The journey was costing us €40 and for that we were getting a lovely air-conditioned car and a lovely driver named Tara who happened to be living in Udaipur. The journey would take approximately four and a half hours, bringing us up over the mountains. Tara had good English and offered to bring us the "scenic route" which is always my preference. We passed through many towns and villages. The higher and further into the mountains we went the more narrow the roads became and the more people looked at us with open curiosity. Clearly, the children found us a real novelty as they ran from the fields to wave and chase the car. Women sat on hill tops guarding and tending to their goats. Their bright and colourful sarees distinguished them from the landscape that surrounded them. There were points along the narrow roads where two cars could not pass simultaneously and one would have to move off the road in order to pass. At another point our driver came to a very sharp bend in the road and on taking the turn was faced with a mother and child to the right and a cow to the left with just enough room for the car to pass through. In this very narrow and unpredictable gap our driver chose to veer towards the mother and child to gain precious centimeters rather than to hit the cow. To kill a cow would result in a 3000 rupee fine and 5 years in prison there was not a conscious thought given to the women and child. I don’t believe that our driver was a bad man by any strength of the imagination. He simply understood the penalty for injuring the cow whereas no statuary law stated what would happen if you killed a women and child, it possibly fell into the simple statement of "accident" as it would anywhere else in the world.
We drove about these windy roads for a good part of the journey. This was Róisín’s first encounter with travel sickness. She had never suffered as a child but these roads with the twists turns humps and bumps were not doing her any good. We had a further hour to go before we descended from the hills and into view of Udaipur, the ‘City of Lakes’. The views were spectacular. It was hard to believe that these lakes were artificial because they were so vast. The city was founded in 1560 by the Maharaja (King) and features many palaces and many lakes which stretch across the valley.
Driving over the Mountains to Udaipur (lots of monkeys!)
Organizing Our Udaipur Tour
We were staying at the juSTa Sajjangarh Resort and Spa for three nights and this five star beauty was costing us €132.28 with breakfast included. The room was enormous with a floor to ceiling window that looked on the village in the valley below and to the Monsoon Palace at the top of the mountain beside us. As has became the norm for us, the hotel, the staff, and the facilities were perfect. Tara (our driver) asked if we might be interested in him being our driver for a day to see the sights of Udaipur. We agreed a price of 4000 rupees (€47.65) if he could include an English speaking guide and he assured me he could. If you find a good driver its always worth asking if they are interested in more work or can they recommend someone else if they are not free themselves. You are dealing directly with the driver so the money goes to him and cuts out the middle man. It may not make a substantial difference to what you pay but at least you know the person doing the work is getting the pay.
Our driver dropped us in the main car park from where we could either walk or take a golf buggy for a very small fee to the main gate. Anticipating a long day of walking ahead of us I opted for the golf buggy and very glad I did too! There is a trek and a steep incline from the car park to the entrance to the palace. At the top of the hill, the entrance courtyard is accessed through three towering archways revealing a formal garden of walkways and lawns down the centre with the entrance to the palace on one side and a collection of artisan shops directly opposite.
The entrance to the palace features another imposing gate with elephant impaling spikes protruding. These seem to be a regular adornment in the palaces we have visited, pity for the poor elephants. The palace is a museum of Maharaja living. The style and opulence of the many rooms is awesome. There are art galleries, sculptures, mosaics, glass, and mirror work all creating a feast for the eyes and a glimpse of the absolute power and wealth of this ruling class. After independence the royals lost the revenue from every state they ruled but kept their palaces. These were opened to the public in order to generate some income and from the crowds I witnessed its a nice little earner. We went from room to room and at some points it was slow going as it happened to be a public holiday. Luckily, our guide was very familiar with the many hidden passages of the palace and so we were able to slip away down a concealed passage to arrive magically in another area of the palace. It takes about 2 hours to see this palace but it is one of the highlights of a visit to Udaipur.
