Dubbed India’s most romantic city, Udaipur is the lake city in Southern Rajasthan. A much-talked about destination situated between Mumbai and Delhi, it captured mine (and many others’) hearts, as with each sunrise and sunset, the idyllic setting came to life.
Though a seemingly small place, Udaipur offered an espionage into the artistic endeavours of the city’s creatives, from humble cafés to bespoke clothing stores. It was fantastic to dip into everything Udaipur had to offer. The culture vulture in me fell in love.
The hostel: Bunkyard
This stunning hostel boasts some of the city’s best views for sunrise and sunset. I’d rise every morning to catch up with friends and family from home, and the breath-taking scenery from above never failed to amaze me each day.
The hostel comprised of four floors, with dorms occupying most of the space, with some privates scattered here and there. The main social area remains to be the restaurant and bar upstairs, and the rooftop space. A large projector in the restaurant was handy for cricket matches and movies.
The food at the hostel was quite decent too. I sampled their vegetarian biryani many times!
More importantly, the hostel had some amazing social set-up. From their friendly staff to the gatherings they organised, Bunkyard was superb. On my last night, my friend Nicole and I suggested a party: it ended as a big quiz night followed by some drinking games. Halfway through, the manager, Bobby, called us all down to greet a fellow guest a happy birthday… She was presented with a Nutella-covered pancake.
It is a very popular hostel, so advanced booking is required. We met a couple of French guys who failed to secure a spot at the hostel; once they saw our lively evenings, they began to understand why everyone comes to Bunkyard.
The close proximity of the City Palace and Bagore-ki-Haveli made Bunkyard an ideally-located hostel. I found the City Palace to be OK, whilst a gander at the Bagore-ki-Haveli made for an interesting afternoon. It had different rooms showcasing haveli life and, generally, life for rich Indians. The section on pre-marriage arrangements and ceremonies was particularly educational. It also housed a turban museum, containing what is thought to be the world’s largest.
The evening sound and light show at the haveli (7 pm, 100 rupees) was an oddly fascinating experience. A personal highlight was when a dancer balanced more than 10 pots on her head as she grooved about. I found the staff to be particularly strict on camera tickets, with some members disturbing happy snappers during the show to collect their dues.
Morning yoga at Prakash Yoga
I started most days with a free yoga class at Prakash Yoga, just a 5-minute walk from Bunkyard. The 8:30 am class was always full when I attended. We were greeted by a yogi, playing the flute against soft, instrumental music.
Thin yoga mats were provided. We were taken through an hour-long of different stretches and poses, ending with supported headstand, which the yogi individually coached us on. Though the daily morning classes remain the same, and his speech at the end got rather repetitive, it was fantastic to see the progress I had made in just 3 days.
The yogi was also very genuine: it is a donation-only class. He was authentic, passionate and rigorous – all good characteristics of a yoga teacher!
The food scene
After yoga, I tried breakfasting in different places. Grasswood Café was next to the Prakash Yoga centre, and it was a fantastic little spot for breakfast. Vegan-options were plenty: porridge, muesli, sandwiches and cakes. Udaipur Art Café was another popular option, though service was a little slow (even slow for Indian standards). I have been told their omelettes and coffees are winners. There are also many fruit juice stands and fresh fruit stalls to help you whip up a healthy fruit salad breakfast at the hostel. A visit to Café Edelweiss for drinks, cakes and bread products is also a must.
Udaipur is a city where you HAVE to dine in a rooftop restaurant. Many offer nightly screenings of Octopussy (filmed in Udaipur) that it got a little tiring seeing the same signs. We escaped the main drag one evening to dine at Hinglish, a rooftop restaurant with awe-striking views of the City Palace. It is also owned by the same people behind Lotus Café, so it came as no surprise that the traditional Indian fare I had was tasty; they were not shy on the spices either.
For a different scene on the other side of the lake, The Little Prince provides a great multi-cuisine menu. Their pasta dishes and tomato soup were delicious. They also have an extensive range of Korean dishes, the first I have seen in India.
The art scene
Small-time artists seem to flourish in Udaipur. There are many stalls offering handcrafts, and artists hard at work in front of their shops. There is an art school near Bagore-ki-Haveli, where a guy approached us about the scheme he offers: arts education for children and young people, to help them become entrepreneurs. We sat in the shop as one of the artists explained the techniques required to create one of his pieces.
Admittedly, it turned out to be a sales pitch, but the natural talent and skill involved was clearly evident.
Travelling and backpacking will not be the same without the constant chase for sunrise and sunsets. Udaipur’s sunset can be witnessed from near (by the lake) or far – at the Monsoon Palace, or Sajjan Garh. From Bunkyard, 3 of us shared a tuktuk, which took us to the foot of the sanctuary that lay below the Palace. It was a 350 rupee round-trip, to and fro, including waiting time.
An entrance ticket into the sanctuary was 200 rupees. A 90-rupee round-trip ticket for a jeep to the palace was taken by most for the sunset ride, but my friends and I decided that we’d rather spend it on a bottle of Kingfisher that evening; we hiked up all 4 km of the steep, winding road.
Some mischievous monkeys inhabit the surrounding areas, and we were warned about them beforehand. Basically, anything remotely consumable must be kept away. I haphazardly started using my Carmex cherry lip balm only to find a monkey trying to snatch it away from my lips in a very righteous manner.
Despite all these difficulties, the sunset views at the top made it a very rewarding journey, a perfect way to cap off the last couple of days in the city.