Udaipur – City Palace and Jagdish Temple

On our second day in Udaipur, we ran up to the rooftop to take pictures as soon as the sun came up.

View of Udaipur from the rooftop of our hotel

The electricity was off in the city for an hour or two (this happens every morning, and turned out to be the case in all the cities we visited) so we wandered around the deserted streets a little before going to eat breakfast at Cafe Namaste, a rooftop restaurant on a nearby street. We climbed four flights or so of narrow stone steps in an old haveli to get to the restaurant, but it was worth it to enjoy the excellent coffee and European-style pastries (especially the cinnamon bun, which was a nice contrast to all the Indian food we’d had). It was deserted when we walked in, but a few other western tourists showed up while we were dining.

We spent the morning at the City Palace with a guide. The palace was built by the maharaja in 1559 and it’s the largest of it’s type in the state of Rajasthan. It’s very beautiful and large, and it’s built on a hilltop with a view of the city. We hired an official guide at the city gate, and he turned out to be very good – we definitely recommend using a guide because the palace is so big.

Entrance to the City Palace, Udaipur

Just inside the gate of the city palace

View of the city from inside the city palace

Gate inside the City Palace

The two of us at the City Palace

Beautiful inner room at the palace

Rob with our guide at the City Palace

Another beautiful doorway at the City Palace

Side wall of the City Palace

Painting on an outside wall of the City Palace

View of the City Palace from the outside, heading back towards the main gate

When we finished at the City Palace, we wandered around the streets of the Old City for a little while.

School kids on the street near the city palace in Udaipur

Then we stopped for lunch at a small, inexpensive (but pretty good) vegetarian restaurant that had a great view of the nearby Jagdish Temple.

View of Jagdish Temple from our restaurant at lunch

Another view of the temple and surrounding rooftops from our lunch table

After lunch we walked around Jagdish Temple. There were not many other people around because it wasn’t one of the main prayer times. We were required to take our shoes off, but the stone was quite hot so we made a quick loop around the temple, taking pictures from all sides.

Walking around Jagdish Temple

Looking up at the temple

Small building on the side of the temple area

After the temple we walked down the street to the edge of the lake so we could get a boat tour around Lake Pichola. We ended up in a small crowded boat with group of Asian tourists, all of us jockeying for the best position to take pictures of the sights as they passed by.

View of Udaipur from our tour boat on Lake Pichola

Another look at the Lake Palace Hotel (luxury Taj hotel) from our boat

When we finished the boat tour we walked a block back to our hotel, and arranged for our driver to take us to Monsoon Palace to see the sunset. Monsoon Palace is an abandoned palace on a hillside high above the city, and it has magnificent views. The sunset wasn’t as spectacular as we had hoped but the view was definitely worth it.

Walking up the steps to the Monsoon Palace, and looking back at the palace grounds

Looking out over the countryside from the Monsoon Palace as we wait for the sun to set

The Monsoon Palace, Udaipur - some people went up in the tower although we stayed below with most of the other tourists

The view from the lookout point at Monsoon Palace

The sun setting in the distance

View of the side of the palace as we walked back down to the car

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at the nearby Fateh Sagar Lake to take more pictures. It was nearly dark, and several other people, cows and street vendors were on the side of the busy road where we stopped, just hanging out.

When we got back, we went to Jagat Niwas Haveli again for a nice dinner. Afterwards we stopped into the haveli/store that was right next door to ours to admire some miniature paintings. We talked for a while with the owner, who was also the artist. There are dozens of stores that sell miniature paintings in Udaipur. However, he told us that his work is hanging in the City Palace (and showed us the news article to prove it). We liked his work, so we decided to buy a few pieces, which he insisted on signing. It took a while to negotiate the prices, which is typical in India – everything is negotiable (including hotels, as we found out after the fact!). We’re not sure we got a great deal but it was an interesting experience.

While Rob was settling up with the owner, Shana chatted with his wife Sushma, who holds weekly cooking classes. She gave a quick tour of the class kitchen and showed off her collections of spices and tea, and Shana bought a little Kashmiri saffron and black Assam tea from her.

We were exhausted (as always at the end of these long days) and so we went to bed to get a good night’s sleep before leaving Udaipur in the morning. We had previously arranged for a driver/car for the next few days to take us to Jodhpur for a day, and then to Jaisalmer, and finally back to Jodhpur. So, when we woke up in the morning, we made one last trip to Cafe Namaste for some excellent coffee and breakfast, and then we said goodbye to Udaipur as we started out on our five hour drive to Jodhpur.

