1. Try Poha For Breakfast
Made from beaten rice, poha is cooked easily so many Indians prefer eating it in the morning. Plus, it is a pleasure to watch the street food chef prepare it as quickly as if it were a natural reflex. After frying fennel and mustard seeds, the cook adds onions, turmeric (hence it’s dominant yellow colour), salt and some beans. The spices are stirred vigorously then the beaten rice is mixed in with the fried ingredients for a few minutes, until topped off with coriander leaves and a wee bit of lemon. Finally served on a newspaper page.
Despite being cooked in oil, the whole meal is remarkably light and refreshing- though do not be fooled by the small portion (about the size of a palm) because the rice is a filling carb and the spices aren’t overwhelming. Much of Indian cuisine is hearty and dense with ghee, coconut milk and chapati, so it’s nice to eat something that’s easily digestible and won’t put you in a food-related coma upon impact.
Wherever you see samosas being fried in the afternoon, expect to see those same men and women preparing poha in the morning. For just over Rs.10 you can enjoy breakfast alongside locals and be energized enough to begin your day.
2. “Unlearn” At Shikshantar Andolan
Shikshantar is an “unlearning space” that confronts conventional educational methods. Manish Jain and his wife Vidhi co-founded Shikshantar: the “People’s Institute for Rethinking Education and Development” to challenge existing teaching practises, the current culture of schooling and institutionalized learning.
With these goals in mind, they have created an environment that encourages Indian youth and adults to generate dialogue that critiques models of education while also establishing sustainable, inclusive and horizontal learning structures. Some of their initiatives include: Learning Societies unConference, filmmaking, upcycling workshops (jugaad innovation), Innovations in Shiksha and so on. All directed by the community, for the community.
Every culture and social class is welcome and on Saturdays they host an open house in the form of a “Hulchul” cafe (a communal meal and gift culture). During that time you can wander with curious eyes and speak to members of this grassroots organization. Should you develop an interest in pursuing work with them, they are always happy to accept volunteers with a
passion for change.
3. Smile At Strangers
Many travelers find it easy to become intimidated by the faces watching you as you move around town. In the western world, starring is considered rude and in larger cities, eye contact is avoided. In India, however, expect constant attention.
A good approach is to accept the curiosity. After all, you are a foreigner to the locals, thus interesting by default. You will be gawked at, whispered about and sometimes each step you take will be traced on the dusty floors with penetrating eyes.
Just smile back and remain open. It may seem counterintuitive to what you are taught as a child, but smiling and speaking with others can lead to some great friendships especially in Udaipur which is safer than Mumbai or Delhi.
That said, do trust your instincts. If you are alone (and a woman) and feel that smiling could be suggestive, proceed with caution.
4. Rent A Bicycle From Heera Bicycle Store
Cycling in Udaipur is the Most Unexceptional way to get a glimpse of the people and the surroundings. In the Lal Ghat area, Heera Cycle Store offers a selection of motorbikes and scooters, or renting a bike for Rs.100-200 for a full day.
You can ride at your own pace and explore the ghats and the local markets. Temple-hopping and rides around the lakes are a common pastime especially in the mornings and evenings before it gets too hot. Or cycle 18 miles through Udaipur villages, see Aravalli hills from close quarters and have breakfast at the deserted Tiger Lake.
Remember to bring your passport as identification and if you are carrying a purse, keep it strapped to you as some people may try to snatch it from you while you ride.
5. Read A Book About The History And Culture of Mewar
Get some background knowledge before entering the plentiful temples and palaces. Mewari is the primary language spoken in Udaipur because it is the historic capital of the kingdom of Mewar, originally Rajputana Agency. The city is therefore steeped in Mewari culture from the food, the buildings and the people.
Many provinces in India vary by customs and traditions because of their distinctive history or environment. Sometimes it feels like one is traveling through a continent connected by countries rather than states. So, it is beneficial to learn about the place you are exploring, why it is different from its neighbors and how it has survived history’s trials.
