The City of Lakes

My feet, drifting in the tides of India, finds itself ashore once again in the beautiful state of Rajasthan This time, it is in Udaipur that you would find me and my SIT friends on our second field excursion. From Pink City to Lake City, also colloquially known as Venice of the East. I wonder if Rajasthan just has a knack for prescribing depictive one-word adjectives to its cities.

It’s worth noting that I took my first three-tier sleeper train to get to Udaipur; Six of us crammed into a compartment with benches hanging by a couple suspending metal hooks. Not quite the Hogwarts Express experience I was expecting, but it gave us a chance to bond over such festivities as ‘Never have I ever’. 12 and some hours later, we found ourselves before the Hanuman Ghat of the city, overlooking the famous Pichola Lake. The sleepy city, with its family owned shops and rooftop restaurants, cradle both sides of the lake, which leads to City Palace and the surrounding bay. Udaipur is also known for where Octopussy, the 007 movie (with Roger Moore), was filmed in the ‘80s. It’s no surprise that many of the hotels offered screenings of the movie almost every night!

Our daily field visits took us to the rural countryside of Udaipur, where we would be observing and interacting with various NGOs working in underserved villages. The remoteness of these villages often required us to drive for hours through winding mountain passes and dirt roads with just as many potholes as smooth ground. While the drive was unforgiving, the passing landscape made up for that and more. Against the backdrop of morning dewdrops and mist-blanketed valleys lay rolling lush farmland. Beaming children and women in brightly coloured saris pass us by; the goats, cows, and water buffaloes stand idly by, emanating their respective noises. One of the ASHAS (Accredited Social Health Activists) captivated me with her piercing hazel eyes and ever-present smile. She was more than happy to share her experiences and difficulties as a community health worker with us, and her family was just as vibrant as her! What a small world that we would see her again with her two sons a couple days later outside the city district hospital (they were fine!)

One cool evening on the banks of Pichola Lake after a long rural excursion, we were treated to a rooftop dinner and a Rajasthani folk dance performance! I kicked back on the pillows lined against the railings and enjoyed a night of peacock dancers, a strangely disturbing but entertaining puppet show, and a man dancing with a stack of vases taller than he perched upon his head. Then the impossible happened, we had an impromptu dance party after the discovery of an iPod jack on the PA system. But not just any dance party, somehow we managed to get our SIT faculty staff to dance with us! This included Archna, Goutam, and Bhavna Ji—our Hindi teachers, Kishore Ji—our logistics and magic man, and Azim Ji—the program director. Who knew Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m on Fire’ would bring out the inner interpretive dancer in Archna Ji?

For me, a journey to each foreign city would be incomplete without looking for the best overlook views it has to offer. From the Yamuna riverbanks snaking around the Taj Mahal in Agra, to the sunrise view of Jaipur atop Tiger Fort. This time, our adventures brought us to the soaring views of the Aravalli hills from Monsoon Palace on an overcrowded jeep. Then to Rope Way, a precarious gondola ride up to a temple with a view of the most unique sunset I have ever seen. The only thing I regret was not trekking the wildlife reserve trail on the way to Monsoon Palace! I will be back for you, Udaipur.

Because the things I saw are hard to capture with words alone and because I am not entirely sure how to end this post, I would like to conclude that on the way back to our bus, an elephant unintentionally followed us through the exit gates of this, the city of lakes, friendly faces, and photogenic goats.