Last view of Udaipur from the roof of our hotel

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First Day in Udaipur

The next day after we finished visiting Aurangabad, we flew to Udaipur via Mumbai. We got the chance to fly both Jet Airways and Air India,  two of India’s major domestic airlines. The planes seemed a little older than the ones in the United States but everything else was pretty similar. However, as we went through the gender-specific security check, we couldn’t help but notice that 99% of the travelers were male businessmen, and this observation also held true for the next four flights we took.

When we arrived in Udaipur, we had to take a major highway to get to the city, and we were immediately struck by how modern the road was compared to the roads we had seen in Aurangabad. Still, the Indian drivers completely ignore the lane lines, and you also see rickshaws and the occasional cow in the middle of the road – or people walking across the road even when the cars are all going 50km/hr.

Udaipur is built around Lake Pichola, and as we approached the city we could see many beautiful white buildings lining the lake.

Early morning view of Udaipur from the rooftop of our hotel

It turned out our hotel, Mewar Haveli, was in the Old City, which was right in the middle of the city and all the attractions. We chose Mewar Haveli because it’s a heritage hotel, and it was charming enough but a little below western standards. The room was ok and had a decent view of the lake, but it was fairly small and the sheets were stained with a few spots, which prompted a check for critters (we didn’t find any).  It was air-conditioned, though, and fairly clean.

Our room at Mewar Haveli in Udaipur

Another view of our room

The bathroom was quite small and the shower was right next to the toilet on the wall – there was no separation at all, so everything just gets wet when you shower. This turned out to be a normal set up in India, but it was new to us. Still, the view was nice and the location couldn’t be beat – and there was hot water and air conditioning. Also, our hotel had a cute rooftop cafe, of which there are many in Udaipur – the restaurants are all on rooftops to take advantage of the great views of the city and the lake. We didn’t eat there at all (we generally stuck to places recommended by the guidebooks) but we enjoyed the view.

Rooftop cafe at Mewar Haveli

View from the rooftop of Mewar Haveli in Udaipur

We had a very easy walk to the main attractions such as the City Palace and Jagdish Temple, which we would visit the next day. The streets outside our haveli, and throughout the Old City, were lined with touristy shops selling cheap scarves and clothes, lots of wood-carved figurines, and miniature paintings (a Rajasthani speciality).

The street outside our hotel in Udaipur's old city - the street is just big enough for a car

It was fun and challenging to wander down the twisty, narrow streets, looking into shops while trying to avoid cows, rickshaws, the occasional car, and the many motorbikes that roared past just inches away. Every vehicle belched a cloud of heavy smoke, and we were constantly working hard to avoid stepping in cow poop – but compared to Aurangabad, Udaipur was very clean and charming and had very little trash lining the streets.

Most of the attractions in Udaipur are reachable on foot, but we had arranged for a driver and car for the next few days for excursions and to take us to the next city. So, after we got settled at the hotel, we had a quick lunch at the Savage Garden restaurant (banana curry and falafel – a nice change from daal and curry!), and then we asked our driver to take us on an excursion to Nagda and Eklingji, two temple site that are both within 30 min of the city.

In Nagda, we stopped for a few minutes to see the ruins of the Saas Bahu, a 10th-century Vaishnavite twin temple. It was deserted and peaceful, but small, so we took a quick look and then jumped back in the car to head to Eklingji. Eklingji is a small marble complex made up of 108 temples, the first of which was built in A.D. 734. While we were waiting to get into the Eklingji temple we met some Indian ladies, checked out the local monkeys, and wandered around.

Women at Eklingji

The area in front of Eklingji temple complex - no cameras allowed inside

One of the many monkeys near Eklingji

When the temple complex opened, we headed inside with about 100 other people (all worshipers – we were the only tourists!). Men and women went in separately (women with heads covered), and then everyone walked counter-clockwise around the main temple (about 20×20), which houses a manifestation of Shiva. A group of musicians played music in the center area, while incense burned and people offered alms to the figures of the deities.

Outside of the main temple we wandered around to see the hundred or so other very small temples. Each temple (or shrine) was a simple carved structure about 5-10ft wide and 10-20ft high, with a deity in the middle and a small area for offerings.

After Eklingji, we headed back to Udaipur. We enjoyed a beautiful romantic dinner at the rooftop restaurant of the nearby Jagat Niwas Haveli. The haveli was quite a bit nicer than our own, though the rooms were twice as expensive. If we ever go to Udaipur again we will stay at Jagat Niwas instead – but at least we enjoyed two wonderful rooftop dinners there.