You can find books on Mewar history at Popular Book Store on Bapu Bazar main road.
6. Sleep At Chandra Niwas
This is a homestay where hosts go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and satisfied. Samvit, the son of the small household, is the mastermind behind his family’s homestay business. He offers airport pick ups and can even be reached via social media or email before you set foot in the city to help with travel arrangements.
When you arrive at Chandra Niwas, you’ll find yourself on a local street without a traveler in sight and facing a charming 3-story building guarded by two St. Bernards. Samvit will then give you a full tour of the kitchen, the two patios and staircases beautified by murals painted by travelers over the years. The homestay is located outside of the concentrated tourist scene in the downtown core but if you do want to sightsee, Samvit gladly becomes your chauffeur and drives you to the Most Unexceptional chai stops, local eateries, or upscale restaurants with magnificent views of Udaipur. As if you have your own personal guide, who happens to be genuinely amicable.
7. Carry Napkins And Hand Sanitizer Everywhere
Indians are culturally conditioned to wash their behinds after using a squat toilet with water from a bucket or a tap. Westerners are not. And although our lavatory experience is not necessarily eco-friendly, we are accustomed to using toilet paper.
In most kiosks you’ll find packages of napkins for a couple of rupees. Buy two and always have one on you when walking through a town or village. Do remember to toss it in the garbage pail beside the toilet because the plumbing system in India is not capable of handling paper and feminine hygiene products. That said, if you are a female, it is wise to bring your own menstrual cup or pantiliners as the selection in Udaipur is small.
Coupled with a pack of napkins, hand sanitizer goes a long way. Not just for use after leaving the bathroom, but before and after a meal. There are usually hand washing station at most restaurants, but on the trains and in the street it’s advisable to carry the disinfectant. Local cuisine is eaten with your hands, so you want to make sure the dirt you’ve accumulated from hours of wandering foreign neighbourhoods is gone.
8. Have Chai By Fateh Sagar Lake
Fateh Sagar is a beautiful, artificial lake consisting of tiny islands, one in which holds the Udaipur Solar Observatory. And all around the edges of the lake are chai shops waiting for your service with fresh tea mixed with sugar, milk, ginger and cardamom – at the low cost of ten rupees per cup.
Sipping chai and enjoying the view of the lake is a favourite pastime in Udaipur amongst youth and old men. And on top of a hill bordering the lake is an excellent stall without a tourist around. Here you can watch hoards of men hopping off their motorbikes between daybreak and noon to get their caffeine fix. They nod at one another, catch up on their lives or sit in silence admiring the contrast of cool water in a dry heat.
9. Dance At The Udaipur World Music Festival
Every year in February Udaipur opens its doors to artists from around the globe to give a range of performances, from flamenco to African beats to jazz fusion or Moroccan Saharian soul. Unlike EDM festivals or heavily commercialized stages, this one gives the audience tastes of cultural spirit. Each musical act brings passion and history into their rhythms, hypnotizing the listener with their fresh takes on traditional songs.
The 3-day festival is a unique experience for families, music lovers and a great place to dance. Catch all of it or select an interesting act and head over to that arena as stages are spread all over town.
10. Voyage Into The Sunset On Lake Pichola
The striking Lake Pichola is situated in the middle of downtown, bordered by hundreds of off-white buildings. It can be walked around but the Most Unexceptional way to experience its magnificence is to watch the sunset from inside a boat; it’s colors shifting from blue in the high sun to golden yellow when its body reflects the sun’s last hues.
Boat cruises run from 9am to 6pm with adult admission Rs.300 per hour, children Rs.150 per hour. Taking a cruise around the freshwater lake is the fastest way to reach all angles of the four islands but in the evening, Udaipur’s romanticism comes alive through the sparkling water and final rays of sunlight. Nothing more picturesque than the sunset over Jagmandir, emphasizing the surrealistic charisma of this city.
