Lal Ghat, on the eastern shore of Lake Pichola, is a maze of alleys and lanes sprawling through a sea of crème-colored cubic houses. Inside traffic can be mad: scooters, motor-rickshaws, cows, pedestrians and even cars try to make their way through the labyrinth. Pedestrians are at the low end of the pecking order and constantly frightened by scooters cutting by within an inch and blowing their deafening horns.
Nevertheless it is here, in Lal Ghat, where all tourists congregate. Here is everything they have come for: the lake surrounded by high hills, with its picturesque man-made islands, the Jagdish Temple and last but not least the City Palace, all within walking distance. Such a scenario needs lodgings, tourist-orientated eateries and shops. Countless signs promote the highest rooftop restaurant, recommended by the Lonely Planet goes without saying. Ads drawing attention to Ayurveda Spas, Henna painting, tailors, miniature paintings and what not complete this travellers’ epicenter. Of course this is also where we settled, in the fabulous Jagat Miswa Palace, right on the lake. Only when we visited Monsoon Palace one afternoon, high up on a mountaintop, we realized that “our” neighborhood was the most densely populated of all Udaipur.
To discover and appreciate Udaipur’s real beauty, you need to move out onto the lake. Only the view from the water does justice to the huge palace with its innumerable copulas, towers and balconies and the light-brown Havelis, some restored, others crumbling. In former days, those were the residences of nobles and wealthy merchants. We did so in one of the many small boats that cruise tourists around. Departing at 06:00 pm was almost too late for some decent photo shooting: the sun set right after we left.
Lovers of James bond movies from the 1980s may have sighed when the man himself bewitched ladies in the most picturesque settings, in a luxury hotel in the middle of a lake. Probably very, very few were aware that all this happened on an island in Lake Pichola, in southern Rajasthan. The Taj Palace Hotel, a top-notch hotel, was chosen to be the backdrop for the film Octopussy. What centuries ago was the modest home of a Maharana, now covers the entire island and is off-limit to non-guests.
For us on the “mainland”, the vital point in Lal Ghat was Jagdish Temple: no matter where you walk, you always return to the steep stairs leading up to the temple grounds. Outside was chaos, traffic fighting its way, beggars, ladies selling flower garlands, and worshippers parking their motorbikes in the midst of this mad house. Inside was meditative, but not quiet. Ladies were sitting in a circle singing, taking their turn dancing. The few men present were providing the music by playing the drums.