The moon is high in the sky when we arrive at the boat jetty of the Lake Palace in Udaipur. The white outline of the impressive building glows faintly under the stars, surrounded by the silvery waters of Lake Pichola. Everyone there has been waiting for us and despite the late-night hour, the welcome is courteous and warm, and we are immediately made to feel at home. The Jal Tarang suite is an oasis for our tired bodies after the smooth six-hour drive from Jaipur.
It is our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, and we want to celebrate it intimately. After a marvellous night’s sleep, we are ready and excited to discover the town that was once the capital of the Mewar Kingdom. Sailesh, our guide, accompanies us as the grand architecture, characteristic of the city, comes alive through tales of kings and their courage. We slowly become acquainted with a rich and colourful heritage.
While travelling, chance meetings are the stuff that cherished memories are made of. I am sure we will never forget the two handsome sadhus that we encountered during our stroll in the old city. Both were beautifully dressed, in white cotton muslin draped around their lean bodies, their baked skin shining, their white beards flowing. They were stating their affiliation to the Vaishnavite tradition through the white and red marks drawn with sandalwood paste on their foreheads. With Sailesh’s help, we got to talk, and we learned that they were from Ujjain, had been to Allahabad for the Kumbh Mela, and after a holy dip in the Pushkar Lake, were headed towards Girnar in Gujarat. When our eyes met, I felt drowned in an ocean of kindness; their blessing was the most auspicious welcome in Udaipur we could have hoped for. It was also a pertinent prelude to our visit to the Jagdish temple.
We bought a garland of fresh flowers to offer to Lord Vishnu and proceeded to walk up the stairs that bring the pilgrims in the presence of god. Sailesh explains to us how that today was the 11th day of the lunar calendar, and therefore there would be a great affluence of devotees to the temple. Many women came dressed in their traditional bright saris, a real treat for the eyes. When we entered the sanctum santorum, where we were able to catch a glimpse of the deity, the highly charged atmosphere of tangible devotion mesmerized us. Women were sitting at the feet of Lord Vishnu’s effigy and sang praises to him. I closed my eyes to soak in the beauty of their choir, then I opened them up again to carry with me, such an endearing image of timeless India. We walked away under the stern gaze of Garuda, Lord Vishnu’s vehicle, after receiving prasad, a bit of sweet rice blessed by the god’s presence.
Enriched by such an intense exposure to spirituality, we were then ready for the mundane. Sailesh took us to the local market to experience the Indian bazaar, an expression of a traditional way of life that continues to coexist with the onset of modernity in India. We truly enjoyed the experience- the cloth vendor sleeping in his shop oblivious to the passers-by, the young woman with a clock, both attired in matching colours, the old lady with thick spectacles who offered me a handful of fresh peas. Although we were the only foreigners around, we felt that we did not disturb anyone around, on the contrary, we were an amusing distraction.
We finished our discovery of Udaipur with a pleasant walk in Saheliyon-ki-bari, the garden where the princesses of Mewar used to frolic, I wish I had some time to sit under the extravagantly huge bougainvillea and draw images that the story conjured in my mind. By the time we were back at the jetty, we were left speechless by the magnificent sunset over the lake that seemed staged just for us. We crossed the lake and regained our princely abode for the night.
We washed away the emotions of the day with a relaxing bath in the Jacuzzi hot tub and were ready for an unforgettable dinner that was masterfully laid out for us on the rooftop of the Lake Palace. Sitting under the starlit firmament graced by a stunning view in front of us, we stayed silent for a while in awe of such beauty. At the end of a lovely evening, when the chef and the maître d’hôtel came to ask if we had any suggestions to improve their service, we truly had nothing to offer but compliments.
A lazy morning, we decided, is the perfect gift to give each other. We had breakfast in the charming garden of the palace under the watchful gaze of Lord Ganesha, lulled by the notes of the bansuri played by a turbaned flautist who sat on the terrace above us. Our American neighbours, an elegant couple, discussed their travel: “I don’t want to leave India,” she said to her husband who replied, “This is the best hotel I have ever been to”.
Then we enjoyed playing the photographers for an imaginary magazine, shooting the ideal subject, the Lake Palace. The visit to the Jiva spa for a wonderful massage is the cherry on the cake. As the boat ferried us away, we turned around for a last image to cherish in our minds, forever grateful to the Lake Palace for having offered us the most delightful of celebrations.