As they say, world’s best trips are the ones which are unplanned. Last week, we (I and my wife, Swati) made an impromptu road trip to Udaipur, Rajasthan (the Venice of the East). While it is said that there is a great value in disaster, because you can start all over again, but I guess it also makes you do things which you may never do normally. For us, the disaster was forgetting our bags in the bus which headed for Shrinathji after dropping us in Ahmedabad.
It was a four day trip to Ahmedabad to be present during the delivery of my sister-in-law. We left Saturday night from Mumbai with two laptop bags and two trolleys; latter was placed into the bus dickey. We got down from the bus early morning to Ahmedabad and went to catch the BRTS to our house. In the excitement to reach home early, it took us 10 minutes to realize that we were short of two trolleys which were left in the bus itself. We called the travel agent’s office to get driver’s number. After trying couple of times, he picked up the phone. As I tried to persuade him to stop the bus for us and we can come and collect our bags, it was in vain as the bus had travelled quite a distance and was already late for Shrinathji. The driver, however, assured us that our bags are safe and he will drop it to the Eagle Travel office in Ahmedabad in the evening when he returns with another ride.
Disappointed, we took the auto back home, when the thought of making a road trip to Udaipur struck my wife. Just a day before we were to travel, we came to know that the delivery was slightly postponed. So, basically, we didn’t have much to do for the first two days in Ahmedabad. Excited and agreeing to the thought, we reached home, freshened up, took my father-in-law’s Nano and by 4:30 in the evening we were in the “City of Lakes”. In the meantime, we called up the bus driver to make him drop our bags in Udaipur office so that we can collect the bags from there.
I have always relished driving, especially on highways, for obvious reasons. After driving a lot on NH8 from Mumbai to Ahmedabad, a completely new route and a new place, was very much refreshing. This was my first visit to Rajasthan state itself.
It’s a 260kms drive from Ahmedabad via Gandhinagar, Himmatnagar, Shamlaji and to Udaipur. The road is a very good four lane till Shamlaji, a religious destination near Gujarat-Rajasthan border, after which, it starts becoming very hilly having many curves and steep rise. At some places, it is even single lane.
The unique aspect of about the road was that you realize you’ve entered Rajasthan when:
- Road quality deteriorates significantly and suddenly
- You see “desi/angrezi sharaab ki dukaan” (liquor shops) every half a kilometer
We reached Udaipur around 4:30 in the evening and ensured we collected our bags before doing anything else.
Udaipur Ki Galiyaan:
As we hadn’t planned anything for the trip, after collecting our bags, we headed to find out a hotel to stay over. After looking into couple of hotels near the railway station, we thought it would be a better idea to find a place near Pichola Lake where we can park the vehicle and go around walking. With internet on our phones at our disposal, it wasn’t tough to find out some good hotels around the lake. However, what we didn’t know was the lanes that awaited our arrival.
The roads of Udaipur had really tested my driving skills hard. As we drove from Udaipur Railway Station to the famous City Palace, the road kept getting narrower, to the extent that it was impossible to imagine SUVs like Innova and Tavera moving around these lanes. Yet, they were there. Somehow things were managed through the great Indian JUGAAD. There were always volunteers available to crack down traffic jams in such lanes, if not the traffic police. Otherwise it is impossible to have the life going with big cars driving into the lanes exactly their width.
While we saw some of the hotels in Google maps, we couldn’t find one in the narrow, congested lanes where one can’t separate two buildings itself. After a long and grueling driving, even I was tired to some extent and wanted to just crash on the bed to recharge myself. We checked two hotels and finalized one from where we got a nice view of Gangaur Ghat. After taking a quick shower and a light dinner, we felt refreshed and headed quickly for the market as it was already 8 something.
One thing you must check when you visit any city is the local market. While the historic places tells you about the history about the city but the market will let you know also the present of the city. It also gives you a chance to interact with the local people and local culture, without which you cannot really know the city. Some of the shops were already closing down. So, we didn’t have much time and could only have a glance at everything. But we still had some experiences that were unique and amazing.
