India Day 5: 23rd June 2015 – Udaipur

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First night in Udaipur was amazing, had a great night’s sleep in the cosy bed at Udaivilas.

We meet Ishveen in the lobby and head to the restaurant, Surya Mahal. The main restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and dinner and in good weather there is also an outdoor dining area. The Oberoi breakfasts have been outstanding so far, the choice of food is insane! You can choose from buffet, American or an Indian breakfast. Along with that, there is fruits, cereals and made to order items on the menu. This is a great start to your day, I highly recommend it.

As I look around the restaurant, I notice that the hotel is quite busy even though it is a very low tourist season. I mentioned my observation to Ishveen who advises that the hotel offer fantastic rates at this time of year, so many resident Indians book holidays around India. If the rain does not bother you too much then June/July is a good time price wise. Whilst I had the rain affect me in Mumbai, the North has fewer shower bursts, it will not ruin your holiday, as it won’t last the whole day. Today for example is really hot and the sunrays make it look even more stunning as it has highlighted the hotel. The view of the lake can be seen from the restaurant and with the sunlight; it is a wonderful setting for breakfast.

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After breakfast, we head to the lobby to meet one of the assistant managers for a tour of Udaivilas. The first place we head to is Bada Mahal, this is a historical and original part of the hunting ground from many years ago, that has been kept within the hotel. As I walk around Bada Mahal the history starts to unfold. They have murals on the wall with the details of its history. The Bada Mahal still has wild animals such as Boars and our Peacock friends which visit this area to be fed. The Bada Mahal is looked after and maintained by Roop Singh. Roop Singh must be 80 years or more in age and as we spoke to him, he advised that he has been looking after the sanctuary for 40 years. Before him, his father took care of the sanctuary, before his father was Roop Singh’s grandfather. The sanctuary has been cared for by generations of Roop Singh’s family. If you stay at Udaivilas definitely visit Bada Mahal and meet Roop Singh who can tell you all about the history. If you time your visit, then you can see the Boar feeding.

Walking around the hotel grounds will make you want to snap pictures constantly, the lake wraps around the hotel, you can see all the ancient palaces, and buildings from here, you will see the jetty where you can take the Lake Pichola boat tour, or have the boat transfer to the hotel. We see one of the large terraces outside of the Surya Mahal restaurant, which in high season is set up as an extension of the restaurant, live Rajasthani entertainment, and dancing takes place here as well. The outdoor dining takes place from November through to April which is the peak season, this area is called Chandni (meaning moonlight). I would’ve definitely opted for outdoor dining if this was open, I can guarantee this would be a great experience, with the lake view and natural moonlight!

We move onto the rooms; the room I’m staying in is the Premier Room with Garden View. The next category up to this is the Premier Pool View, which in size and décor is identical to my room. The popular choice of room category which became my favourite room, is the Premier Room with Semi Private Pool. Inside the room, it is identical to what I have however, the room has the private terrace like mine with a small pool attached, this leads directly off the main pool. I can see why this is a top choice of room as it is like having a private plunge pool on your terrace, the Premier Semi Private Pool Room is the highest room category you can opt for before the room moves into the suite categories. The first suite we see is the Premier Suite and this room has its own private pool. The bedroom area is identical to mine, but then there is a separate living room attached. If you want a larger suite to accommodate your family then the Kohinoor Suite has a master bedroom as well as a twin bedroom, you still have your private pool with this suite along with a large outdoor dining area. This is the best suite in the hotel and I don’t want to leave it. I’m tempted to grab all of our luggage and move the three of us in here (for free of course, I don’t have Kohinoor money).

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Premier room with semi private pool

The hotel has great paintings on the walls throughout, the paintings are impressive and tells a story of the Maharaja and the grounds from 200 years ago. I feel really privileged to have the opportunity to stay here and be surrounded by an incredibly beautiful and historical place.

