Thursday, April 10, 2008

Udaipur: Like No Other Place on Earth

"The first time I saw Udaipur's Lake Palace as a child, I asked my father if it had been stolen from a fairytale book. Years later, when I returned to write about the city, I couldn't resist asking the Maharana of Udaipur, owner of the palace, the very same thing. He quizzically raised one eyebrow, paused, then, with utmost seriousness said... perhaps."

Sarina Singh, writer

I got the above quote from my indispensable Lonely Planet guidebook to India.

"Like no other place on earth," was what Rosita Forbes, the famed early 20th century English woman and traveler, said of Udaipur when she passed this way during the decline of the British Raj. The James Bond flick Octopussy was shot here, and so was Gandhi, the immense 1982 biopic of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (yes, that Gandhi) - plus many other Hollywood and Bollywood films besides. As it happens, I too have fortuitously stumbled upon a Disney movie set when I was there (I'll show you a picture of it later in this post).

But first, here's a picture of the City of Lakes,

Udaipur, from the mountain where the Monsoon Palace is perched.

Okay, okay - I shall refrain from making this post a fucking documentary, as hard as it is going to be to do so. Going to places puts me in the mood to lecture, somehow, and I feel old nowadays. I find myself prone to being a bloody bore, which strangely no longer bothers me as much as it used to.

One of Udaipur's lakes, the Fateh Sagar, and the Nehru Garden in its centre. That little white speck atop a mountain on the left is the Monsoon Palace.

I first decided to go on a backpacking trip across the Indian north after reading my friend's blog, and the (still unfinished) chronicles of his own journey there. His commentary was light and affectionately lame, and his photographs - well, they aren't the works of a professional shutterbug, but by Jove, it got me completely hooked by the soul. I can't remember if there was any other time in my life I feel so compelled to Get Up and Go Out.

The fountain and pool of the Saheliyon-ki-Bari, Garden of the Maids of Honour, which was designed by a king for his queen and her 48 maids as some sort of royal picnic spot.

Another part of the same garden.

And its impossibly blue flowers.

Maybe, when I write about any place I've been to, I'm trying to recreate, for my readers, that same sensation of restlessness I experienced when I read Nickson's posts about his North Indian trip. I want to make people want to go where I went to, and to see the things I've seen. I want to share my feelings - the same awe and wonderment for the beauty of the Earth and the mark of civilisations found and lost on it, and of those few which endured. In this little way I call myself magnanimous. Happiness, I heard, is only real when shared.

The 250 or more cenotaphs of the Maharajas of Mewar at Ahar, built over a period of 350 years.

The biggest, baddest one of the lot. Who knows - it may even belong to the founder of Udaipur, Maharana Udai Singh II himself.

It's not easy writing travelogues, especially considering the way I do it. I take pain to select which of the thousands of pictures I took to show you, and make the effort of photoshopping them to make them resemble as closely as possible to what I see at the moment I capture it on a photograph. I would spend hours researching the history and stories of the places I visit, and cross-check my facts so I know them to be as accurate as I could make them - because I just don't think it's right to write about something I didn't take the effort to learn about.

Of course, I didn't do all that just to please whoever who reads my turds. Every second I spend on a travelogue tweaks the memories of my travels into high definition, and reading about things I've ogled ignorantly at redefines my perceptions, and allows me to enjoy them anew on a different level. It's kind of like watching a digitally remastered version of a fond old movie, really.

Stone carvings on the walls of the centuries old Indo-Aryan Jagdish Temple.

Picture taken by Josephine of some other carved ... thing. I forgot to ask her what.

I apologise if I tend to be dull and pensive this time. There are other cities in India I toured which demand more amusing, and lighthearted words to talk about, but Udaipur isn't like those cities at all. The City of Lakes is a solemn and tranquil place, and its charm bends gently towards thoughtful romanticism. It's a place which vaguely reminds me of every fairy kingdom I have ever read about in storybooks, and without even meaning to, transcends them all.

Just because it's real.

The majestic white City Palace which stands on the east bank of Lake Pichola.

Throughout my entire journey, there were only three places I left behind which I vowed to return someday. Udaipur, of course, is one of them.

Part of Sajjan Garh, the Monsoon Palace, atop the mountain from which I took the first picture.

Which takes on a rich amber colour during sunset.

I can't find a vantage point from which I can capture the entirety of the Monsoon Palace because large areas of its grounds were roped off because of...

The movie set I promised to show you earlier.

It was in Udaipur that I experienced my first ever visit to a movie set. Sure, it's just Disney (not Hollywood, drat) but still, it made for a pretty exciting addition to my brief stay in the city. We first learned of an American film being shot there on the morning we arrived when we were looking for someplace to stay - most guest houses were fully booked because of that.

I was a bit disappointed to discover that the set itself was extremely tacky, completely lacking that expensive grandeur bigger budgeted movies I expect have. The crew working on it were entirely staffed by local Indians, and the only indication that it was not some cheap Bollywood production were a middle-aged American woman who was cracking her whip instructing the works, and some shiny metal cases labeled "Art Department" lying around.

