Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Travel TidBits: Udaipur, Rajasthan

Udaipur, the City of Lakes in southern Rajasthan, also called the Venice of the East, was a nice reprise from the hustle and bustle of New Delhi.  Although a city of ½ million people, it felt like a much smaller town specifically along the lake front and in the old town.  We lodged in a hotel at the waterfront built right over the Lake and early in the morning (4am!!) I could observe the activities on the other shore where the women gathered for their morning prayer – more of this later in this story.

Hotel Lake Pichola

After arriving, we rather enjoyed the Lake Pichola with its islands, among them the Jag Mandir Palace Island and Lake Palace Hotel each on its own island, from a boat at sunset.  The lake was originally created by Maharana Udai Singh II 400 years ago and is about 4km long and 3 km wide.  The city grew around it and its shores have many ghats, typical places for people to come in the morning and bathe and wash clothes.  The Lake Palace, now a renowned hotel, covers an entire island, Jag Niwas, and was originally built as a royal summer palace. 

Lake Pichola with Jag Mandir island (left) and City Palace (right)

City front along Lake Pichola

Jag Mandir Palace and gardens guarded by magnificent elephants

The Jag Mandir, also a former royal palace where Shah Jahan took refuge while revolting against his father.  We will learn a lot more about Shah Jahan in Agra when visiting the Taj Mahal since he built this impressive marble tomb on the banks of the Yamuna River in memory of his wife who died during child birth.

Invitation to a smoke – Jag Mandir Gardens                                      Jag Mandir Palace Island

City Palace, Udaipur

Beautiful sunset over Lake Pichola, Udaipur 

I woke early in the morning – if one can call 4am early morning?! – and stepped onto our balcony overlooking the Lake.  Still pitch dark, but armed with tripod and a comfortable wicker chair, I started observing the   activities on other side of the Lake.  As I learned later from our guide Ashim, it is typical for women to arrive at the ghats along the lake front to light candles and do their early morning prayers, followed by chores like washing their laundry later.

Early Morning at the ghat:  It is 4am and life on the other side of the Lake is already in flux.  I am looking at the waterfront of the old city where the road ends under an arched gate.  The night is still pitch dark but a small group of mostly women is gathering, sitting on the landing, chanting.  Some have candles or small lamps but mostly the scene is eliminated by one strong light mounted high on the gate.  It is peaceful and there seems to be a morning payer interrupted by chanting of the women’s voices.  A nearby temple, a conical stone structure with delicate carvings that we had seen on our walk yesterday is a place of worship:  the women get up and walk over and touch the stone and pray.   Nearby, I can already hear the rhythmic slapping of the washing of clothes in the river.  As I saw yesterday morning, this lake shore is a gathering place and the early mornings belong to the women.  The pre-dawn calmness may be their only time of reflection before the hard work begins.  For the poorer people, the lake and in other places the river is an integral part of life.  Without running water at their home, the public waters become the bathing place, the place for washing, and community.

As dawn arrives the sky illuminates the water and reflections become more pronounced.  By 6am, the city seems to be awakening and I can see the first foot traffic over the bridge linking the lake fronts.  Rural herders arrive with their donkeys that are used for moving construction materials to and from wherever it is needed. 

Bridge linking the waterfronts in Udaipur

But for me, it is time to get ready for another day of exploring.  Breakfast on the rooftop of the hotel offers a welcome hot cup of tea and soon we are off to more adventures.

Til next time,

To see all of the workshops and photo travel opportunities 
offered by M. Raeder - Photography, please click here.
Join me for the next great outing to photograph the elephant seals and 
their newborn pups in January 2012!