Jagat Niwas Haveli - rooftop cafe on the top

Rooftop restaurant at Jagat Niwas Haveli

The food was decent, with a very good aloo mater curry, and cold Kingfisher beer. The meat was a little strange (a little mealy but good spice), as we often found in India. We ended up eating vegetarian most of the time because the vegetarian dishes were far superior in taste and quality, and very satisfying.

Aloo mater (pea and potato curry), tandoori chicken, and naan

The view was amazing. The Lake Palace Hotel (the old palace, converted into a Taj luxury hotel where rooms costs at least $1000/night) glittered on the lake, and we had a nice view of the city palace too.

Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur

View of the palace from our dinner table at Jagat Niwas

On the way back to the hotel, we passed a few party rickshaws – speeding rickshaws with colored lights blaring Erasure or Depeche Mode (so strange!) with 2 or 3 people packed inside. They reminded us of the party buses that you can see around Boston and New York sometimes. There were also several street parties, which didn’t seem to attract too many people, but which played loud music accompanied by flashing lights in small spots in the Old City. We considered going to the late night prayer session at the nearby Jagdish Temple, but we were pretty worn out so we turned in early.  Coming next… day 2 in Udaipur.

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Part II: Aurangabad – Ajanta caves

On our second day in Aurangabad, we set out first thing in the morning for the Ajanta caves. Shana had a bit of an upset stomach, which we attributed to our lunch the day before, but it wasn’t too bad and didn’t keep us from any sightseeing. It was about a two hour drive, and along the way we got our first look at a roadside restroom, which was pretty horrific. It turned out it was much easier (and far more hygenic)  to stop by the side of the road! We also found out that bottled water should only cost about 25 Rs, whereas we had been paying 150 Rs at the Trident in Mumbai.

The drive was beautiful, and it was also interesting to see how our driver skillfully used his horn almost constantly to warn other cars of our approach. Indian drivers use both sides of the road and pass frequently, but once we understood how things worked it didn’t seem so crazy. We were lucky to have an extremely nice driver, Raju, who spoke English well and was very interested to talk with us along the way.

The Ajanta caves were also carved out of cliffs (like the Ellora caves that we had seen the day before), but they date all the way back to the 2nd century B.C. The caves at Ajanta are known for both the sculptures and paintings on the inside. We had been advised to avoid the main entrance (where there were crowds and beggars), so we took a more scenic route from a nearby hillside. We had to hike downhill on a well-worn path for about 30 minutes to reach the caves, and although it was very hot we enjoyed the beautiful scenery, and the occasional monkey sighting.

Looking at the Ajanta caves as we hike down the hill

The caves seemed far more intricate and ornate than the ones at Ellora, and there were also lots more tourists – both Indian and Western.

Outside of a cave

Buddhist monk posing for us outside one of the caves

Same monk inside the cave

Beautiful carvings on the cave wall

Inside another cave

At the end of the day we went back to our hotel, and ate dinner at the hotel’s Asian fusion noodle restaurant by the pool. It was recommended to us by some German travelers who we met at the caves, but the entrees we ordered turned out to be so hot (Thai chilies) that we couldn’t finish very much. It didn’t upset our stomachs, though, and we had a restful night. The next morning we flew back to Mumbai, and then caught a connecting flight to Udaipur where we spent the next few days. Overall, Aurangabad was an extremely poor and depressed town, but it was worth it to see the caves of Ellora and Ajanta.

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Part I: Aurangabad – Ellora Caves

The flight from Mumbai to Aurangabad was full, and although we were not sure what to expect, it was just like flying at home. On the drive to our hotel, the Lemon Tree, we noticed that the city is quite a bit more impoverished than Mumbai. There was a lot of trash lining the roads, and there didn’t seem to be any nice areas of town. We also noticed lots of cows wandering in the streets, seemingly oblivious to all the cars and rickshaws rushing past.

Our hotel was remarkably similar to a low-end Comfort Inn or Holiday Inn Express at home. It was squeaky clean, and true to it’s name, the entire place smelled like Lemon Pledge. We were a little disappointed that it wasn’t very charming, but on the other hand we were very glad that everything was spotless.

After a quick break at our hotel, we set off for the Ellora caves with our driver Raju. He was a very nice guy who spoke good English, and it was a short 30 minute drive. The Ellora caves are an amazing collection of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples that were carved out of the cliffs. The earliest caves date back to the 5th century A.D.