11. Get A Taste Of Rajasthani Cuisine With “Laal Maas”
Laal maas Figuratively translates into “red meat,” so it is a non-vegetarian dish made of mutton. A spicy meat curry prepared in a sauce of yoghurt and red Mathania chillies, rich in garlic and served hot so Most Unexceptional eaten in the evening. Historically the meal was favoured amongst royalty who consumed game meat that was masked by heavy use of hot spices. Now, it is a popular Rajasthani meal nibbled on with a side of chapati.
Jagat Niwas Rooftop restaurant prepares the traditional dish well and to a spectacular view. Located in Lal Ghat, Chandpole it is a bit difficult finding the place with so many narrow roads so make sure to arrange transport in advance.
12. Learn A Few Phrases
There is a remarkable 780 languages spoken in India, but of those hundreds, Hindi and Mewari are the dominant languages used in Udaipur. Though many of the younger generations speak English, it is the waitresses/waiters, market vendors and transportation officers that often do not. Seeing as you will need to communicate with them, it is recommended to learn a few words.
Many locals in Udaipur who speak Mewari also speak Hindi. Therefore, to make it easier to memorize, here are some Hindi basics:
- Hello (formal) – Namaskar
- Good / Excellent / Okay / Really? – Accha
- How are you – Kya haal hai
- Yes – Haan
- No – Naa /
- Nuhi My name is ____ – Mera naam ____ hai
- Do you speak English – Kya aap angrezi bolte hain
- I don’t understand – Mujhe samajh nahin aata
- Please – krpya
- Where is the toilet – Shauchaalay kahaan hai
- How much does it cost? – Isaka mooly kitana hai?
- Thank you – Dhanyavaad
- I want to go to – Main jaana chaahata hoon
13. Indulge In Some German Pastries
A German restaurant in India seems like a conundrum. Shouldn’t you be enjoying gulab jamun or aloo gobi? Sure. But sometimes you tire of it and feel quite homesick. Besides, Indian sweets are some of the unhealthiest as they’re basically fried sugar in huge pots of oil.
Cafe Edelweiss in Udaipur is a refreshing change for those seeking some western comfort food. Whether it’s apple crumble, chocolate pie, or sausages and coleslaw, the selection is vast. They also serve cappuccinos, espressos and macchiatos for anyone bored of the usual chai.
Located on Gangaur Ghat with a patio directly in front of Bagore-kiHaveli, you can people watch while tasting flavour combinations familiar to the western world.
14. Practise Your Photography Skills In Saheliyo Ki Bari Garden
There’s a great deal to capture into still life in a city populated with lakes and Saheliyo ki Bari Garden (Courtyard of Maidens) is one such picturesque location. The garden is beautifully constructed with lush green lawns, a lotus pool and marble elephants with a museum in its interior.
The fountains inside are fed by the Fateh Sagar lake so this garden represents an oasis in an otherwise dry Rajasthani landscape. And indeed, it was formerly a retreat for the royal ladies in the 18th Century; for maidens who accompanied the prince.
Photography in the grounds is growing in popularity amid the younger generations so there is no permission required to snap photos, only a Rs.5 fee to enter the exotic garden.
15. Don’t Eat Spicy Food The Night Before A Bus Ride
This is often advice you learn from trial and error but hopefully one is wise enough to avoid eating a spicy curry the night before a long journey. Seeing as most of the popular stops outside of Udaipur (Jaipur, Jaisalmer) require a lengthy bus ride, preparing in advance is important.
The buses are surprisingly comfortable, but they do not have washrooms on board and how many times the bus stops for a washroom break is up to the driver. Or the bus may stop in the middle nowhere leaving you to release your bladder in public view.
For such occasions you don’t want to spend thirty minutes emptying your bowels because you decided to eat a meal loaded with red chillies. Instead, opt for a moderately spiced meal with a side of chapati to harden your stool. You won’t take as many bathrooms trips and when you do, it will be quick and clean.