We arrived bright and early on the train from Jaipur, which had been about half an hour late and rather confusing due to us boarding around midnight and figuring out our seats scattered around two railcars. For once, our guidebook steered us in a useful direction, a hotel on the lake with gorgeous views, a mix of new and historic rooms, and reasonable prices. We were happy to put down our bags and rest after the journey.
View from our hotel-yay!
When we started walking around the city, we were pleased to see there were fewer motorbikes than Jaipur or Jodhpur. We found some tourist spots to visit later, had lunch, and met a family from Australia who invited us to join them for dinner across the lake from our hotel. That evening, we found the fancy hotel restaurant and had a great time with the Aussies. The outdoor tables all had a view of the lake, with its water palaces and lights from the opposite shore reflecting on the gently rippling water. There was a sitar player and drummer playing as we watched the bats and flying foxes soar around in the sky above. The marble pillars around us glowed in the dim lights and the air was cool and dry, the whole setting was so peaceful and exotic.
Another evening we went to Dahrohar, a collection of dance, theater, and puppetry performances held in a historic building called Bagore-ki-Haveli. What a show! We saw the twirling dancers balancing pots of fire on their heads like we had seen in Jaipur. But this time our whole family was here and there were so many other things to see. In fact, if I had to choose between the two- and I wouldn’t want to since each was gorgeous and being in these historic buildings in the evenings being entertained by skilled, colorful, sparkling artists was magical- I would reluctantly choose Udaipur. It cost less and there were more performances to watch. There was live music by drummers, horn players, and an accordion-like instrument. A puppet master did three skits, each with a different puppet. Masked men sword-fought as gods, one on a person playing a tiger. My mind was blown by two specific dances: a cymbal-ringing dance done on the floor and one done by a woman balancing pots on her head.
The cymbal dance was three women in glittering, richly colored saris, each sitting on the floor and each with multiple small cymbals on her hands, arm, and leg. Each had another cymbal on a string and swung it around, rhythmically striking the various fixed cymbals to create such gorgeous movement and music. I was enthralled. The musicians accompanied the women, making an even more complex song. The women had serene, almost trancelike expressions as they whipped around the moving cymbals, synchronized with each other, light glancing off the brass in a blur of sound and glitter. They performed several songs, adjusting their strings differently for each.
The lady who balanced the pots was the finale. She started with two and had up to eleven colorful pots balanced on her head as she danced around the stage. As she balanced the pots, she also managed to, at different times: place her feet on the sides of a brass plate and rock, reveal a vase of flowers by picking up a scarf with her teeth, and stamp her feet on broken glass. She looked to be an older lady, but we were surprised to learn her age after the show- 69! Amazing! You go, girlfriend!
We went to the museum at Bagore-ki-Haveli one day as well. The home of a former prime minister, parts of it have been restored to its former glory and other parts house museum items. The bedrooms had fans designed to be moved by servants, and the parlor had chess and snakes-and-ladders games. I found the turban displays interesting- they have the largest one in the world and many everyday turbans, the origins and typical wearers of which are described. For example, did sellers of edible oils have a specific type of turban? Why, yes, they did! Must have come in handy if they were without their wares. It was nice to wander around the building we had only seen at night during the performances.
Rajasthan is known for its Marwari horses, with their hardiness for the desert and adorable inward-curved ears. Udaipur is known as a place where tourists ride these horses in the rural areas outside of town, and we all were interested in doing this. We arranged for a 4-hour ride starting bright and early one morning and managed to get ourselves out the door before 630am. We had seven horses and four guides. We had a cranky horse (Cleverly’s), a contrary one (Fiercely’s), several unremarkable ones, and a very mellow one named Puja (mine).
One guide rode up front, the others walked and helped direct the horses, and Puja and I brought up the rear. She was a really pleasant horse, thank goodness because I have very little experience as a rider. The kids are not especially horse-crazy as some kids are, but they really enjoyed having their own horse and some back-up if they needed it. We set off into the area around the ranch, which looked to be an expanding small town with several building projects underway. We went out into the scrub desert, passing some small farm fields and quarrying sites, waving and returning ‘hello!’ and ‘namaste!’ to local kids and some adults, and after a time we came to what we called the ‘oasis’. There was a pond with flowering lotus plants, many beautiful birds, and some grass and cattle. While the horses rested, we watched the birds and played with the lotus blossoms given to us by the guides.
We went further into the desert and the hills looked undisturbed from human activity. Palm trees grew in places, we saw more birds, Puja slacked a little sometimes then galloped to catch up. More pleasant riding, nice views of the desert hills and Udaipur in the distance. We came upon a lake and saw people doing laundry in the distance. Here, by the way, we have seen people beat their wet laundry with a large flat stick, almost like a cricket bat. We saw it in town and again by this lake. We stopped by a wall and rested the horses again, but this time the guides surprised us by jumping off the wall right into the lake! One guy had his clothes on! The twins got in the act right away, also clothed.
DH stripped down to his undies and jumped in from the wall. The rest of us applauded the jumpers and splashed a little on arms and legs on the stone steps that went down to the water. Eventually, everyone wrung out their wet things and got back on the trail. We wound our way through some more desert and came back to the ranch form a different direction. It had been a happy four hours. The horses were unsaddled and immediately rolled around with their legs in the air enjoying the relative freedom. We had lunch at the ranch, and we were back in Udaipur before noon.
We found a little restaurant with a Bollywood theme and had many meals there. They showed movies there, like many tourist-oriented restaurants in Udaipur. We couldn’t understand why so many restaurants advertised the James Bond movie ‘Octopussy’ until we learned it had been filmed here. We really enjoyed watching a Rajasthan-based movie there called ‘Lagaan’. It was a fictional story about the locals vs the British in the 1880’s regarding their taxes (Lagaan). A cricket match between the two groups is central to the story, so we got to learn a little about cricket, extremely popular in India. We tried watching ‘The Lunchbox’, a well-received film about a love story in the setting of modern Mumbai where there is a massive, complicated, very well-run system of delivering homemade lunches to office workers. It looked great, but the subtitles were out of synch and we were unable to follow the story. Anyway, I’d like to check out more Indian films in the future. For now, this restaurant became like a living room for us as we took advantage of the great food, comfortable cushions, good wifi, and movies.
We were in Udaipur long enough to spend time doing homeschooling and laundry, but we did manage one more tourist thing: the ropeway cable car. It was much shorter than the one we rode in Darjeeling but still very nice. We could see the lake and palace from the cable car, beautiful from high up, and at the other side of the cable was a marble temple with a great view of the city wall. There was a zoo and a preschooler playground near the ropeway, as well as some terraced gardens, all very lovely.
We left Udaipur on a bus, since the price and timing were better than the train. We love the train but sometimes it’s not the best option. It was an overnight bus, about seven hours travel time. Luckily for us, it turned out to be a little longer so we could sleep a bit more. This bus was a new arrangement for us. We had three double cabins, each with a sliding door for privacy. They were up against the top of the bus, but the bus was very tall and there was enough room to sit up if you chose. No linens, just a mattress with built-in lump for a pillow. One side had windows to the outside, and the other had the sliding door facing inside the bus. Really and I had plenty of room. Below us were about six bus seats, but behind us on the lower level were more beds. The driver seemed to go way too fast and also used a loud horn that played several notes so it was not a quiet ride, but we were comfortable and most of us got some sleep. In the morning, we arrived in Kota and took a Jaipur-bound bus to Bundi.