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Hotel Paintings

With our hotel tour over, we make a quick dash to our rooms to grab our belongings, then set off to enjoy the city. At the main entrance of the hotel, our car is ready for us, we have a guide booked today who steps out of the car upon seeing us and introduces himself as Vikram or Vikki for short. As we pull away from the hotel Vikki begins to tell us about the ancient city of Udaipur and where we will visit today. I am worried that we will spend the whole day going from Fort to Palace and whilst I love history, it can be a bit too much in one day, so we make sure the Museums and Forts are kept to a minimum. The first sight is a MUST SEE stop in Udaipur and that is City Palace. In reaching the City Palace we walk towards the main area, taking you past Lake Pichola and from here; you can see Lake Palace, which is the Taj owned hotel, situated in the middle of the Lake. During our walk Vikki stops to point towards a tree that seems to have weird black leaves, these are not leaves at all, we look again properly and realise they are extremely large and quite ugly bats! I have seen bats before but these were huge mutant looking bats that completely cover the tree, I quickly take pictures of them hanging. I start to wonder if we should take precautions, and throw some holy water at them and show them a crucifix. I am glad when we walk away from the bat infested tree, I keep picturing them flying towards me, so to avoid me running up the hill towards the Palace, flapping my arms and screaming “we are going to die” it is best to get me away from the bats before they take flight.

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Vampire Bats!

The walk towards the Palace continues (this is not a long walk; we are walking very slowly) Vikki points out another sight in the lake called Jag Mandir which was used as a palace of leisure or hosting parties during the Royal times. Vikki tells his stories of the area with so much passion and pride that I feel just as enthusiastic about it as he does; he has kept us interested so far, which makes him a very good guide. I question Vikki a little about how long he has been a guide and what other tourists he has dealt with before, it turns out that Vikki also handles a lot of the Italian market and is fluent in Italian as well as English. How brilliant is he? I am instantly impressed with Vikki.

The City Palace structure is incredible, and took 400 years to build. Several of the Royal Kings contributed to the structure from both Rajput (Hindu) and Mughal (Muslim) empires. Vikki then points up at some of the architecture and this is where you will see the different influences in the design. Part of the building looks like a Mosque and the other part looks like a Mandir. A lot of famous tourist sights like this one in India will charge you to use your camera/camera phone, City Palace charge 200 Rupees which is about £2 (USD $2.78) this is quite steep compared to some sights but I would recommend paying the charge and taking a camera. We take one camera through as the Palace is a photographers dream, you can capture so many artistic shots and you can be really creative. The history has been written out in certain areas of the palace but you can see all the quarters of the Kings and Queens for yourself. The part I fall madly in love with, is the miniature paintings that adorn all the walls of the palace. Vikki being the good guide that he is instantly picks up on my fascination with the paintings and starts to focus more time in showing these to me and telling me about it. The more excited I become with each picture the more enthusiastic Vikki is. You may already know why this form of art is known as miniature paintings but I have to be honest, I didn’t have a clue. I keep wondering, “why do they keep calling these miniatures, they’re huge paintings!” I didn’t want to ask a stupid question but thankfully Vikki started to explain which saves me from asking. If you step close to the painting and look carefully, you will be shocked at the fine and small details included in each of them. For example, we saw one painting that had a line of Maharajas on a horse, the men on the horses were painted quite small and the faces were not too clear unless you were looking close. When I look closely, I realise the artist has painted each face with a different expression, it is incredible and so clever. I walk into each room and every time I see a new painting; I can’t help but say “WOW”. Vikki asks me if I would like to visit an art studio where they still do miniature paintings. Selfishly without asking my two travel companions, I scream out “yes please” in excitement. I surprised myself as to how much I have fallen in love with the City Palace and didn’t realise how fascinated I would be by the history of the Mughal and Rajput dynasty.

After visiting the City Palace, we went onwards towards the art studio. We made a stop before reaching the studio to a park called Sahelion Ki Bari, I believe this is a standard stop that is included in an Udaipur city tour. Sahelion Ki Bari (The garden for the maids of honour) is a garden that was designed by the Maharaja and presented to his queen; the queen was always accompanied by 48 maidens. The garden was built for the women to have a place to enjoy away from the Palace. We take a walk around the gardens, taking pictures along the way, it is a beautiful park. There isn’t much else to see here and if I’m being honest, you won’t miss out on much if this stop is skipped. We want to show some interest, as I don’t want to disappoint Vikki so we ask questions about it. What we do find out (although this is quite a morbid story) is in the centre of the garden are large ponds, the ponds are completely covered on the top with large lily pads. The lily pads make it look as though the pond is not that deep. A guy who wanted to get a good photograph of the gardens, stood at the edge of the pond, he was scarily close to the water and he slipped and fell in! The lily pads instantly covered the top with the man under the water, which prevented him from coming out so he drowned. It is a frightening story and what a disturbing way to die.

