Vehicles in India have this slightly terrifying habit of driving up the wrong side of the road if they need to get somewhere on the right. Usually it’s rickshaws or motorcycles and they aim for the edge of the road and often directly at pedestrians but y’know, this is something you get used to. So me and Sage were on the government bus to Udaipur which was heading down the dual carriageway when it veered off to the right. Clearly, driving on the correct side of the road is for losers. He didn’t even make much of an effort to keep to one side but to be fair, if you’re on a motorbike or in a car and you see a huge, Tata bus heading towards you there’s not gonna be much argument about right of way now is there. Turns out he just wanted to turn right in a couple of hundred metres and we were soon safely tucked away in a village. I relinquished the death grip on my seat and the colour returned to my knuckles.
So, what a great place Udaipur is, what with all the lovely people offering you help or a rickshaw or marijuana or opium, but actually taking no for an answer. I’d accidentally allocated it five nights on account of skipping Bikaner but I wasn’t actually bored, not even once, and in fact I reckon I could have spent a few more nights there if I didn’t have my train booked to Mumbai.
There’s shit to do, shit to see, stuff to gawp at in the evening, or you could just stare at Lake Pichola and it just so happens that Zostel Udaipur has pretty much the best view of the lake. I’m not even shitting you, look at this goddam view, guys! A significant portion of my time was spent sipping Kingfisher Premium whilst staring at the floating palace.
Talking of the floating palace, it is compulsory in Udaipur to watch that 1983 James Bond classic, Octopussy, at least once on account of it being filmed here. Not that the city is named, bless it, Delhi seems to get all of the credit. The Taj Mahal and the ghats of Varanasi even get a cameo role. Every restaurant with the facilities to do so will show the movie for anyone who asks resulting in the poor staff being able to quote the whole bastard thing from start to finish whilst tourists point excitedly at the screen and yell, “I’ve been there! And there! And there too!”
So here’s the thing, I’ve never actually seen an old James Bond movie, only the new ones with that blonde fella who exits the sea in a way that makes the straight women and gay men in the audience slide off their chairs. I didn’t realise just how fucking cheesy they are. Don’t get me wrong, I like a bit of cheese with my international blockbuster, but I did cringe a bit when he handed a wad of cash to an Indian agent with the words, “Here you go, that should keep you in curry for a while.” And is it just me that thinks Rodger Moore located that fine line between smooth and creepy and crossed it? And not just a brief foray into the world of dirty old man either, he set up camp there and proclaimed himself the undisputed ruler of Creepland. He’s probably got a fucking flag and his own currency.
There are other “you have to!” attractions in Udaipur that are less likely to upset restaurant staff as they try to steer you towards the stack of movies they can also offer whilst you insist that no no, you really really want to watch this one. Of course there’s the usual Rajasthan tourist shit to do which will invariably involve a fort or a palace, in this case it’s the latter. It’s the thing that everyone bangs on about. “It’s such a cool palace!” they’ll tell you, so we got that out of the way on the first day. Of course there’s the entrance fee, and if you want to take photos there’s the camera fee on top of that, and if you wanted any hope of understanding what the actual fuck you were looking at there’s the optional audio guide on top of that. So ₹565 later I was clutching a rainforest worth of tickets for my Udaipur Palace experience. I was with Sage and his friend, Vineet, but I wandered around a lot slower than them because I was learning shit. Oh yeah, gotta love a bit of learning.
I’m not gonna lie, though. I found the palace slightly… dull… There, I said it. The audio guide was fascinating as audio guides generally are, there are so many stories to be told in Rajasthan. Tales of maharajas and Mughal emperors, talk of honour and, well, killing women. Lots of women tend to get killed in these stories. Such as the story of a daughter of one of the custodians (as rulers of Udaipur were called on account of the fact they believed the princely state of Mewar belonged to a god called Eklingji (a manifestation of Lord Shiva) and they were just looking after it), who was called Krishna. On account of an administration error, and I shit you not, she was accidentally promised to the rulers of Jaipur and Jodhpur so both parties rode in with their entourages to claim her. So you can imagine that exchange.
