There are treks, cycle rides, horse safaris and fascinating surroundings to explore:
Discovering Off-Beat Udaipur. A few years ago, I was asked by a certain five-star hotel chain, to put together a series of excursions in and around their hotels in Jaipur and Udaipur. They wanted ‘off-beat’, they wanted things that others may not think about offering and they chose me to do it. I couldn’t quite believe my ears. “What?” I questioned, “You want to pay me to spend ten days each, in a fabulous five star hotel in Udaipur and Jaipur, all-expenses-paid and basically, do what I love most?’ Now, doing what I love most, is researching the hell out of a destination, finding things that most tourists have never heard of, much less would be offered by their tour operator and yet such things that would truly showcase what the destination can truly offer. I was in. I was packing my bags before I had even got off the phone!
Now, at the time, I had to wing quite a bit of it. Many of the things I found, (and they weren’t that difficult) no one was offering or knew how to organise. I wanted to explore the area on bike, no one was interested, of course it was May, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised when temps by 0700 were in excess of 40C, so I had to borrow a bike and set off on my own. No one at that time was doing cycle rides around the area. That is just one small example. Now they are, a lot of what I discovered is now being offered by small, specialist activity companies, which makes things a whole lot easier and as anyone who has read this blog before will know, that this gladdens my heart completely. People are thinking out of the standard sightseeing box, and so it is time to share. Here goes and I am starting with what I love best, a bit of off-beat adventure and here is why:
Rajasthan is a land of breathtakingly-beautiful landscapes, a fascinating history, and a people known throughout the world for their legends of valour, romance, chivalry and heroism. A journey through the countryside will take you through quaint villages, and give you the opportunity to meet the people, witness ancient customs, chance upon and be invited to partake in family ceremonies, see farming practices and meet local artisans. In addition there is the opportunity to spot the wonderful and colourful birds of the region and if lucky, some of the wildlife too.
Exploring the countryside, whether on foot, by bicycle or on horseback, is a wonderful way of meeting the people and discovering where the true heart of India lies, which is in her villages. The early morning and evening light make photography in this region a delight.
Now when I was researching this, it was May. The only downside to the trip. In May, in Rajasthan, everyone and everything melts. However, such was my excitement with the project in hand, I set off with single-minded determination and didn’t just ask about various activities, I tried them all out. How can I confidently promote them otherwise? Throughout the entire 10 days, I was graciously followed by a driver, safely ensconced in his air-conditioned car. I think his actual purpose was to mop up the sweat slicks that I was creating on the country roads so that no unsuspecting bovine would slip, or, maybe to whisk me off to hospital when I was in the latter stages of dehydration. The former may have been necessary, the latter fortunately wasn’t. But a word of warning to those more sensible, for the next 3 activities, do them between October and April.
There are now operators who arrange various rides around Udaipur but I, then, had to figure it out myself. I chose to cycle from Nagda Temples to Badi Lake and let me tell you, for all the right reasons, this was one of the most memorable things I have done in India. It is a beautiful route and being on a bike, gets one to see it at grassroots level.
The Nagda Temples otherwise known as Saas Bahu Temples (mother and daughter-in-law) are twin structures, dedicated to Lord Vishnu and made for a lovely starting point. Built in the 11th century they are entered through finely carved thorana and are renowned for their elaborate sculptures, depicting amorous couples and scenes from the epic, The Ramayana. The morning light was wonderful and I had morning chai at the side of a lake before heading off through the countryside. I passed villages and farms, small temples and lakes and was at all times, surrounded by beautiful scenery. As interesting as the ride itself was the interest the locals had in some crazy foreign woman cycling through their villages, they smiled and waved, motioned for me to stop, have chai, peer into their homes, meet their goats. The absolute reason I love doing this stuff. I was in, despite the 45C temps, in heaven.
Two and a half hours later, brought me to Badi Lake, above Udaipur. Also known as Tiger Lake, this is is a well-known, yet little-visited reservoir ten-minutes car drive from Udaipur. It was built in 17th century by Maharana Raj Singh of Mewar, behind the Monsoon Palace and overlooked by the Aravali Mountains. Oh, and don’t miss Babaji Ki Mandir, a little tree-temple of Wadar Village, built on top of a nearby hill and provides an excellent, peaceful viewpoint for the Lake. Here, kids were jumping into the water from the surrounding chaatris and enjoying cooling off from the summer heat. I was tempted to join them and made a note-to-self to do this ride again, in winter and with people who could organise it properly. Now, happily Let’s Trip are organising cycle rides around Udaipur.
Logistics: Even in winter, start early! The ride is close to 27 Kms and takes about 2 – 2.5 hours to complete, depending on the fitness levels of the cyclists.
Lets Trip: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.letstrip.in
Walk and Pedal Tours: Email: email@example.com www.walkandpedal.com
There are countless treks around Udaipur, so I sat down and discussed the many opportunities with the guys from Rajasthan Treks. I decided on the MORWANIYA VILLAGE TO UBESHWARJI route, a 9 km trek which started off at Morwaniya village and approx. 30 minutes later we arrived at Dhar Village where we were welcomed by the locals with the same baffled humour which had met me on the cycle ride. I was starting to get used to it. Customary hilarity and photo-ops completed, we continued on.