Vikki keeps his promise to me and we leave the gardens and take a very short drive to the studios. From the outside it looks like an ordinary shop front, there are stone sculptures outside and when you enter there are a few more stone statues inside, all hand made. There is a flight of stairs that Vikki directs us up, as this is where the painting takes place. The hall way has some of the paintings hanging on the walls, at the top of the stairs we are led into a room which has cushioned seating running around the outskirts. There are several men sat around with easel and paints. The owner of the studio sits us at the centre and tells us about the studio, artists and their clientele. I stand up and take a closer look at the artists at work; their paintings are incredible; they are extremely talented. I take a picture of one artist whose painting I am particularly drawn to and want a shot of his creativeness. You can of course purchase the paintings from the studio, which is the best place to buy it from; any other tourist shop will overcharge. The only part that upsets me is that the artists themselves will not have any individual profit or recognition. This will go to the shop owner or middleman. It would be great to buy it from the artist directly but a lot of the artist’s work through a studio such as this because it offers them regular income. I am really pleased Vikki showed me the studio and their work, the option to buy a painting is not forced upon you either so there is no pressure for us to take a painting.

Its around lunchtime so after the studio we decide to make a stop for food. Ishveen recommends a restaurant called Zucchini. This is an Italian restaurant in the heart of the city that offer all the favourites, pizza or pasta but they have a twist of Italian and Indian fusion. The restaurant is very trendy inside and would probably be a great venue to hang out one evening. We order a selection of dishes to try. The food is really good and I highly recommend dining here for either lunch or dinner it is a nice twist on Italian food.

After lunch we all feel quite tired, I am not sure if it’s a combination of walking around in the heat today or the fact that we’ve just stuffed our faces, we decide to call it a day and head back to the hotel. In reaching the hotel we thank Vikki for today, he has been a wonderful and an unforgettable guide. We walk into the lobby and Ishveen walks over to one of the members of staff and has a quiet word while we wait. At first I thought “oh no has Ishveen got a complaint” but then I see her jump up and down and squeal with excitement. Dipali and I exchange confused looks but then Ishveen approaches us and tells us she has managed to get us a private hotel boat tour along the lake. We are now all jumping up and down and squealing with excitement. The hotel is a fairly quiet resort but now us three are in the lobby squealing. I think the staff must be really pleased that we are checking out tomorrow. After a quick freshen up we head back out with our cameras in hand and walk towards the jetty. The Udaipur boat trip is next to the Trident’s boat which operate the same tour. You can see other boat tours that offer the same trip but they are not private tours. I felt like a real princess stepping into our own exclusive boat. The driver of our boat is a fully trained guide so as we set off on the trip he points out all the highlights. Try and take the trip at this time which is around 5:30pm, the sun is starting to set and the lake looks so pretty in this lighting. From the lake, you can see all the famous sights – Jag Mandir, Lake Palace, City Palace in fact, as I look back at our hotel it looks beautiful. The lake has steps leading into it, these steps are known as Ghats which are placed at different areas along the banks. People are accessing the lake from these steps and either swimming or washing clothes. The tour we are doing can be done as an evening tour with canapés included, if you want a romantic boat ride one evening and watch the sun set as you sail around this wonderful city.

The tour lasts an hour, which I highly recommend doing to complete your experience. The boat tour costs approximately GBP £60 (USD $100) per boat with a guide for up to a group of 6. We are all in very high spirits after the boat tour and as we get back to the jetty, we decide to have a stroll around the resort. As we walk through the gardens, we see our favourite resident, the peacocks. They are quite scared if you approach them and run off quickly which is hard if you want a picture of them. We decide to tread quietly and take a picture, as we tip toe near one I grab a picture of it looking pretty as ever. Ishveen asks if I want an action shot which I say “sure why not”, she then runs behind it and chases it, I get a picture of a peacock looking pretty pissed off and Ishveen right behind it. I love this girl, she is crazier than I am. Ishveen has another idea for a picture and takes us near the pool area, she asks us to stand in the gazebo by the pool and do a yoga pose. We do it and take the pictures, which is our version of the Udaivilas spa brochure. It would be nice if there was no one around but unfortunately, there is a lot of people by the pool watching us doing yoga poses. They must be thinking, “Who do these lot think they are?”. I no longer feel embarrassed, I see everyone has the same idea as us, a woman jumps into the pool but as she comes up for air she flicks her hair in some L’Oreal advert style pose and takes a selfie. Touché lady, check out my yoga pose selfie! Ishveen is a dedicated photographer too, she wants our pose to be the best picture so she kicks off her shoes and steps into a section of the pool so that she has the best angle (if only her models were attractive). I have more respect for her photography, one wrong move and she would be soaked. Selfie lady is back in the pool and watching us, I think she is hoping that we will leave soon so that she can copy our pose in the gazebo, we are trendsetters after all.

