Tour du Monde
Stop Five: Indian Spirit11.05.2010 / 15:09
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Text by Alex Marashian Photos by Rainer Hosch
Stop Five: Udaipur
Last year, the readers of Travel + Leisure magazine voted Udaipur the “Best City of the World.” We were unaware of that fact when we selected Udaipur as the fifth stop on our Tour du Monde, but at the end of our first full day here, we’re not inclined to disagree. Known as the City of Lakes, it’s also a city of sprawling royal palaces, several of which have now been converted into luxury hotels by their owner, the current Maharana of Mewar.
Head of the longest-serving dynasty in the world, now in its 76th generation, the Maharana continues to exert his influence over the city and its surrounding regions, despite the fact that the Kingdom of Mewar (also known as the Kingdom of Udaipur, after its capital city) was the first of India’s princely states to accede to the Dominion of India after independence, in 1949.
Udaipur’s unique combination of serene lakes and towering palaces of marble and granite is best taken in from the Lake Garden palace of Jag Mandir, and this is precisely where we decided to begin our own Udaipur experience. Started in the mid 1500s and built up over the next 100 years, Jag Mandir covers an entire island in Udaipur’s main lake, Pichola. It is accessible only by boat from the Bansi Ghat jetty.
After viewing the city from afar, we couldn’t wait to jump in. But nothing about Udaipur’s placid, noble profile, as seen from Jag Mandir, could have prepared us for the beautiful chaos of the old city within. Led by our guide, Raj, and armed with an orange-colored DEDON MARAKKESH chair, we headed to the Jagdish Temple in the heart of the old city. It was the beginning of the evening, and the locals were leaving work and rushing into the streets to shop for the evening. It was madness.
Cars. Auto-rickshaws. Motorcycles. Scooters. Bikes. Carts. Cows. Donkeys. Dogs. Oh, and did I mention pedestrians? How so many different people, creatures and vehicles, each with its own ideas about where to go and how to get there, could coexist on such narrow, sidewalk-less streets, without daily catastrophe, was — and is — beyond me. But somehow, things just flow in India. And after lots of halting and hesitating and plenty of second-guessing, we entered the flow as well. And not only that — we conducted a photo shoot in the midst of it.
Down the stretch of Jagdish Temple Road between the temple itself and the ghanta ghar, or clock tower, Yannick and I took turns carrying our orange chair while Lena filmed and Rainer, our photographer, stopped at just about every shop front to ask if we could make pictures. Inevitably, the answer was ‘yes’, and more often than not, the locals crammed themselves into the frame, obliging us with smiles and the natural cool they so readily project. No where else in the world, says Rainer, has he met people so willing — and so able — to pose for a picture. Udaipur, I think we’re going to like you.