful streets of Udaipur

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Washing of clothes at the ghats is expressly forbidden

It’s a cool old city with small ghats around the lake where bathing and washing of clothes is expressly forbidden, a decree once put in place by the royal family. It’s a good decree, we have seen many ghat areas and rivers across the country destroyed. The Maharana, who comes from an unbroken line of the Mewar dynasty, though now without the power, seems to hold quite a bit of sway in the city and is well respected. Many of the old havelis around the lake, that once belonged to members of the royal court have been spruced up and become boutique hotels, cute little cafes have sprung up serving everything from banana Nutella pancakes, pasta, typical Indian fare to Rajasthani thalis. Food is great, though a bit pricey if you are on a budget like us and we become regulars at Millets of Mewar, that offers wholesome organic food with produce only sourced locally. Touts and guides are everywhere offering their services, but none as pushy, a polite no is met with a smile, something rather rare in such a popular tourist destination, and it’s one more reason I really like this town. A tiny walking bridge connect one side of the lake to the other at its narrowest point with the floating Lake Palace in the far distance. Now an exclusive Taj hotel, the palace was the summer residence of the kings, and purportedly a space for young princes to frolic with their consorts away from prying eyes of the court and public. The hotel is now unfortunately closed to non-resident guests following the 2008 Mumbai attacks, but one can contend gazing out at the floating white beauty from the many ghats around the lake, the Ambrai being one of our favourite spots especially at sunset.

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The City Palace at night

With brilliant graffiti on the walls of an old temple, Ambrai ghat is possibly one of the best spots to view the sunset over the City Palace, Pichola and the Lake Palace, apart from the Monsoon Palace perched high up a hill above the city. We found ourselves there most evenings, with local kids playing the guitar and singing, a few tourists and the cute but rather amusing pre-wedding shoot groups. A somewhat well-known wedding destination for folks in north India, Udaipur has eclipsed into fame after a recent spate of famous weddings and it seemed like everyone wanted a pre-wedding photograph with the City Palace glowing in the sunset.

Read more from the series here.

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Updated Date: Mar 20, 2019 20:55:02 IST