Thursday, April 28, 2011

Stepping into the world of Aladdin

When we arrived in India we spent a couple days in Delhi, first at the Hyatt to transition slowly (I still had some free nights from all my trips to LA when I was working at MySpace) and then with a friend, Arti, who very generously hosted us in her house.
We didn't really visit Delhi then as we mostly planned the first legs of our Indian trip, so I'll talk about Delhi in a later post.

Our first real stop was Udaipur, in the state of Rajasthan, land of the maharadjahs, big palaces, Aladdin and Ali Baba. Udaipur is known for its huge city palace situated on the border of the lake Pichola, and its romantic setting. It has been a great first stop for us, and even if we didn't do a lot each day, tired as we were by the heat, we really enjoyed our stay there.

Our hotel was in the center of the old town, epicenter of the tourism area, and had a killer view on the lake from its pretty rooftop terrace.

I don't really know where to start as India is much more than just the sum of all the places we visit. It's about impressions, colors, smells, noise, stares and smiles. It's about rickshaws and honks all the time, sharing the road with pedestrians, motorcycles, cows, cars, overflowing buses and goats. It's about ladies always dressed in fantastic colors, always pretty and always with an impecable look, even in the fields. It's about men, a lot of them, with pressed pants, buttoned up shirts and all kinds of mustaches, staring at you intently, all the time, especially if you're a white woman. It's about keen interest from the kids, smiling and waving at you. It's about people fighting for your attention and your money, hard to shake off but being extremely nice once you engage with them. It's about heat, the smell of exhaust or cow poop, the taste of chai and masala spices. It's an assault to all your senses that surprisingly ends up working in a truly unique experience. It's more than a place to visit, it's an experience to live, one of those places that's hard to describe unless you've been there (another kind of Burning Man?), with its highs and its lows.
There, maybe that's a good start.

One of the great elements of our Indian trip is that we're here in low season. It's low season for a good reason, it's bloody hot out there, but it means that the hotels are not crowded, that there are not that many white people around, and that negotiating prices for the rickshaws is pretty easy since there are so many of them waiting. It makes us feel like we live with Indian people instead of just visiting their countries. Don't worry, we're still 'gores' (hindi slang for white tourists) but we feel like we get to know the place a little more.
Take Udaipur's city palace for example. A lot of the people visiting it were actually Indians. It's refreshing when not all the tourists are white, and it gives you more opportunities to mingle with the local tourists.
The palace is huge. It continued expanding with the different maharadjahs and is an infinite mix of courtyards, small narrow corridors (makes it harder for invaders to take the place), beautifully carved windows, and awesome views on the lake. The places are intricate works of art that very easily capture the imagination. Sorry for the assault of photos.

Kings dress their horse like a small elephant so that the enemy's elephants don't attack it, thinking it's a baby

All hand carved stone

Looking down on the city

The palace, part of it at least

Found this guy hanging out in a plant by the entrance of the palace

At night we also went to see a mix of traditional dance numbers that gave us a fun glance into some of the particularities of Rajasthani dance and music. It included a pretty funny puppeteer and this woman who kept dancing with more and more jars on her head.

One of the reasons the Pichola lake is so pretty is because it has 2 islands that have been completely converted into lush palaces by different kings. So much so that you can't even see the island anymore, but just a beautiful palace coming straight out of the water.

We went to visit one of those by boat. The mini cruise took us along the border of the lake where we could see the women doing their laundry by the water. You've seen those pictures before, but it's not folklore and very much an integral part of the life of many rural women we saw when traveling the roads. There's something magical to this mix of water, colors and older times for us used to washing machines and dry cleaners.

The palace itself was beautiful and a relaxing quiet space as long as you didn't stay under the brutal sun for too long.

We then finished the afternoon by going to see the classic car collection of the Maharadjah, including many old Mercedes and several Rolls Royce as old as the 1930s. It was a beautiful line up, especially when you know that they are all in running condition and are taken out once a week for 5mins to make sure everything is ok.

Rolls Royce Phantom II

You can see more photos of the local beauty over here or directly on a map.

View India - Udaipur in a larger map


  1. One thing about India that I loved was how the atmosphere created a perfect filter for taking pictures, especially when the sun was low. There must be a photo book out here of Indian sunsets/sunrises, if not you should start on one now:)

    Happy Travels!

  2. Very exotic and rich culture, captured nicely in your photos.

  3. Very well told you two. Very well told.