View of the Ellora caves (showing about 12 out of 16)

Inside of a cave at Ellora

We were so amazed by the caves that we spent a lot of time photographing the first few, not realizing that every cave was more ornate than the last. The largest cave with the most intricate carvings turned out to be cave no. 16, but it was hard to capture in photographs because of it’s size.

The outside of cave no. 16, a Hindu temple

Cave no. 16 from the inside

After several hours exploring the caves, we drove to Bibi-Ka-Maqbara which is a smaller replica of the Taj. It was built by a Mughal prince in tribute to his mother in the late 17th century. The sky is a little dark in our picture because we got our first taste of the receding monsoon while we were there.

Bibi Ka Maqbara

We ended our day with a wonderful meal at the very impressive and fancy Taj Hotel in Aurangabad, where we enjoyed some fabulous rogan josh (lamb curry) and naan.

Dinner at the Taj Aurangabad
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First Day in India – Mumbai

After stopping at the gym and enjoying a wonderful buffet breakfast at our hotel, we set off to see the city with the car that we had hired through the hotel. Our driver, Ganga, was very excited to show us the sights. Luckily it was a Sunday, so the traffic wasn’t bad at all. However, we quickly found out that there don’t seem to be any traffic laws (or lights) at all – everyone just goes as quickly as they can, and no one pays any attention to the lane markers. Still, it wasn’t nearly as bad as expected – but that might just be because we’re from Boston!

View from the car as we toured Mumbai

Our driver had an itinerary for us which pretty much matched our own, so we let him lead the way. However, we found that whenever we got out of the car, we were immediately approached by one or more people begging, or trying to sell us trinkets. Our driver was very protective, and he paid off at least one of the beggars to leave us alone. We stopped first at a Hindu temple, and then headed to Gandhi’s house (which is now a small museum). Then we headed to Dhobi Ghat, where there are dozens of workers laundering clothes and linens.

Dhobi Ghat in Mumbai

After that we headed to Colaba (neighborhood), to see the Gateway of India and the Taj Palace Hotel. As soon as we parked the car, our driver insisted we go to a few shops with him. We knew from our research before the trip that drivers will often do this with tourists. If the driver brings people in, the shop will charge 30-40% more than usual, and the driver also earns a commission. So, we didn’t buy anything and we just took a quick look.

We wanted to take some pictures of the Gateway of India (where all the ships come in), but it was very bright outside and we couldn’t get any good shots. We were also constantly accosted by child beggars, who pulled at our clothes and asked for money. Several other beggars approached us, and although we knew enough not to engage them or give them anything, we weren’t (yet) savvy enough to know that it’s best to say a firm “No” or completely ignore them. After a quick view of the water we headed in to the Taj Palace Hotel for lunch.

We had a wonderful (and very expensive) lunch at Masala Kraft, one of the Taj Hotel’s several restaurants. We were nervous about our first real Indian meal, but we needn’t have worried – it was very good and the restaurant was quite fancy and clean. The bathrooms in the Taj were also spotless (and western-style), so it was a nice break in the day.

After lunch we headed to the Hanging Gardens, which is a very nice city garden that had very few people – and no beggars. It was a great change from the hustle and bustle of the Colaba area.

Hanging Gardens, Mumbai

We also toured the Bandra neighborhood by car, where we saw the homes of Bollywood stars. Shana also did a little shopping at FabIndia, which people had told us is like the Gap – but it’s more like a little chain of stores that sells relatively cheap kurtas (tops) and scarves. It’s a fixed price store, though, which was refreshing.

After taking a short break from sightseeing at our hotel, we ventured out again in the evening to go to Khyber restaurant in Colaba. We enjoyed a fantastic meal of seekh kebab, curry, pal palak, and naan. We had read that Khyber was a very touristy restaurant, but it seemed like most of the people at the restaurant were Indian tourists (which we took as a good sign). The food was pretty similar to the Indian food we’ve had at home, but the spices and flavors were much more interesting.

At Khyber Restaurant

At Khyber Restaurant

That night, the jet lag hit and we barely slept. However, we did get up in time for our early morning flight to Aurangabad. We were a little sad to leave the luxury of the Trident, but we were pretty excited about traveling to a new city, and seeing the caves of Ellora and Ajanta.

