My last day in Mumbai was more challenging than the preceding days. I walked a long way across town to Chowpatty Beach (a favourite evening hangout amongst the locals apparently) through the crazy market streets. There were no English street names marked here, just squiggly letters, throngs of people, more activity than your brain could take in, some third world smells and people trying to sell you the most unlikely objects (giant balloons, drums, sandwich boxes, plastic toys…. just what every traveller yearns for!). By the time I reached the beach (which is deserted by day – I was the only daft soul to brave the 97% humidity and extreme temperatures it seemed) I was soaked with sweat and feeling exhausted and overwhelmed by the scale of the city and the effort of trying to find my way. Luckily a cheap auto rickshaw ride back to the town centre and a lie down in my nice air conditioned hotel room made Mumbai seem a much less daunting place. Nonetheless I was ready to move on to my next destination, Udaipur, the next morning. Mumbai has been fascinating to observe but a hard place to be alone in, especially as they have cut off my new Indian phone already, despite all my best efforts at submitting the paperwork!
Udaipur by contrast instantly appealed to me. It was another world from busy Mumbai, a beautiful artists’ town built around fairytale lakes and surrounded by hills. The air here was cooler, less humid and provided a pleasant balmy bath in which to enjoy the prettiness of the town. Hand carved wooden doors, lovingly painted details and white lattice-cut arches and pillars were everywhere and my camera was in overdrive for much of the time. On the first evening I climbed up to the roof terrace of my lovely hotel (run by a family of friendly artists) to watch my first Udaipur sunset in the milky evening air. Hawks circled above the lake as the pinky sky darkened and the little twinkling lights of the exclusive mid-lake Palace Hotel flickered in the water.
After my solitary time in Mumbai I was also very happy to meet a lovely travel buddy – Graeme – a well-travelled author from Sydney who was en route to Mt.Abu. We got chatting at the airport and ended up sharing the Udaipur experience. No more lonely solo dining – yippeee.
Of course, no beautiful picture-postcard town exists without the inevitable tourist traps and my ‘bullshit-o-meter’ was working hard to avoid being dragged into the usual scams and attempts to get me to part with as much cash as possible, however there were some genuine bargains to be had and I ended up buying some great clothes in the market streets – a welcome relief from my heavy western clobber.
On day two we took an early morning walk round ‘Fateh Sagar’ Lake before the honking rickshaws and lorries were allowed access. The local men were soaping themselves and bathing in the lake, stripped to their underpants and splashing around having fun. Shame the women here aren’t so free to enjoy such pleasures.
Back to town in time for a rooftop breakfast of fruit salad and good Indian coffee, then on to cookery class to delight our tastebuds with some of the nicest Indian food I have ever tasted. First came a lesson in how to make Chai Massala – a sweet and spicy tea which is going to become a serious addiction – and then instruction on how to make an authentic dal, sweet pumpkin curry and chapatis (finished by placing directly on the gas flame until they puff up nicely). We got to eat the results and the warm spice and delicate flavours were heavenly!
Tourist scams aside, Udaipur has been the India that I hoped for but thought maybe only existed in the movies. If you’re looking for romance and an Indian travel experience easy on the soul then Udaipur is highly recommended!
Next stop Pushkar.