Tag: joy of traveling

Udaipur and Me: my solo travel saga continues

Starry-eyed selfie

British administrator and Oriental Scholar James Tod felt Udaipur is “the most romantic spot on the continent of India,” and he was bang on. The city of lakes surrounded by Aravalli’s or Jagra, as the range is called in Udaipur, will captivate you. The palaces and monuments will softly whisper their mesmerizing tales in your ears. You can sit by the lake for hours and soak in the gorgeous city. No wonder Udaipur is a popular destination for weddings and honeymoons. But even if you are travelling solo the company of the beautiful city is all that you need!

I fell in love with Udaipur the moment I stepped out of the aircraft on Diwali morning. Udaipur’s Maharana Pratap Airport captures the flavour of the city. I have never seen such a nicely done airport before. The cab ride from the airport, 22 km East of Udaipur, to Hotel Sarovar Pichola in the heritage city is about 40 minutes. While driving through the newer parts of Udaipur, modern and smart with malls and branded stores like any other city, the cab driver started talking about his city. “Madam people of Udaipur are rich. Sixty per cent of them are into hospitality and the rest in mining. Udaipur is also called the city of zinc you know.” In Udaipur, every cab and auto driver have their own tales of the city to share. He even offered to take me on a city tour the next day for Rs. 2200/-, which seemed quite reasonable to me then.

Exploring Udaipur

On reaching the hotel I was told that auto would be a more reasonable choice therefore I set out to explore the city on an autorickshaw. I heard a lot about the silver and stone jewellery of Udaipur. Being a lover of silver jewellery and handicrafts I decided to check out the markets first. I headed to Bapu Bazaar on learning from the auto driver that silver shops are to be found in that market. On the way, he also mentioned that I may like to check Shlipgram. Therefore, we stopped at Shilpagram first, a multistoried emporium that houses traditional sarees, fabrics, handicrafts and jewellery. After picking up an indigo saree and Kundan earrings from there I asked the guy to take me to a silver shop in Bapu Bazaar.

Silver Art Gallery was our next stop. I was floored by the design, the range and the price points. Silver in Udaipur is much cheaper than in Delhi and the designs so different. I picked up two pairs of earrings and a Kada from the store. It was almost lunchtime and I wanted to sample Rajasthani food. “Natraj chale jaiye madam,’ the guy attending to me in the shop advised.

As I stepped out of the shop looking for a conveyance to go to Natraj, an elderly auto driver stopped before me. I had initially decided to go back to the hotel after lunch but Ram Bhai, the auto driver, convinced me otherwise, “Aaj hi ghoom lo madam. Kal Diwali le ke baad aur bhir ho jayega.” As I didn’t know much about the city except the names of the tourist spots, he decided the route. He took me to Fateh Sagar Lake first and convinced me to take a speed boat with four strangers (something that the usual me would never do). I sat in the single seat at the front and quite enjoyed the ride I must say.

Ram Bhai

Udaipur, once the capital of Mewar founded by Maharana Udai Sign in 1559, has seven artificial lakes. The heritage city was built around Lake Pichola, the oldest lake of Udaipur. Fateh Sagar, another popular lake that was formed later, lies in the north of Lake Pichola. I was taken to an underground fish aquarium on the banks of Fateh Sagar next. It is a new addition to the tourist attractions of Udaipur. There’s nothing historical about it but the pretty little fishes are refreshing.

Saheliyon-ki-Bari (Courtyard or Garden of the Maidens), a beautiful garden with fountains and pools, built by Rana Sangram Singh for his queen Shakuntala, is also on the banks on Fateh Sagar. Queen Shakuntala was accompanied by forty-eight maids when she got married. She wanted a garden where she could hang out with her sahelis or girlfriends. ‘The foliage was much thicker in those days,’ said the tourist guide. ‘Women observed purdah then. Even the sun couldn’t penetrate the thick greenery.’ He also told me that the fountains were once natural, drawing water from the Fateh Sagar. They use a pump now to regulate the flow and ensure that there’s less wastage.

