Thursday, 24 September 2015

Udaipur with My Family

A family vacation without arguments or fights, without at least one person threatening to cancel or the other over enthusiastic to go? Sounds familiar? This 4 day vacation to Udaipur was one of my family's first successful one without any unpleasant encounters. Read on to know the secret of this successful family vacation. 

A warm desert breeze brushes past as I wrap my fingers around my glass of Glenlivet. It's amber shades blending beautifully that of the sunset and fine mood of the evening. The fort walls echo with stories as the sun sets to the welcoming music of the light and sound show, I savour the flavours of this magical evening in Udaipur – the City of Lakes in the western state of Rajasthan, India. 

The Land of Mewar
The city of Udaipur was once the capital of Mewar, a princely state in Rajasthan. The maharanas of Mewar known for their fierce independence and valor, built what according to me are the most magical palaces in the world.  It's importance is best expressed in this quote, “A life of grandeur and nobility, of ritual and formality, of tradition and honour, a life that will not return.”

History class back in school was always an exciting hour of storytelling by my favourite teacher. The wide eyed silences in the class room as our teacher enacted a brilliant one act performance of the battles of the Maharajas, of Shivaji and of the freedom struggle... Do you remember those days? I sure was taken back in time to those school storytelling days as we spent an evening at the Mewar sound and light show at the City Palace.

Walking around the palace complex, enjoying leisurely breakfasts in the grand hall, Even the service guards were ancient, elegant elderly men with proud, salt and pepper moustaches, freshly greased. Day dreaming by the gorgeous pool... feeling like a true Maharani, stationed at the grand old Shiv Niwas palace Hotel for two fine days of my stay in Udaipur city; I had my job cut out for me.
Of course I had to step out into the city at some time. Even a good maharani has to keep a tab on her subjects! So I summoned my trusted steed to take me beyond the palace walls and onto where the commoners live and trade.

*Bursts out in giggles.* you can see how much I am enjoying myself with this travelogue. Okay okay, getting back to the story, let me take you through all the sights and sounds of Udaipur my family and I experienced.

Travelling with Family
This was a holiday with family; Mom, Dad my sister and I. 

You will agree with me when I express that family holidays are a tricky affair. Each member of the family is a polar opposite, so naturally everyone wants to do different things on a holiday.

Mom wants to do a few hours of sightseeing followed by shopping. For her a holiday is about not having to answering the main door bell in the morning, no receiving phone calls, no rush in the morning for breakfast, etc. So her ideal holiday in Udaipur comprised of a walking tour around the city, shopping for bandini duppattas and other souvineers and then just relaxing over a spa or with a cup of tea watching the sun set by the lake.

For Dad on the other hand, a holiday is not a holiday unless it resembles a marathon. He MUST cover every inch of the place he visits. Literally everything, no kidding. And if a dash of adrenaline, adventure is thrown in, well that would just be the cherry on the cake.

Now you know what I mean by polar opposites?

And my sister Yuktie, a lovely blend of openness for fitness, nature happy and passionate about the arts and craft; let’s just say she can manage an early morning wake up for a day’s hike very elegantly with a late evening attending a cultural festival and being super attentive at an arts and craft workshop.
And Diipti, that’s me; well you know I love the outdoors, and Udaipur with its ancient stories, forts and palaces so full of wonder, I wanted to experience the story of Udaipur via the life lived by the royalty and commoners alike. Ideally I would have loved to combine the stay with a local, but that would have required a longer trip.

Luckily, Udaipur with its magical history and culture, beautiful nature and outdoor has something for everyone. So, the way things were planned, we flew to Udaipur in March, that perfect time between changing seasons.

My 4 Day Family Itinerary Around Udaipur

Day 1: Shiv Niwas Palace and Walking tour around the city
All four of us did the walking tour around the roughly 2 km radius of the city, where we covered the The Vintage Car Museum, the Bandini workshop (followed by a nice dose of shopping at Hatti Pole or elephant gate in Hindi), Karni Mata Temple early in the morning (enjoy the cable car ride in the morning here) and the Gangour Festival (Part of the Mewar festival, marking the changing seasons) in the evening. 