We decided to head for Gangaur Ghat as it was looking fabulous from our room. But as they say, all that glitters is not gold. It has the potential of being one of the most amazing places to be in Udaipur from where you get the magnificent view of the Pichola Lake, Taj Lake Palace and the bridges joining the two parts of the city separated by the lake.
Unfortunately the place isn’t managed well with lot of filth, stray animals wandering around, making the entire place dirty. Yes, a lot of filth was created by the tourists themselves throwing all the garbage around without any consideration for how it impacts the beauty of the place.
It felt like Udaipur had a lot of French tourists visiting the place as most of the ones which we came were French, or at least speaking French. We had two close encounters with the tourists but one that I remember for a long time would be the one at a small juice center.
Disappointed by Gangaur Ghat, we started walking back to our hotel as it was already around 9:30 and there wasn’t much chance of going anywhere else. Mid-way we stopped at a juice center for a small break. While we were having the Orange Juice, two foreign tourists (a lady and a gentleman) came to us.
Lady (joining her hands): Namaste
Lady (in Hindi): Kya woh hai? (What is this?)
I (after a small pause, translating santra into English in my mind): Orange Juice
Lady: Thank you
The lady seemed to have done some homework by learning some key Hindi phrases before coming to India. It is a good habit as you may not just learn some new language but also keep yourself at less risk of being cheated. It reminded me of one of my colleagues at work who learns some basic conversational phrases in local language wherever he visits.
What amused me was the irony of a foreigner joining her hands and saying Namaste and an Indian responding with Hello because that’s how urban Indians greet each other these days. I don’t know if she and her partner were equally amused or not. She, then, conversed in broken Hindi with the juice seller and ordered the same juice.
Marching ahead from the juice center, we stopped by a local medical store to purchase some pain killers after a grueling day. It was quite crowded considering it was about 9:30 when things close down in many non-metro Indian cities. Our turn to order the medicines was taking much more time than we thought because the pharmacist was busy consulting other customers as they told him about their problem and checking which medicine they should take.
This is something which is common across Tier III cities and villages in India where expert medical advice is not available and people rely on pharmacists to tell them which medicine should be taken for what problems. Often we hear about compounder-turned-doctors in Indian villages where people don’t have the degree but have gained significant experience working alongside the doctors to become self-proclaimed doctors.
Finally, we had his attention and asked for a combiflam. For a moment, a thought crossed my wife’s mind that he might get offended if we asked the medicine directly, unlike his other customers.
While we were relishing a nice walk down the hotel through the narrow lanes of Udaipur, we heard a roaring sound coming from behind. As we looked back, about 8-10 bikes were tearing apart the royal silence of Udaipur with their authentic Harley Davidsons engines.
One thing which I never miss every time I see such bikers’ gangs is……..to say WOW!!! Owning a Bajaj Avenger myself, I understand the thrill such bike rides. However, I have never had a chance for such long trips. While Mumbai-Ahmedabad and Mumbai-Pune is still in the bucket list, driving through Rajasthan would be an experience in itself.
The Morning After:
Waking up to the refreshing morning after, it was hard to believe that we will need to leave so soon. We had an Indian breakfast – tea and paranthas – and went to the roof top of the hotel to take a view of a typical Udaipur morning. A landscape with city, lake and mountains – what else you need?
Besides the overall feel and grandiosity of the city of Udaipur, what I also loved was the bridges that connected the two parts of the city, separated by lakes. Walking across these bridges, standing at the center, pausing for a moment to absorb the amazing view of the city on both the sides – is an experience that no DSLR in the world is good enough to capture. It distinctly reminded me of the experience I had in Paris, standing at the bridge near Saint-Michel-Notre-Dame over the pristine river Siene. However, the latter managed cleanliness diligently unlike the unmanaged Ghats and the lake of Udaipur.
Fateh Sagar Lake:
Post breakfast, we checked out of the hotel and headed back to Ahmedabad. While we wanted to check out the Samor Bagh to take a good view of the lake, the receptionist told us to rather check out Fateh Sagar Lake (the reason why Udaipur is known as ‘the Second Kashmir’) instead since Samor Bagh was a part of City Palace and would consume good amount of our time, which we did not have.