Diwali evening

I headed back to the hotel after that, the music of the fountains still playing in my ears. Being Diwali I dressed up for the evening and sat in the rooftop bar with Lady in Red to witness the festival of lights, and what an experience it was! Well-lit monuments and their reflections in the lake, firecrackers going up in the air added a romantic aura to the festival.

 Day 2: Sajjan Garh Fort, City Palace and more…

The construction of the Sajjan Garh Fort, also known as Monsoon Palace, was initiated by Maharana Sajjan Singh. He had originally planned it to be a five-storey astronomical centre. The construction came to a halt after the premature death of the young king at the age of twenty-six. His son Maharana Fateh Singh later completed the palace and turned it into a monsoon palace and hunting lodge. The popular James Bond film Octopussy was shot in the Monsoon Palace

View from Sajjan Garh Fort

Located on a hilltop overlooking the Fateh Sagar Lake the palace offers a panoramic view of the city. It’s great during the monsoon with clouds overlooking the Monsoon Palace. It’s also a good point for watching the sunset, I later learned.

Ram Bhai had reached the hotel with his auto sharp at 10:30 am to take me sightseeing. He dropped me at the gate of Sajjan Garh Fort, “Madam van le lo upar jane ke liye.”  It’s about five kilometres hilly drive to the fort. One can either get a pass made for their private vehicle or take shared vans that keep plying up and down. A shared van! I stopped for a moment but I had to see the fort. So I walked up to the counter and got my ticket and a pass for the van.

I sat at the front seat of Tata Qualis and even picked up a conversation with the driver Govind. On my way back I found the same van, Govind on the phone while waiting for passengers. The van filled up in no time and we made our way down.

Inside Sajjan Garh

There’s a National Park next to the fort that I skipped and went to Shilpgram instead, not the emporium but a crafts village though they share the same name. Not many stalls were open at Shilgram but I did manage to pick up a beautiful Rajasthani skirt for my niece and Udaipur’s famed miniature painting. December is the time when they have a fair where craftsmen display their work. Realizing that I liked shopping Ram Bhai took me all the emporiums around. I did end up buying an ear in semi-precious stone, set in ‘anar ruby’  I was told, from one such place.

He drove me to Maharana Pratap Gaurav Kendra at Tiger Hill in Udaipur, which he insisted is a must-visit. Unfortunately, the place was shut that day so we headed to the City Palace. My hotel is just a kilometre away from the City Palace so I let Ram Bhai go. Rs. 1500 was all he charged for two days city tour.

The City Palace has been built over a period of nearly four hundred years. Maharana Udai Singh started the construction in 1553 and several rulers of the Mewar dynasty over the next four-decade added to it. When Udaipur became the capital of Mewar, City Palace was the seat of power. Now the intricately built palace houses a museum and galleries. Beautiful glass inlay work and paintings of past monarchs and their glories adorn the palace. With many narrow passages and stairways, security was of paramount concern when the palace was designed. The palace overlooks the Pichola Lake and Taj Palace Lake Hotel. An 18th-century marble structure on a lake island originally part of the palace has been leased out to the Taj Group. It was late afternoon then and I had to push my way through the throng of tourists, mostly from Gujarat, to make my way through the palace.

Shilpgram

Jagdish Temple is just next to the City Palace. I bowed before the temple deciding not to go up the stairs and walked the lanes instead. There are small shops with Rajasthani handicrafts and jewellery on both sides of the road. I walked into a small silver shop close to the temple ‘Natural Collection.’ The man behind the counter opened boxes of jewellery, both set in stones and plain silver. Of course, I picked quite up a few pairs of earrings, not just for me my friends as well.

I stopped by Bagore-ki-Haveli and Gangori Ghat on my way back to the hotel. My last evening at Udaipur. After a tiring and satisfying day, I headed to the rooftop bar to get my fill of Udaipur in the evening, peaceful and beautifully lit up. You can never have enough of this gorgeous city!