Day 2: Cycling for Yuktie and Dad, History trail for Mom and me, evening together at Lake Pichola 

Dad and Yuktie were up early to head out for a 30km mountain trail biking trip with Art of Bicycle Trips exploring the countryside. While they got their dose of adventure, exploring through the villages and hills around the countryside, Mom and I went exploring the stories of the Mewar Dynasty around the city palace complex and the city. And when the two, sore yet happy souls got back from their adventure in the evening and Mom and I back from an uber luxurious noon spa, all four of us spent an evening relaxing by the lake view restaurant in the City Palace Complex.

Palace Stay versus Hotel Stay
The good part about staying in one of the hotels in the Palace complex was experiencing the way the royalty lived. It was magical to soak in the royal pool, to dine in the crystal room and to savour the view of the lake from the palace rooms. However, certain elements were not up to the mark. For one, there was a visible lacuna in service, the elderly service staff were not prompt with dining service and rude to talk to at times. (Maybe that was a genuine part living in an ancient Indian palace experience, I couldn’t tell!) More importantly, the grandeur of the palace from outside wore off after seeing the poorly maintained interiors. Cracks and cobwebs, defaced wall art and a general air of disregard hung in the air. I was glad the way the second half of the trip panned out as we transferred to the Trident Udaipur on Day 3.

Day 3: Trident Hotel and Peacock Sanctuary 
In the morning after breakfast, we transferred to the fresh and shiny Trident Hotel. With the adjoining Oberoi Udaivilas accessible for a leisurely afternoon brunch, a spa and relaxing by the pool; we thought we were in for two days of regular hotel luxury experience. But I am happy to tell you, here is where I experienced the true magic of royal Udaipur.

The property has a few acres dedicated to the wildlife, in the case of Udaipur, this meant a lot of deer, peacocks and peahens! A short walk away from the pool, we discovered this space of wilderness with hillocks to the east, trees scattered all around with wide patches of grass scattered in between. We spent hours simply lazing about on the grass where the peacocks were freely roaming about; We were careful not to get too close to them, except for that one time when dad tried to get a good picture making a peahen chase him away! It was so easy to doze off to their soft calls; I sure did enjoy a snooze.

Something else near the gardens truly stole my breath away.

To the west, around the border of the property where Lake Pichola meets the land, Bara Mahal, a little cottage stood right there. With walls made of limestone, draped with layers of Fuchsia bougainvillea, it was quite a magical sight to take in. I walked up the old styled tall steps to a room. The room had floor to ceiling windows with classic jharooka like borders with a view of freshly manicured gardens and large domes and cupolas of Udaivilas. To the right of the window you can see groups of deer ambling around in the wilderness close by. Add to this scene the golden glow just before sunset and what the eyes experience is true magic.

What’s most important of all in this little creamy white structure is the ceiling to floor, handmade, delicately restored paining of maharajas on a hunt in the jungle. The details of the jungle, the hunting scene, the strength of the horses, the expressions of the maharanas, when studied on closer proximity... if I took a step closer I felt I would cross over to the other side, back into their world all those years ago. This cottage is almost like the centre point, the heart of both properties, and on further research I found that the location is the point where the maharanas of Mewar once began their hunting trips.

Day 4: Day at leisure at Trident, lunch at Udaivilas followed by a drive to the airport

The Trident Udaipur property is quite magical. Not only does it have superlative service but also that little space of wilderness I have mentioned above. And what's the best part, it shares its space with the uber luxurious Udai Vilas. We spent a good number of hours exploring the property, going boating around the lake from its private gates and ended the day with a leisurely brunch at Udai Vilas.   
So we spend the morning at a leisurely pace, with all four of us early risers (probaby the only common thing between us!) we had enough time to explore the property, go for a ride around the lake, Yuktie went for a jog around the property too and I did some yoga. 

What I wanted the most on this trip, was to experience the story of Udaipur. And at that little cottage on the banks of Lake Pichola, just being there, in that space, soaking in the golden light of the sun being reflected from the creamy domes, completed the experience.

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