We had also decided to take the alternate route for Ahmedabad which was through Abu Road after a disappointing experience with the Himmatnagar-Kherwara route. This also meant an additional 80kms to travel and we need to sacrifice our lunch in Udaipur for the same. But then, our priority was the road trip, not meals 🙂
After a diligent effort to pull out the car from the ultra-narrow lanes of Udaipur, we had a sigh of relief as we leaped on to SH50 towards Rani Road. From the google maps, we decided to take a complete round of the lake and join back to our route towards Abu Road.
The beauty of Fateh Sagar Lake is difficult to describe in words. As we entered the road encircling the lake, we couldn’t help stop the car and take a moment to enjoy what we were seeing. The water off the shore was distinctively blue and the Nehru Garden at the center of the lake, with mountains in the background, added to the beauty.
We took a 7kms drive around the lake, entering from Rani Road to exiting at Vidya Bhawan Road to join SH32. The road was very much deserted, probably not safe in the night, but gave an amazing view of the lake from wherever you see. People must have been using it for early morning cycling and jogging, we thought, otherwise it is a complete waste.
As we joined SH32 to reach Udaipur Bypass, we thought we left behind the narrow lanes. However, destiny must have said – “Picture abhi baaki hai mere dost”. As we moved ahead on the road, we realized it started shrinking from a four lane to two lane and then into a single lane road. By the time we realized that we didn’t realize when we were off the SH32, it was very late. Finally, we made it to the Udaipur Bypass through some unknown road which merged to the highway. However, the locals must have wondered what a “GJ 01” car is doing in such narrow roads of Udaipur, which is far away from all the tourist destinations.
Towards Abu Road:
As we entered Udaipur Bypass, we realized the correctness of our decision to take the detour. The highway towards Abu Road is an absolute paradise for someone who loves driving long distances. A very well managed four lane highway with mountains on both the sides and blue sky on the top doesn’t allow you to ask for anything more. Very less traffic due to a working day added to our blessings. As we moved ahead, we realized the additional petrol for those 80kms was not expenditure but an investment.
For me, it was a welcome change after driving a lot on the flat stretch between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. The route was a fierce competition to the much hyped Mumbai-Pune Expressway in terms of scenic beauty. Also, when you have such beautiful landscapes, you don’t need to travel abroad. Europe is right here in Rajasthan.
We quickly fueled the car full and got the oils and the air checked in the car because while it was a beautiful landscape, it was also deserted and you don’t want the drive to be spoiled because engine heated up or tyre burst.
After about two hours’ drive and reaching closer to Abu Road, we took a quick stop on a highway restaurant to have Maggi and tea. As the only two customers in the restaurant, we had the privilege of very quick service and good attention. After the quick bite, we drove ahead.
Rajasthan, Diu and Daman are notorious for smuggling in alcohol in an otherwise dry state of Gujarat where it is banned. It is also, probably, the reason why Mount Abu and Diu are one of the favorite tourist destinations for Gujaratis. Ask any Gujarati and he/she would have visited these two, at least once in the lifetime.
I have expected police checks while traveling from Mumbai, which has never happened, but it slipped off my mind that it can happen on this route as well. While crossing the police barricade our car was stopped by a plain clothed (supposedly) police man. As he came nearer and asked to open the passenger seat, I had to refuse as he was smoking. I opened the door on my side. As he asked to open the bags, I realized what it is for. After making him put out his cigarette, he checked the bags and Okayed everything.
In the whole incident, what amused me was that Gujarat government appointed a poison addicted (cigarette smoker) to catch another poison addicted (as they say so for alcohol). Such is the sorry state of affairs.
The drive from Gujarat border till Ahmedabad was completed in about 2-2.5 hours with a break near Palanpur and without any further incident. As we came to an end to one of the most rocking 30 hours of our lives, it gave us the much needed break from work. It also made us realize the kind of trips we need to have in order to enjoy them fully. I felt to have enjoyed Udaipur much more comparing with the time we had in our disposal.
It also made us believe that last moment, less thought and unplanned decisions can also do wonders!