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We have dinner arranged at the Trident so we grab a golf cart and head over. When we get there, we meet the sales manager of the hotel who shows us around the Trident quickly. We have seen the main areas already, particularly the bar so we decide to see the rooms. The Trident is a great option for families who want budget luxury, they have quite a wide range of interconnecting rooms. We have a look at a Deluxe Garden View Room, which is the hotels lead in room category; I am really impressed by the sizes of the rooms, which have either king or twin beds. We have first-hand experience of the service from the night before which has been outstanding. The manager does not want to take up too much time and tells us that we must have dinner here tonight which we accept.

Firstly, we head to our favourite spot Amit Mahal for a few pre-dinner drinks. When we enter the bar we notice that our friend Bhramjot is back (I use the term “friend” loosely as he probably hates us), he gives us a nervous smile and greets us. He must be thinking, “oh no not these girls again, I will be here all night” I scope out the bottles behind the bar trying to figure out what will be my poison this evening, the bottle of Midori is missing! Did Dipali complete her challenge? Or perhaps they hid it so that we leave quicker. Bhramjot brings over the drinks menu, the nervous smile still spread over his face. We order a few cocktails as we try to keep our orders quick and simple. Dipali has other ideas. Poor Bhramjot, he almost had a simple and smooth evening. Dipali doesn’t like any of the cocktails on the menu so she creates her own (with the help of Bhramjot) from the mocktail list adding various spirits to it, she loves her new creation and decides to name it after herself, I am almost certain Bhramjot finds us annoying, but his smile never leaves his face.

Our conversation turns to Bollywood movies, Ishveen asks us if we have seen a film called Yeh Jawani Hai Diwani which stars quite a few of my favourite actors. Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika Padukone and Aditya Roy Kapoor. We tell Ishveen we have not seen it yet so she promises to make us watch this film before we leave India. Ishveen tells us that a large portion of the film was filmed at the Udaivilas, in fact she was in the hotel when the film was being made and tried to stalk Ranbir Kapoor (I would have done the exact same thing, he is hot!) The stars all stayed within the resort during filming and apparently, Ranbir Kapoor used the gym here every morning. I really hope I used the same machines as him! It is really exciting to be staying in a hotel that was used in a film, so when we watch it we will feel more attached to it.

After a few drinks we leave at a sensible time tonight and head to Aravali for dinner. This is the main restaurant offering either buffet dinner or A La carte dining. The choice of food is Indian, Chinese or Continental. The portions are all very generous so we decide to order a few items and share. We discuss what time we will leave tomorrow, it is crazy, we just got here and tomorrow we are checking out for the next part of our trip. The best news we find out tonight is that, Ishveen will remain with us for the rest of the trip, Dipali and I cheer loudly when she tells us, which has her looking a little surprised by our reaction. This is because Dipali and I had discussed beforehand that we really wish she would stay on because we are having such an amazing time together. Ishveen thought that we might have wanted her to leave us to it, but we tell her how happy we are that she is with us. We finish eating our dinner and Dipali starts to eye up the desert display by the buffet. There is a delicious looking fresh cake which a staff member sees her looking at. He smiles and tells her to help herself to some of the deserts, which she makes a dash for.

The staff are so warm and accommodating and will do everything to make your stay memorable; your stay at either Udaivilas or Trident will definitely have you leaving with a positive memory. The extra bonus is Ranbir Kapoor has stayed here so what more could you want? (Preferably a date with Ranbir included in my room rate) We call it a night and head to bed, we have an early start for our next stop in Jaipur!

Like the sound of my trip? get in touch @ throughjesswindow@gmail.com

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