So you’ve decided to add Udaipur to your itinerary, excellent choice! And if you’re still in two minds about it then I am here to tell you why you should. 😉
My name’s Anil and I have been living in Udaipur for over 3 months now working with various craftsmen, artisans and home-based workers. In my time here I’ve encountered an Udaipur I never would have as a traveler. As I continue to discover and unravel the best kept secrets of this city, I would like to share what I have come to learn and appreciate about this beautiful city so far.
I am guessing what first enticed you to visit were probably pictures of Udaipur’s attractions – Lake City Palace and the Old City. Before I go on any further, note here that Udaipur comprises of the Old City which is what you see on the brochures and then there is the new city where most of the locals go about their daily lives. Both parts of the city have their respective appeals.
Sights in the Old City
You MUST visit Udaipur’s Crown jewel – The Old City Palace and Jagdish Temple – you can opt for the guided tour, or personally I prefer to read about the palace on my own first before visiting the site. On foot is how the old city is best seen but there are two spots in the Old City where I go for some quiet time and stunning views. The first is the rooftop restaurant of Hotel Udai Niwas, claiming to be the highest rooftop in Udaipur (I am inclined to agree), the views offered from this rooftop of the Old and New City is nothing short of breathtaking. The second spot was introduced to me by a local friend, and it is without a shadow of doubt my favourite spot in Udaipur – the temple near Hotel Ambrae is located on the edge of Lake Pichola. From here you will get a full view of the Old City Palace and Lake Palace (btw, this is the closest you can get to the Lake Palace without forking out over USD 500 for a single nights stay). The best time to be here is during sunset, just sit there and watch the last rays of the sun gently change shades on the Old City Palace walls.. If there was a romantic setting in Udaipur, THIS IS IT! 🙂
Jag Mandir and Bagore Ki Haveli also deserve mentions as both provide insight into the history and culture of Rajasthan. Jag Mandir is located on Lake Pichola and can only be accessed by a ferry. You’ll have to spend Rs. 1,300 per pax to visit Jag Mandir which includes transportation and a restaurant voucher up to the amount you’ve paid. The food is decent but what you’re paying for is mostly the experience of being on the premises with it’s fort, temple and well manicured gardens. A popular weddings venue of the Indian elite, you can also stay here if you’ve over USD 350 to spare for a night. The museum at Bagore Ki Haveli is worth a look and I recommend that you attend the cultural show that’s on every evening around 7pm. You’ll get a sneak peak into Rajasthani folk culture, anything from dances to puppet shows will be on display.
The Old city is also where most of the hosts for Backstreet Academy reside and I would urge you to explore this side of the city too, mainly the areas around the clock tower. Here you will discover renowned goldsmiths working right out of their shop fronts, vegetable vendors, saree shops, mithai shops and a wide variety of street food. Word of caution here, despite the narrow streets, motorists drive/ride at considerable speed so be extra careful when you’re in this part of the city.
Sights in the New City
The allure of Udaipur is mostly in the Old City but the New City too has it’s appeal if you know what to look for. 😉 Udaipur locals affectionately refer to their city as the Lake city and I can see why, the Old City has Lake Pichola and Lake Swaroop Sagar while the New City has Lake Fateh Sagar. The roads that outline Lake Fateh Sagar is generally bustling with activity in the afternoon and tourists rarely venture to this part of Udaipur. You will mainly find locals here crowding around the numerous food stalls in the north end of the lake – bread pakoras at Pandit ji’s Food Stall are worth a try here. If crowds are not your scene then head towards the west side of the lake along Rani Road where you’ll find calmer spots for quiet contemplation.
Udaipur has quite the treat for automobile enthusiasts too. At The Palace Udaipur on Gulab Bagh Road you will see a fine collection of vintage cars that have belonged to the Maharanas of Udaipur both past and present. Among the collection are a pair of Cadillacs from the 1930’s, a 1934 Rolls Royce Phantom II, a Vauxhall 12 and many more. Undoubtedly a feast for the eyes of anyone who appreciates vintage cars.
Celebration Mall and Shilpgram could possibly also go on your best places to visit in Udaipur list if you have spare time. Shilpgram is an artist enclave where the government has designated an entire village where artists from all over India can set up shop and display their handicraft work and other traditional skills like folk dances and music. While it’s a noble effort in preserving art and culture, to me it felt staged as most of these artists are not in their natural surrounding and some of them just look odd and out of place. Celebration Mall is an average mall on the inside with multiplexes and fast food joints, however, architecturally the exteriors have been made to look like the City Palace. The catch? City Palace-looking building with excessive billboards! and in some strange way this mall to me represents the nexus between the India of old and her acceptance of western culture.
Located at the highest point in Udaipur, the Monsoon Palace is undoubtedly the best viewpoint. A 30 minute drive from the city this is an excellent spot to catch the sunrise or sunset, and in addition you will also get to see the Aravalli mountain range and the entire city of Udaipur in all it’s glory. The one drawback about the Monsoon Palace is in it’s maintenance and upkeep. Much of the palace grounds are littered and several parts of the building are in shambles.