To my dismay, there were a few uphill sections, not appreciated in May, but which wouldn’t be a problem for most of the year. However, the charm, as we progressed, was in meeting the Bhil tribal people, one of the oldest indigenous tribes of the region. Over the centuries, the Bhils became semi-nomadic, offering their services to maharajas as mercenaries and soldiers for hire. As the era of warring maharajas and kings came to a close in the early 20th century, the Bhil lost their only source of income and were forced to adapt to different ways. We had a wonderful time chatting to them and learning about their way of life.
The final section then continued on towards Ubeshwarji, a well-kept secret that is known only amongst the locals, for its pristine natural beauty, seasonal rivers and green valleys as well as its temples, one of them dedicated to Lord Shiva and The other to The Mother Goddess. It was the perfect place to collapse, I mean stop, enjoy a picnic in the shade and return to Udaipur.
Treks can be arranged through Rajasthan Trekking.
- Horse Safaris
The Marwari horse, indigenous to India, is a beautiful, hardy and intelligent horse with a great stamina, which can thrive on little food and water. Highly trained in the art of war, this horse was originally known for its bravery on the battlefield. Combining sublime beauty, an unbreakable spirit, with courage and loyalty unto death. These horses were the bold and magnificent chargers of the fearless Rajput warriors.
On the battlefield, horse and warrior had to become one in order to fight and survive, and the Marwari Horse is said to have an extraordinary instinct and the ability to act upon the mere thoughts of the rider.
The most famous Marwari horse story is of how the Marwari steed Chetak saved his master Maharana Pratap in the battle of Haldi Ghati in 1546. The Maharana was fighting against the army of Akbar-the-Great and Maharana Pratap had to flee after the battle was lost. Though mortally wounded, with one foot severed, Chetak carried his master to safety by jumping over a river. Only then did he give up his life and die, according to the legend, in his master’s arms. Maharana Pratap never forgot his loyal Chetak and when the circumstances improved, he erected a monument in his memory. This memorial still exists today in the village of Haldi Ghati, 30 km north of Udaipur.
If you would like the opportunity to ride one of these magnificent animals then Princess Trails arranges horse safaris on the outskirts of Udaipur.
Contact: Virendra Singh Shaktawat
All the horses are trained and ridden in English style with English or military saddlery. Horses are available for beginners and advanced riders. Riding helmets, half-chaps as well as boots and breeches are provided free of charge.
- Some off-beat culture – Nathdwara, Kothariya and Raj Samand Lake
Many people head off to visit the Ranakpur Temples or the Kumbalgarh Fort as a day trip from Udaipur, but I had previously done those and so, inspired by the pichwai painting I had already bought, but discovered had originated in Nathdwara, I decided to pay it a visit.
(Pichwai paintings are large paintings on fabric which hang behind the Hindu gods in the temple, they all depict Lord Krishna)
The town is also famous for the Srinathji Temple: This great Vaishnavite shrine was built in the 17th century on spot exactly identified by the Lord himself. The legends have it that the idol of the Lord Krishna was being transferred to safer place from Vrindaban to protect it from the destructive wrath of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. When the idol reached this spot, the wheels of bullock cart it was traveling in, sank axle-deep in mud and refused to move further, at all. The accompanying priest realized that this was Lord’s chosen spot and the Lord did not want to travel any further. They stopped and built the temple. The temple is incredibly busy, though it is interesting as a people-watching experience. Men and women visit through separate sections, the doors are only opened at particular times and this adds to the fervour. Therefore, we recommend waiting behind, while the crowds rush and push through and then duck in behind them at the end of the line.
Nathdwara village is also famous for its silver work as well as for its terracotta and makes for an interesting visit. You will not encounter tourists here, and it may be a little difficult to negotiate, but I thought it was well worth the effort.
I then had a fortuitous phone call from a friend, who, on hearing where I was, happened to have a relative in the area. Phone calls were made, and I soon found myself driving the short distance to the charming village of Kothariya. No tourists ever come here and so it is completely unspoiled. However, the additional charm of this location, is the Kothariya Fort where Mahesh Pratap Singh Kothariya and his family still reside. This is a rare fort that hasn’t been either converted into a hotel or left to go to ruins and provides a unique insight into the life of a noble family. In enjoyed a delicious home cooked lunch and was regaled with stories about life in Rajasthan.
After lunch, I was taken around this unspoilt village, which is untouched by too much modernity, though most people do have mobile phones!
To end the day, I decided to visit Rajsamand, an artificial lake created in the 17th century by Rana Raj
Singh of Mewar. It is the second largest artificial lake in Asia and surely the most beautiful. There are stunning marble carvings on the ghats overlooking the lake and are famous for hosting the largest piece of Indian history inscribed in stone. The southern end has a large embankment made in white marble. There are 5 toranas, or weighing arches, where Maharana Raj Singh and his descendants used to weigh themselves in gold and then distribute it amongst the Brahmans.
There are also nine ornately carved pavilions, each festooned with images of the Sun, chariots, Gods, birds and wonderful carvings. The history of Mewar is also inscribed on twenty seven marble slabs, I am told it is the longest etching known in India.
Nathdwara is situated approx. an hour from Udaipur but the temple only opens at 11.00 am. It is very rushed, but VIP entry can sometimes be available for INR1000.00 or INR2500.00.
For lunch at Kotharia and a village walk, contact Mahesh Pratap Singh Kothariya at least 3 days in advance. His number is: +91 9829040500.