March 2017 Part 1
Landing into Delhi International at 1am after already being awake for about 17 hours, we were met by the smiling face of an airport rep sent by TWX (our ground agents in India) at the gate of the plane who speedily whisked us on a buggy to fast track immigration, before we knew it we were out into the arrivals hall, bags loaded in the air conditioned car, marigold garlands rounds our necks and off to a nearby airport hotel! 3 hours later back in the airport to fly to Udaipur …. (Very odd security procedures which involved very unhelpful staff who had clearly taken their ‘jobsworth’ pills, watching us struggle to lift our trays and luggage and not telling us that we needed our boarding passes on us while we walked to the other end of the hall to our bags to go through the scanners then having to go all the way back again!) Finally, scanned, patted and checked we headed to find somewhere to sit and wait for our flight …Indigo is the Indian equivalent of EasyJet and as we boarded the bus to our plane we seriously wondered if we were being driven to Udaipur it was so far around the runways and aircraft hangers to actually get to the plane!!
As we descended into Udaipur I could see the full moon across the lakes and the lights of the palaces & forts as dawn started to arrive. Outside the tiny arrivals hall we were met by smiling Devi who took us through the seemingly quiet city as it woke up to Holi … cows wandering the streets, stall holders sweeping their porches with the sun rising like a ball of fire across Lake Pichola.
We arrived at the grand entrance to Udaivillas (Oberoi Hotel) which is guarded by giant elephants! There, after the traditional friendly greetings that are the way of Indians and wished “Happy Holi” by everyone we met, we finally got to have a shower and change. Refreshed we sat on the terrace looking over the beautiful, mirror like Lake Pichola and enjoyed breakfast (although it was still about 1am UK time!).
The gardens around Udaivillas are a birders paradise - Tweets, squawks and coos surrounded us … as we sat wearing our gifts of a very colourful scarf for me and a very fetching Indian hat for John! Behind the main part of the hotel is a small wildlife sanctuary full of peacocks with a garden nursery and a few deer and wild boar. The inside of the main building is a series of ornate domes and frescos, beautifully decorated, the hotel has the feel that it has been there for centuries when in fact it's relatively recently built. The gardens are huge so it's easy to feel that you are on your own, even with a full hotel as the grounds are spread out. There is a large swimming pool in the gardens, a beautiful pool on a hill at the spa and some rooms share a swim up style pool which gives you your own view across the lake from your balcony - sit in the water watching the shimmering lake before you....
Across the lake by boat we then visited the Taj Lake Palace Hotel, the only historic hotel and unique palace in Udaipur. The original paintings and architecture were fascinating and a few of the special suites had ancient swing seats and mirror glass windows, beautifully shady and cool. There are a series of courtyards with fish pools and places to sit and relax. The food was gorgeous and there is a colonial style bar with original drinks cabinets. There are many tiled features around the hotel and unique architecture found only in Udaipur which is seen in the city and fort too.
Udaipur is very proud of it being part of the film set for James Bond’s Octopussy …. At the Lake Palace we were told many scenes were filmed there, also on their large boat moored outside … we visited James Bond’s car the next day at the Vintage Car museum too. (On our return to the UK we watched the film again and indeed could see that Octopussy’s head quarters was indeed the Lake Palace! The Vintage Car museum houses a variety of classic cars owned by the Maharajah including of course many Rolls Royce, which have a long history in India, with some very rare models.
Amongst the piles of coloured powder of Holi festival and smiling faces Udaipur is a beautiful city in a unique setting with it's many lakes and the backdrop of the Arravalli Mountains. We stayed overnight at the Leela Palace hotel, lit up in the evening by many water features and lights flickering across the water to the golden walls of the fort under the full moon where we dined on a gorgeous Indian spiced lamb shank under the full moon. This has to be one of the most stunning and atmospheric dinner settings in the world!
Next morning after some very much needed sleep, we woke to the pigeons cooing on our balcony and a beautiful warm orange light across the lake looking back towards Udaivillas:
After a lovely breakfast we were whisked by boat back across the lake to meet again with our driver and taken round the city with a lovely local guide called Manish, via the Palace & fort where the royal family still live in part of the building.
Grey Langurs are found everywhere in Rajasthan, often around public places were people feed them - these guys were waiting to go to school I think!
I asked if we could visit a textile shop before leaving the city … major mistake!! Three hours later we left with another piece of luggage containing three bedspreads, several items of bags and clothing, plus gifts and having both been measured up for tailor made clothes!! Seriously though, this was an amazing experience, the thousands of bolts of fabrics, piles of scarves, bags, shirts and the variety of options was a completely unique experience…. Turns out that this tailor shop fitted out the cast of the Exotic Marigold Hotel film, which was filmed here in Udaipur (and partly in Jaipur). We were both measured up for clothes to be posted on … I’m having my own ‘Judi Jacket’ made ?
Finally, with the car packed with purchases we headed off into rural Rajasthan for the next part of our adventure .... read on in Part 2!
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