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Getting There

We started our trip by flying from Boston to Newark, and then catching our international flight from Newark to Mumbai. Our first flight was a little late, but we made it there on time. Here we are in the airport:

In the airport in Boston, getting ready to check in

Our flight to India, on Continental Airlines, was a mere 15 hours – direct. It was a long flight, with mostly Indian businessmen and families, and only a few tourists. We each watched about 4 movies out of the 193 that were offered, and we stayed awake the whole time. Dinner was a traditional Indian meal, but the airline’s version of Indian curry wasn’t much better than the usual fare.

When we arrived in the Mumbai airport the next day at 9pm, it was surprisingly quiet. The international terminal was not very modern and had a strong musty smell. The women’s bathroom was Shana’s first encounter with the Indian squat toilet, and it was unfortunately quite dirty and gross – but this was not entirely unexpected.

We used the prepaid taxi booth to arrange a ride to our hotel, the Trident Bandra Kurla, Mumbai.

Lobby of the Trident Bandra Kurla, Mumbai

The Trident was an amazing hotel, with 5-star amenities. It’s located close to the airport in a fairly deserted business district. When we first got to our room, we were surprised to find that the staff had prepared a warm bath and filled the tub with rose petals, and left a complimentary bottle of wine and chocolate mousse cake out for us. All this just because we had mentioned in advance that it was our honeymoon!

Rose petals in the tub!

Our room was great, with a view of the city. We could see the slums across the river, but the Trident seemed a million miles away, with it’s infinity pool, health club/spa, and classy restaurants. We used the fitness room while we were there, and also enjoyed a fantastic buffet breakfast.

And, much to our surprise… the entire hotel used pre-treated water so we could brush our teeth with the tap water. This was a great way to ease into our trip to India, especially after such a long flight. We fell asleep almost immediately, and slept the entire night.

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Less than a month to go

We just got our visas in the mail last week, thankfully they were delivered very quickly since we forgot to order them until two weeks ago. At this point, we’ve gotten all needed vaccinations, shopped for basics, and we have almost all of our travel plans in place. About a month ago we started working with a travel agent, but after we found out that the price we were being quoted didn’t include domestic airfare in India, we decided to do everything ourselves.

Surprisingly, it didn’t take long to book all our hotels, air, and train travel on the internet. It was actually pretty painless, although it did take us a few tries to realize that we couldn’t book Air India flights directly since their site only accepted Indian credit cards (we ended up using Travelocity). Arranging drivers has been a little more difficult. We found someone for the Udaipur-Jaisalmer-Jodhpur part of the trip, but we are still trying to find a driver for the Delhi-Agra part of the trip. We contacted an individual driver and a travel agency called Namaste India Tours, but neither one has gotten back to us yet – we’ve got our fingers crossed that one of them will work out. If anyone out there can recommend a driver, please let us know!

So, most of our time on the weekends lately has been spent figuring out what to pack. We decided to take backpacks with us instead of luggage because it’s easier to get around. After a few trips to EMS and REI we finally decided on matching Osprey packs:

Since we’ll be carrying everything on our backs, we’re planning to travel pretty light (less than a week’s worth of lightweight pants/tops/sandals) although there are lots of extra things that we’re planning on taking:

  • Kindle
  • Cameras
  • Steripen (for water purification)
  • Some extra TP and lots of hand sanitizer
  • Travel towels
  • First aid kit, bug spray and sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Power converter and electrical plugs
  • Toiletries
  • Cliff Bars

Given that it’s not a terribly long trip and we’re told you can get anything you need in India, we’re still undecided about whether to take the following:

  • Sneakers (in addition to sport sandals, in case there’s a hotel gym and for trekking)
  • Heavier shirt or two for Dharamsala (northern city)
  • Poncho instead of rain jacket
  • Travel pillow
  • Sleep sacks
  • Headlamp or flashlight
  • Universal sink stopper
  • Hair dryer
  • More than one power converter (e.g. one for my hair dryer)

Also, I’ve had the worst time finding women’s travel sandals that I like. I was planning on getting Chacos, but they just don’t seem to fit my feet at all! (Anyone else have this problem?) So I checked out Merrell, Keen, Clarks, Birkenstock, and Tevas. The Tevas I tried on (Tirra and Toachi 2) were super comfortable, but really not my style. I finally ordered these Merrell sandals and these Keen sandals, and I’ll take whichever one fits & looks better. Still, I wish I could have found some slightly more fashionable shoes.

Anyway since we’re hunkering down for hurricane-downgraded-to-tropical-storm Irene this weekend, we have some time to do some more detailed planning. We need to figure out what we want to see in each city that we’re visiting – it’s a lot of work, but then we can relax more when we’re finally in India!

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