“Soooo, Krishna, this is awkward…”
“What’s awkward, dad?”
“Well… we kinda promised you to too dudes. Both of which are pretty capable of kicking our arses.”
“If we give you to one the other will be insulted and there’ll be war.”
“So, obviously the only way out of this is for you to, y’know, die.”
And die she did. It took three attempts at poisoning her before she actually did snuff it.
And all the horses in the paintings look like they’re wearing a WWII gas mask crossed with a gimp hood. Well. Everyone else preferred to use elephants during war, but not Mewar. Those guys preferred the agility of horses so they’d fashion fake trunks for their horses to wear, the theory being that elephants would think the horses were baby elephants and refuse to attack them. The actuality probably being more along the lines of the elephants seeing the cunningly disguised equines and laughing so fucking hard they couldn’t fight in between clutching their sides and trying to catch their breath.
Another standard tourist attraction is Monsoon Palace, made famous by the James Bond film, Octopussy. So one afternoon it was time for a game of how many tourists can you fit in a rickshaw designed for four? Apparently six, but there’s not enough room for six people, a driver and all of the circulation in your legs. A few of us from the hostel were heading there. The poor driver, he did suggest that we take two tuk tuks but we were adamant that we could all squeeze in resulting in the guys at the side fearing for their knee caps every time he got too near to a wall or another vehicle or a cow. And the rickshaw was not making happy noises. We made it against all odds, parted with our entrance fee and headed up in a taxi because fuck walking up that beast of a hill! Well it’s not very, y’know, palatial, is it? It’s quite small but I had no expectations having not seen the film at that point and I was just there for the spectacular views. It’s only from this distance that you realise there are actually a couple of lakes and they’re both pretty fucking big. There’s not much else to do apart from photograph the view from every conceivable angle and try not to get attacked by monkeys.
And if you’re still not bored of gawping at the lake, there are also boat rides available, either the cheaper one from Sunset Point which will take you around the lake for the simple purpose of being on a boat on a lake, or there’s the more expensive one from City Palace which will take you to an island which, along with Monsoon Palace, also appears in Octopussy and has a restaurant with prices that’d make a Londonder cringe. We went for the latter because one of the girls was on a time limit and here’s something to add to your list of Shit You Didn’t Think You’d See In India; A fucking Christmas tree! I expect to see cows sharing a rubbish pile with a pig, and a family of five on the back of a motorbike, and a camel pulling a cart, and women carrying unimaginable weight on their heads, but I never expected to see a decorated tree. It just looked so out of place. Even after spending four Christmases south of the Equator I still can’t get my head around looking at a Christmas tree whilst wearing a singlet and sandals and losing half my body weight in fluid through my pores.
Apart from that, unless you fancied spending ₹500 on 150ml of wine (I was half tempted when I found out it was Australian), there’s not much to do before you hop back on a boat back to City Palace. It’s pretty enjoyable seeing all the buildings from water level though. Everything kinda just looks like it’s on the verge of sinking. You also get a glimpse of local life as you cruise past the women washing their clothes in the lake.
And in other news, the miracle of birth, guys. As in, animals. Baby humans gross me out. They shit and drool and snot and are completely incapable of keeping their stomach contents actually in their stomach and they don’t even have any tangible use until they turn 18 and can go to the shop for you to pick up a bottle of vodka. No. They’re disgusting. But a tiny animal that has just slid out of its mother’s vagina and is still covered in placenta gunk with the umbilical cord still attached? That’s cute! Back home, if you want to see brand new baby animals it has to be done in a highly coordinated environment on the nearest farm which is usually situated in bum fuck nowhere surrounded by signage advising you to shut the fuck up and keep your dogs a minimum of 20 miles away and on a lead, please. In India, cows just get on with it. This cow gave birth to this calf who is a mere 20 minutes old in this photo in the middle of the street as backpackers, locals and stray dogs looked on. The dogs couldn’t have given a flying fuck. Neither could the cow or calf. In fact, the foreigners were probably the most excited as we made the tiny newborn the latest star of Facebook.
Udaipur, Rajasthan, India
Staying at: Zostel Udaipur