We travelled in to Udaipur by train, our guide HarshHodo organised a drop in the travel class to broaden our experience of the Indian railways. We sat three to a hard wooden bench facing another three, the windows had no glass, just metal bars and every 5 minutes throughout the entire journey we would listen to the call of chai, chai, chai move through the carriage from the numerous entrepreneurs who would hop on and off at each station with a fresh batch of hot spicy tea. For breakfast we tried some locally fried veg curry balls the size of a fist but gave away the remainder to one of the homeless beggars we attracted who would beg by putting their hands through the open barred windows. The journey took about seven hours which gave us plenty of time to get to know some of the locals and read the Indian Times which is printed in English and given out to all passengers. My favourite story today was that of a village that had purchased 150 new Mercedes cars but were unable to drive them because of the poor conditions of the local roads. That kind of sums up India, there is great wealth to some but not enough is invested in to basic infrastructure, they have a nuclear arsenal and plan to send a shuttle to Mars next month but a huge portion of the country's population lives in extreme poverty.
Udaipur is known as the city of lakes and Venice of the East, we took a walking tour in the late afternoon that finished on the lakeside where all the high end hotels are located. One is on an island that was once a palace and is now leased out by the royal family to a hotel chain, part of James Bond's Octup**** was filmed there. As often is the case we were joined by some cows as we took photos on the shore of the lake, we then headed in to one of the ancient buildings to watch a show of local folk dancing and puppeteers.
On our first full day we took a tour around the royal palace where preparations are already underway for the wedding of the Maharaja's son Prince Lakshyaraj Mewar early next year. It is a beautiful building on the water's edge but as far as palaces go it wasn't as grand as we'd expected, the view of the city was great and there were some beautiful pieces such as golden carriages and Peacock mosaics but the walls were crumbling all around. We took a short walk around a Hindu temple next door but were soon ushered away as there were so many people praying at the time, the building was very ornate with intricate designs of animals, people and symbols all the way up and down the white pyramid shaped building.
The local artists in town all appear to favour miniature art and so we visited one shop where the artist held a record for painting on a grain of rice, the girls all had a fingernail painted with their name and an animal, Leanne with a picture of a peacock was impressive on Leanne's tiny fingernails. Later, looking for a shaded oasis and hoping to stumble upon a scene from the Life of Pi we headed to the local zoo and were disappointed to find animals kept in much smaller enclosures than we had ever seen. We witnessed Indian tourists poking sticks in to the cages after any response from bears and large cats, we didn't hang around too long and returned to our hotel pool to relax and cool down from the unrelenting heat.
That night the three guys in our group had organised a romantic meal in a hotel on the lake that had been voted number one hotel stay in the world in 2009. After a boat trip around the lake at sunset we got dressed in to our finest creased backpacker clothes and took a private boat put on by the hotel to a candlelit jetty then hopped on to a golf cart through manicured gardens up to a grand marble entrance. We had our best Indian food to date while a musician sat in small room playing a range of instruments I couldn't name, we finished with cocktails in one of the lounges overlooking the lake before coming back down and to our accommodation across town.