Udaipur is a relatively small city compared to that of Delhi or Mumbai, but still quite big in my standards. The city is situated near 3 main lakes, each of which have palaces that appear to be floating on the water. There are plenty of palaces on the shores of lake as well which have been converted to hotels after the nobles lost their political power. Each palace or Haveli, as they are called, has a unique character and rich history. It is fun to imagine what it would have been like to live in such a place had you been a part of the ruling class. Most of them are decorated nicely and have quaint courtyards which are a little oasis from the noise and movement of the city.
In Udaipur we stayed near the more touristy part of the city close to the water’s edge, market, and City Palace which made for easy access to the sights. The Maharana’s son and the Princess of Bihar (a very big deal) happened to be getting married when we were in Udaipur so the palace was closed to tourists as it was the venue for one of the elaborate ceremonies, but we were able to see plenty of the rest of the city. The vibe of Udaipur was more relaxed than the big city and seemed to be just a less chaotic to me, perhaps it’s something about being near water that slows the pace of life down just a bit.
Besides the lakes and palaces, Udaipur is known for it’s rich history of minature paintings, an art passed down through generations that depicts the royal life of the Mewar kingdom and various animals. It seems that every corner has a minature artwork shop which replicate the original works displayed in the City Palace. Many families have started artwork cooperatives that work to keep this art going by starting to teach children the style of painting at a young age. When you purchase artwork from one of the cooperatives you are supporting all the artists as the profits are divided among the families. We stopped at Janak Art’s Cooperative, one of many in the city, to learn about the history and method to this delicate art. The artists will only work a few hours a day with many breaks as the detailed work takes concentration and clear vision. A piece of work can take anywhere from a week to a month depending on how detailed it is. The paintings are traditionally done on silk paper with paints made from natural minerals mixed with water for the color.
One of the master artists painted this little elephant on my fingernail as proof of their authenticity in just a minute or so! I’m not much of a souveiner seeker when I travel, but I do enjoy two keepsakes art and jewelry as they represent the culture, history, imagination, and creativity of the places we visit. We ended up finding an elephant that wanted to come home with us. And by elephant I mean an elephant painting of course.
We also took a cooking class from the same gentleman who runs the cooperative and learned to make chai, samosa, palak paneer, cumin rice, eggplant, dal, and chapati. This was super fun and informative. The hands on experience is so much better than trying to learn via a recipe book or watching Ravi’s family as they are so fast when they mix everything together. It tasted delicious as well. My favorite was the chai-I thought it would be complicated but it is super easy. In second place was the samosa, I think perhaps because I was in the mood for something fried :), then the dal. In general my favorite food here is dal with chapati as it is lighter than many of the curries, high in protein, and generally has some veggies. Food here requires a whole other blog post or maybe too as there are so many culinary delights and varieties of food, drinks, snacks, and desserts.
After the cooking class we took a boat ride, climbed a hill to get a view of the city, relaxed, and ended the evening with a cultural dance show which also was colorful, jovial, and inspiring. It actually made me want to go to an international dance festival to see a variety of dances!