Udaipur – the “City of Lakes”

 

After leaving Pushkar and my lovely travel buddies to go our separate ways, I headed to Udaipur and checked into a cute little guesthouse on a little winding, hilly side street in the main town. Udaipur has hills! Kinda reminded me of my hometown which was also full of hills and so nice to be walking up and down the gentle slopes; felt good for the legs and lungs.

The owner of the guesthouse was a delight, so funny and witty. I checked into my own room for some space and to catch up on my photo-editing and blog writing, but within minutes of dumping my bags in the room (that had three beds!) I found myself wanting to be around people again! Not necessarily to chat, but to just be around other souls. So I took my laptop to the common area table and within a short hour or so struck up a conversation with another guest, after hearing him tell the owner he was a yoga teacher from London. Yay! Another yoga teacher to chat to! This keeps happening! But then this is India….home of yoga, so guess it will happen a lot ha.

We had a good long chat and I abandoned my photo editing as he had a lovely vibe about him; calm, strong, insightful and slightly full of mystery that was enticing. Made me wonder, what is his story?! Well we started to hang out quite a bit during my stay which was lovely and indeed he did have a very interesting life story, but I won’t be sharing that here! Let’s just say that I enjoyed hearing about it, as bit by bit, more was revealed as we gained trust in each other over coffees and dinner.

After a few nights I checked out of the guesthouse and into the nearby Moustache Hostel (yes, another Moustache Hostel!). Upon my arrival the notice board was advising there would be no yoga class the next day as the teacher had to see to some personal commitments. I knew this was a sign…. But I held back from offering my services and thought about it for a while, to consider if I was really ready to teach my first class or not. I’d learned loads from Harendra in Pushkar and even more valuable tidbits from my new friend at the guesthouse. Still, I wasn’t totally convinced.

However when I ventured up to the hostel’s rooftop to check out where the yoga class would be held I knew I wanted my first class to be there! It was a wonderful, classy, ornate, typically Rajasthani-style rooftop overlooking the lakes and with a good viewpoint for both sunrise and sunset. The class would be in the morning so we would enjoy the sunrise… so off I went back to reception to offer my services. And who should I find there behind the counter? The lovely manager from the Jaipur hostel! And even more lovelier, he remembered me! So all the signs were there and he gratefully took me up on my offer to teach the next morning, knowing it was my first class and how wonderful that would be. My name got put on the board as offering a ‘special yoga class’ and payment for it would be donation only, to the local street animal charity, Animal Aid. It couldn’t have been any better!

So that evening I prepared the class routine and in the morning arrived to find I had four ‘students’ over varying experience to take through the 1.5hr class. Think it should have been just an hour, but I like to take it steady and give a proper sequence that benefits the chakras, mind and body as well as a good relaxation at the end, so sticking to one hour is a bit tricky.

Relief flooded in as they poured in positive feedback at the end of the class, smiling broadly at me through the morning sunshine. I was so happy my first ever class had been received so well! I had said to give the feedback to the reception if they would prefer, especially if there was anything they felt they couldn’t say directly to me (!) but they were so positive and delighted by the class. Later on I was asked by reception to teach again the next morning which was brilliant and although I wasn’t sure if I was pushing my luck by trying again, I decided I should go with it. So making a few alterations to the sequence, especially if there were some ‘returners’, which turns out there were, we had another class and again, this was received really well. Unfortunately I was leaving early the next day for a flight to Mumbai so I only got the opportunity to teach twice, but that was an unexpected and totally brilliant experience for me and provided a lot of confidence to embark on my new teaching career.

 

And the rest of my time in Udaipur, went something like this:

Walked around the lakes in the early morning, enjoying the views, the peacefulness, the funny dog photo opportunities. Got lost and walked 15 minutes the wrong way into another part of town where I passed only two other western tourists, a couple. Was nice seeing ‘normal’ local life here and witnessing such kind acts as the locals feeding the cows their leftover chapatis and in one case, a gentleman walking his pug dog, offering dog biscuits to a group of local strays. So kind.

Visiting a number of cafes offering soya milk tea and coffees, vegan pancakes (savoury or sweet) and other vegan delights:

Cafe Grasswood – favourite for morning soy cappuccino, porridge (banana and cinnamon or fruit). Also offered muesli and other cold vegan treats but I was following the Ayurvedic principles and avoiding cold things as it was still winter, but am sure they were tasty – certainly looked good.

Millets of Mewar – offering vegan options. All wholesome food and pretty tasty. Only let down was the masala chai as they used coconut water, not coconut milk so was strong and dark tasted really odd. Am sorry to say it was the worst I’d ever tasted, which is such a letdown for a restaurant that is doing such good work with it’s offerings and involvement in environment and cultural protection. I did feed this back to them, suggesting creamier coconut milk would be nicer but when I returned several days later and ordered it again, forgetting the previous experience, it still came with coconut water. Yuk. Such a shame.

Neelam’s –  A local cafe with homemade traditional food, and my favourite. Neelam is such a wonderful cook and happy to make vegan thali – and it’s so cheap! Local prices rather than tourist prices and always ready to top up your empty dishes until you’ve had enough – at no extra cost! A humble, local cafe with plastic chairs and tables, very basic but the view is good and the food is just fabulous.

City Palace. Some wonderful intricate decor and history of Indian culture. Hard to photograph as very busy and one tourist in particular kept popping up in front of my camera to take her own photo of the same thing! What was funny is that she was going around the place at lightening speed taking photos of anything and everything on her phone, without really stopping to observe, feel, think… why?! Oh well.. guess she was short of time or just more interested in getting photos than actually being present. That’s the funny thing about taking photos. Sometimes we forget to just ‘be’ in a place, be an observer, of what’s around us, of how we are feeling. It’s great having photos but in time they start to replace our actual memories if we don’t take a snapshot in our own heads to preserve what feelings, emotions, sounds, sights we experienced at that moment.

I didn’t do too many touristy things as I wanted to just relax and enjoy the local environment. The lakes are beautiful at any given moment of the day and at night all the lights of the cafes shine onto the water, the City Palace stands tall and elegant in it’s golden glow above the waters and it all just offers wonderful photo opportunities, as does a lot of Rajasthan!

I found the locals to be friendly and always offering to help. I went into one of the art shops to buy some handmade Christmas cards to send home and got chatting to the owner for some time, hearing his stories and gratefully receiving recommendations of things to do and see here. He was the one who suggested the early morning walk around the lakes. He even offered we go together, but this is the kind of thing I like to do alone, unless I know the other person well of course. I like to have time to observe, think, photograph, get to know the environment and feel those wonderful moments of peace don’t need to be filled with chit chat. But the best thing about our chat was, after pointing out a photo of him with Dame Judi Dench, someone I admire so much, was that she came into his shop to buy some artwork whilst in the area filming the Marigold Hotel. What a lucky man! What I wouldn’t give to meet her… so elegant, poised, graceful. But at least I could say I met someone who had met her and I’d sent Christmas cards to my family back home that he had made 😀

My relaxing stay in Udaipur came to an end after a week and I next faced the big city lights and traffic-filled delights of Mumbai. A place I had intended to by-pass if it wasn’t for one of my besties from London who was heading there for a week for work, and seeing as it did coincide with my journey to Goa, knew it would be crazy to miss out on the opportunity to meet him there. So I got an early morning flight from Udaipur airport (note: there is NOTHING to do there, so avoid getting there with too much time to spare! And also: very limited choice of food if you’re vegan, at least in the early morning) and arrived in a much hotter Mumbai. Ooh the heat of the sun was so welcome….!

But I will tell more about that in my next update, all about my stay in Mumbai.. stay posted!