The City Palace, Udaipur
We left the palace and went to investigate some of the craft shops. I was tempted into N.F Collection, a shop on the grounds of the palace which sold authentic hand made pashminas, rugs, and other luxury items. Authentic is the magic word here and these particular pashminas were authenticated by The Rolling Stones and Hillary Clinton to name a few. I was introduced to the owner by our guide who seemed to know everyone in the palace, ergo he knew all the secret passage ways. Farooq, the owner, was a quintessential gentleman and sales man. He had an album of all the famous people who had visited his shop over the years. So wanting to be in the inner circle if only by association I decided then and there to purchase a pashmina. Farooq explained that he had just returned from Kashmir with new stock, and slowly and meticulously he started to open each parcel. He would not tell me the price but wanted me to feel each fabric and note the difference in texture and quality. I knew the price was going up with each package that he opened because the softness and embroidery would increase. Clearly, he was equally enthralled to reacquaint himself with the stock he had brought back as I was to see these beautiful pieces for the first time. I laughed as he kept opening more and more packages and placing them on the floor in front of me and repeatedly told him I couldn’t afford most of the shawls but he did not mind. I think I knew and he knew this sale was going to happen because I had accepted the offer of tea (remember the rug!) but perhaps neither of us were sure of the price level. A lady came in and was waiting impatiently for Farooq to finish or at least pause his dealings with me and attend to her. He politely waved her away and said he would be with her in a moment. I got the impression that her interruption was not welcome and was considered rude. I had told him that I was happy to wait as the lady in question seemed to be getting very exasperated but he declined my offer and continued in a very relaxed manner to show all the pashminas. Real pashminas have an oily feel to the wool because they are a natural fibre. I eventually chose one from the vast array set before me. Having miscalculated the currency difference I did buy one quite a distance above my budget and not being Hillary Clinton, I cannot afford to wear it for fear of pulling a thread. The girls have been told its a family heirloom and as such it will come out of the precious cover when I’m gone. How they divide it will be up to themselves and might require the wisdom of Solomon and the two mothers as to who is most worthy. We concluded our business and off Roisin and I went to the next location. We did skip the boat ride as the crowds were worse than when we had first arrived.
Saheliyon ki Bari
Tara, our driver picked us up at the bottom of the hill outside the palace and brought us to the Saheliyon ki Bari. This was constructed in 1710 for the royal ladies, the Queen, and her 48 maidens and was exclusively for their use. It featured 2000 fountains of various sizes and detail and were scattered all over well kept gardens . At the centre is a large pool with a central white marble canopy and four black marble canopies at each corner of the pool. This area is surrounded by a high wall in which there are changing rooms so allowing for total privacy. There was another pool with elephant fountains and then another area which was a large paved circular area with lush tropical forest surrounding (fountains sprung from the stone paving giving the air a humidity familiar to this foliage). The water was supplied from a local lake and on the turn of one valve the water would be delivered by gravity to all pools. I do love a good garden and this was one to inspire. Having spent an hour there we headed back to the car to make our way to the Monsoon Palace. The palace was a beautiful white marble structure which we could see from our hotel and I was eager to see it up close.
Elephant Fountain in Saheliyon ki Bari
The Monsoon Palace
This was a holiday weekend and all attractions were very busy. The Monsoon Palace sits on top of a mountain at the centre of a wildlife sanctuary and has panoramic views out over the city and the surrounding countryside. It took us a while to get through the main gate but the wait was well worth the effort. There was a good carpark at the top and not too strenuous a walk to get to the palace. We were still encountering people who were fascinated to see us and asked for our picture which never bothered me (such a narcissist!). The palace is unoccupied and small by comparison to all others we have seen but the views are magnificent. The views seem to go on forever and gives some realisation of the sheer size of this country. We took the view in on every angle and then proceeded back to the car. On the way to the carpark we chanced to meet with the young German couple we had previously met in Agra at the Baby Taj. We exchanged stories about our travels and while doing so a child asked to take a picture of all us chalkies together. The German couple said they had encountered the same request throughout their trip. This couple were traveling on a budget and the longer they could make that budget last the longer they could tour so I understood them being very frugal in their choice of accommodation. That said, they had made the decision early on in the India leg of their trip to stretch their budget to, at the very least, a private room rather than a dorm and private coaches rather than test the train system. I felt a lot better about my decision to leave budget accommodation behind when these hardened young travellers how found it a trial. They asked where we were planning to go after India and when we said Sri Lanka they laughed and told us that Sri Lanka was India for beginners, it would be a few weeks before we understood what they meant. We said our goodbyes and I promised to adopt them if we should meet a third time on this journey. We finished our day and were dropped back to our hotel for our final night in Udaipur.
View from the Monsoon Palace Udaipur
Our flight from Udaipur to Mumbai was early the next morning so we had arranged for Tara to collect us at 5 am as our flight was at 8 am and we had a 40 minute drive to the airport. It was dark when we left the hotel and as we drove through the city I was very surprised to see many many people making their way to work at this hour. Roadside and street chai shops were already up and running so I assumed their owners must have gotten up at 4 am. It's mesmerising to see how hard these people work for so little. There are no luxuries, no fancy phones or clothes or shoes. Suffice to say there aren’t even knock off designers in the general population and yet they work so very hard and for endless hours. Even the staff in the hotel you could see them at breakfast, lunch and dinner from 6 am to 10 pm, which were last orders in the kitchens and yet they were never less than courteous. It is a hard life here with no safety nets. We really have no idea how lucky we are and our fortune of time and location of birth. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to organise ourselves for our flight. Then, suddenly, we read "Flight cancelled!".
Hi, I'm Olive and I am the writer of this blog. I am traveling the world with my 22 year old daughter, Róisín, who has just graduated University. I wanted to document this journey because it is unusual for a woman of 58 years old to go on adventure that most students do on a gap year. I will try to share my insights into this epic journey with you along the way and maybe inspire more people my age to go on these crazy adventures too.