Discovering Chobimura

Coming home can be a somewhat divided experience. While the comfort of home envelops you, there’s a sense of familiarity that can lead to boredom. Having grown up here you feel there’s nothing new to discover. But when you look closely, you will find that a lot has changed. While the wheels of progress may have marred the tranquil childhood memories, new wonders have added to the allure of homecoming. Chobimura tucked on the western banks of Gomati river in South Tripura is one such wild and rocky abode that I will visit whenever I come to Agartala, my hometown. 

I first saw photographs of this unspoilt place in my cousin Sudip’s social media post who had visited Chobimura in December 2020. Looking at the pictures of him gliding through the deep and dark river flowing between the hills covered with lush green forest, beautiful sculptures carved on the rock, I thought he was out on a river safari somewhere. Though I grew up in Agartala and travelled across Tripura I have never heard of Chobimura before. These hills and sculptures of Goddess and Gods carved on the stone were hidden by the sharp curve of the Gomati river and was discovered only in early 2000. When I decided to come home, Chobimura was on the top of my to-visit list. 

On learning about my eagerness to go to Chobimura my brother-in-law Partho promptly organized the trip. We set out early morning (around 9 a.m.) from Agartala on an SUV, 6 of us with gas oven and some utensils in the dicky. Yes, for Partho insisted on a picnic or Choruibhati. We would cook our lunch on the banks of Gomti. My former classmate Biswabasu, who happens to be my brother-in-law’s friend, joined us with his family and took charge of the entire cooking.

After driving through Bisalgarh and Udaipur we went up the roads curving through green hills to Amarpur. Chobimura is another half an hour drive through the hills from Amarpur. The road up the hills, bordered by trees sometimes forest, with small cottages and mud houses scattered, is one of the most picturesque routes that I have driven through. My heart so yearned to knock on the door of one of the cottages and spend a few days with them in the peace and quiet of their little green village. 

Ten-handed Chakrakma

The roads are good, there wasn’t much traffic, and we reached the banks of Gomati in Chobimura in two and a half hours. As Biswabasu and his wife Moon started preparing lunch we hired a speed boat for Gomati ride and to get a closer view of the stone carvings. Owing to the various deities carved in the stone these hills are also called Devatamura, the hillock of Gods. The ten handed tribal Goddess Chakrakma is the main deity here. A huge idol of Devi carved 20 ft high, with snakes for her hair and Rudra Bahirabhi at her feet is awe-inspiring indeed. We stopped the speed boat and climbed up the stone stairs to the feet of the Goddess. It is a wonder to see Tulsi plants and red hibiscus (jaba) flowers growing on stones below the ten-handed Chakrakma, another form of Goddess Durga.

The hills also have images of other Hindu Gods like Shiva, Vishnu and Kartika. The carvings on the rock walls date back to the reign of King Chichingfa’s grandfather in the 15th century during, according to local lore. It is still a mystery how such exquisite carvings were carried out in such a remote location on straight rocky hills with hardly much foothold.

After a close view of these carving and leisurely enjoying the boat ride, surrounded by luxurious green forest on both sides, we turned back. The boatman stopped at the other bank so that we could visit a cave in the hills. Legend has it that King Chichingfa stashed all his wealth in this cave in a large wooden chest that was guarded by cobras. According to another lore, it was actually the cobras that scared away the Jamatias (indigenous tribal people) and the wilderness took over. The stone carvings, the unblemished natural beauty and the local lore’s made the ride absolutely memorable.

Freshly fried fish

While we were enjoying the boat ride Biswabasu and Moon were busy cooking – dal, fish fry, dry fish chutney, mutton curry and rice. We sat on the banks, relished the freshly cooked food, strolled around to take in every bit of the beautiful Gomati. On the way back, we stopped by the Amar dighi (lake) at Amarpur. On the banks of this huge lake temple of Goddess Mangal Chandi (another form of Durga) was built centuries back. The temple has stone images of the Goddess and her daughters Lakshmi and Saraswati. There’s a small temple for her consort Lord Shiva right at the entrance. After paying our respect to the Goddess we headed back to Agartala. We were back home by 7 p.m. after a wonderful day out!

Goddess Mangal Chandi