As much as the palaces and temples of Udaipur enchant me, I have fallen head over heels for the city’s food habits. Much of what I am about to recommend is found on the streets, and that’s because the little food stalls that dot the streets is where the city really comes alive.
Among all the things to do in Udaipur, exploring and experimenting the city’s street food stalls is my favourite. What caught my attention when I first arrived in Udaipur was the numerous Kachori stalls. These little deep fried bundles of joy stuffed with various spices are prepared mostly in two varieties, Dal (lentils) and Pyaj (onions) stuffings. I’ve experimented several Kachori stalls all over the city and my vote goes to Lala Ki Kachori stall located near Asthal Mandir. I would say try both, the Dal and Pyaj Kachori as both are equally good.
Next up is the Bhurji and Tandoori Omelette stalls in Chetak Circle. Two separate stalls right next to each other, they specialise in these distinctly Udaipur egg dishes. The name Tandoori Omelette may sound like a dish cooked in the traditional tandoor (oven) but don’t let the name mislead you. I would describe it as a Udaipur style french toast with a generous helping of mayonnaise and the stall owners secret sauce. 😉 If mayonnaise isn’t your thing then 2 steps away is the Bhurji stall. This masala-packed egg curry is simply a culinary wonder! Best had with pan toasted bread, you cannot leave Udaipur without trying the Bhurji. Trivia: I’ve been told by my friends recently that the cook from this stall has been selected for Masterchef India. Need I say more? 🙂
Vada Pav is more known as a Mumbai delicacy but the Vada Pav stall in front of Lok Kala Mandal definitely offers some stiff competition. If I didn’t know better, I would say that more people visit this stall than the landmark it stands beside because Lok Kala Mandal too is a popular cultural site among locals and tourists. The primary ingredients used to make Vada Pav are fried buns and a potato filling with various herbs and spices.
No trip to India is complete without trying Pani Puris – also called Gol Gappas in Delhi and Puchkas in Calcutta. And while the debate for which city in India has the best Pani Puri continues, there is Pani Puri stall near Big Bazaar in Udaipur that quietly serves seven scrumptious different flavours of Pani Puri. Essentially, my guess is that if Udaipur had to send a representative to the Pani Puri Olympics, then the owner of this stall would probably be it. :p
I am quite enjoying writing this and I could go on endlessly with my street food discoveries but I’ll leave you with my summertime favourite: Rabri Kulfi. If you’re lactose intolerant then you should probably skip this section. I can best explain this dairy wonder by breaking down the the two words. Kulfi is basically the sub-continent’s version of ice cream but thicker and creamier. Rabri is a sweet dish that’s made from yogurt and flour. The best way to have this is by dipping the Kulfi in the Rabri. Bit of a dairy overload, no? But to me it’s just fantabulous! I devour this dairy delicacy at Sukhadia Circle almost every week.
Restaurants & Cafes
I know that not everyone’s palette is built for street food so I’ve also compiled a list of some wonderful cafe’s and restaurants in Udaipur too. I would like to begin with my favourite, Cafe Satori which is located at Hanuman Ghat in the Old City, easily among the best places to visit in Udaipur. The name of the barista here is Bhanu, and boy does he make a mean cup of coffee or what! Aside from the coffees and sandwiches, the couple that owns this cafe are excellent conversationalists and create the perfect atmosphere to enjoy that cuppa. Let me put it this way, my first few weeks in Udaipur I was at this cafe almost every day!
Every once in a while I crave for a good Rajasthani Thali set, and my mind is diverted to just one Thali restaurant in Udaipur, Natraj. Located near the Udiapole bus stand, a meal here will set you back Rs. 180, but in return you will receive an all you can eat Thali of more than 15 varieties of Rajasthani food. There are cheaper alternatives in various other parts of the city too but Natraj is definitely value for money.
If sandwiches and salad wraps are more down your alley then Cafe Edelweiss and Millets of Mewar is where I would recommend you go. Cafe Edelweiss offers an excellent selection of sandwiches plus their brownies are quite popular among travelers too. Millets of Mewar is an all-organic restaurant and the salad wraps served here are a welcome break from all the masala-laden food found on the streets and local-food restaurants. Also, every time I visit these cafes in the Old City I inevitably stop by Pap’s Juice Bar also where Pappu the proprietor serves fresh juices and smoothies.
As travellers we’ve all had the nagging feeling when visiting a new city where we ask ourselves questions like, “what do the locals REALLY do?” or “how do they live?”, among others. If I may, let me have a go at the question for you. Well, here goes. I’ve been living here a while and I share the same commute as most of the locals here on the ‘Passenger Auto” (aka shared tuk tuk) which ploughs the same route every day. These vehicles look anything but sturdy, and this is my preferred means of transport around the city. Now let me give you two specific reasons why you should try commuting on one too. Firstly, it’s super cheap, Rs. 10 is the most you can be charged from the any point you decide to sit on till you get to the last stop. Secondly, this vehicle has a capacity of 8 passengers but you will often find up to 16 people crammed into one rickety vehicle. And this is how the locals live and commute. Oh and another thing, some of these Passenger Auto drivers have pimped out their vehicles with flashing neon lights and boomboxes! Welcome to India! 😉