At one point, the American woman called for a certain Kumar which I presumed to be some sort of translator or foreman, and that got me laughing. She was like, "Kumaaaaar! I want this to be moved from here to there and then back here again! Then go get me someone to hold an umbrella over my head - your stupid sun will be the death of me, I swear. And while you're at it, Kumar, get me a nice cup of chai and some of those biscuits shaped like Mickey I like so much. Now scoot, scram and skedaddle!" - not exactly what she said, but you get the idea.

Oh, I haven't tell you what movie, have I? It's a Disney Channel Original Movie called The Cheetah Girls: One World. It has a plot centred on members of possibly the lamest named teen girl group competing with each other to star in a Bollywood movie - which explains why the set pieces were so Bolly-centric. Took me a bit of Google-work to find out about it because - hey, it's not like they have the film's title stenciled all over the shoot location, okay.

The City Palace, all lit up on the opposite back of where we had dinner. Picture by Vincent.

I remember that at the end of our first day in Udaipur, our frightfully competent guide took us to this rather posh lakeside restaurant where most of the guests wore tuxes and cocktail dresses. There were newlywed and going-to-be-wedded couples clinking glasses, family vacationers and business diners, and a live band playing great traditional Rajputani music. Across the serene calmness of Lake Pichola stood the Lake Palace Jag Niwas, a magnificent monument of polished marble seemingly afloat on the surface of the water. It was made out of precisely the same stuff they use to make fantasies and dreams, I'm sure - it has the same ethereal, impossible quality.

The Lake Palace, a former pleasure place of the Maharana of Udaipur - now, the zenith of luxury hotelry and a lasting emblem of romance.

"I wish Phoebe is here," I found myself thinking idly.

I believe in magic,
k0k s3n w4i


Dr.Vishaal Bhat said...

Nice pics... And well it was quite Udaipur hmmmm.... That's one place I haven't been to yet... Will mark it down to visit when i get married :)

pinksterz said...

"because I just don't think it's right to write about something I didn't take the effort to learn about."

talking about my lame travelogues issit? hahaha!

i love the last pic! :D

nyrac said...

well, at least you've succeeded in making me want to go india now ^^

bevE said...


*cant think of anymore response*

[i liked some sentences in the post - that were unrelated to the actual travelling of course. (i din offend u did i in the last post >_> u din reply to it)]

daisies! gerbera daisies !!! Right right ?? or chamomile !!GERBERA DAISIES! Chamomile? SO PRETTY. *sighs forlornly*

Oh. Ohhh. I really want. :(

bevE said...

think its chamomile.

michelleg said...

awesome pics.. does ur camera comes with wide lense? i wish i have one..

why do they call tea as chai? or issit a type of tea leave? hehe..

michellesy, wanderlust awakened said...

Udaipur is so very, very heartbreakingly beautiful. I can understand why you wanted Phoebe to be there.

And y'know what, pensive just about suits me right now. Pensive and...restless, yes, restless.

I want to run away, please?

Evelyncyl said...

Great travel post!! Never knew India can be so.... romantic.
Can't wait to read more about your travel in India! :)

mrbherng said...

You cropped the pics or you took it with wide settings?

I know it's definitely not a wide lens as michelleg suggested by the look of the pics.

Anyway, I like the Sajjan Garh at dusk no 2.

Dr.Vishaal Bhat said...


Chai is hindi for tea. Hindi is the national language of India. (I Assume you knew it though). :)

くれくれ厨 said...

金持ちってスゲー( ゚д゚)ポカーン

k0k s3n w4i said...

dr.vishaal bhat: Make it ur honeymoon place, man! Unless you already have someplace more expensive and foreign in mind :P

pinksterz: I would like to say 'yes', but unfortunately, you really didn't come into my mind when I wrote that xD

nyrac: Aha! Finally, my stupid travelogues count for something T_T

beve: You know me better than to think I'd be offended by a 18-year-old's words. Especially yours =d.
I don't know what flowers they are, but I bet they aren't those two you mentioned. If you want 'em, go flirt for 'em.

michelleg: It has a setting for wide-view. Yours have it too, I bet. the views were awesome on their own. Photoshop helped, obviously xD
As for chai, I think the good Doctor Bhat have answered ur question :)

michellesy: I heard Ozzy has some places with pretty heart-breaking sceneries too. Surely, it won't be long till you save a bit of moolah to go backpacking as well? My whole trip cost me less than RM 3000
Work is getting you down, huh, mitch? U gotta tell me more when I see u online the next time

evelyncyl: You ain't seen nothing of India yet, girl. Oh, and it's nice to know that my crappy travelogues receive some appreciation from certain quarters xD

mrbherng: I discovered that my camera has a wide-setting while I was in Udaipur. In case you're wondering, I threw away the operating manual the day I got my camera -.-
And thanks, that was my favourite too.
(*OMG mrbherng LIKES one of my pics!!! OMGOMGOMG!!)

くれくれ厨: Yes, I understand what you're saying perfectly. Do tell me more.

mrbherng said...

I will suggest that you take 2 pictures with the wide setting switched on and off respectively. Like most camera, it is not really wide but just a crop.