After a few days in Jodhpur, we continued our Indian adventure with a visit to the village of Osian. On the edge of the Thar Desert, Osian is legendary for its mesmerizing temples, rolling sand dunes and diverse Rajasthani culture. After a relatively short drive from Jodhpur, we spent the afternoon reading, relaxing and catching up on a bit of rest. It was the first time on our trip where we didn’t have anything scheduled, and it felt incredible to just unwind and take in the beautiful desert landscape. As the afternoon came to a close, we headed off on a short camel ride, eventually stopping to watch the sunset over the dunes.
If you have never ridden a camel before, you know just how much of an experience it is. They are WAY taller than I had expected and they are snorty, snuffly and grumpy as heck. Our camel (which we fondly nicknamed Aubergine) was particularly grouchy, and there were a few moments where I was sure that he was going to take off into the sunset with Ricky and I screaming bloody murder on his back. As nerve-wracking as the ride was, it was also a great way to see the local terrain. After about an hour or so of white knuckling Aubergine’s cushy, over-sized saddle, we returned to our camp for a bonfire and dinner.
The following day, we started our drive to Udaipur, with a break in the middle to stretch our legs and visit the legendary Ranakpur Jain Temple. The Ranakpur Temple is one of the five major pilgrimages for those following the Jain religion. It is constructed entirely of marble and it is supported by more than 1400 exquisitely carved pillars, most of which are peppered with intentional imperfections. I had heard of Jainism before this pitstop, and was pretty curious to learn more. Jains avoid all food products that involve injury to life. They try to minimize violence (even to plants), and therefore Jains try to avoid eating meat, as well as root vegetables such as onions, garlic and potatoes. Naturally, I was pretty interested to learn more about the religion, and in particular just how much in common with veganism.
We stuck on our audio guides and wandered around the temple, taking in the incredible architecture and absorbing its story. After our tour of the temple (and a quick break for lunch), we continued on to Udaipur.
With its kaleidoscope of fairy-tale palaces, lakes, temples, gardens and narrow lanes strewn with stalls, Udaipur is by far one of the most beautiful cities in India. This place was hands down one of my favourite stops on our trip. It is so beautiful, and really has its own vibe. Strewn around a number of azure lakes, there is something surreal about its beauty.
We started our first day in Udaipur with a boat ride over Lake Pichola to the beautiful Jag Mandir or Lake Garden Palace. Built in the 1500s, the Udaipur royal family used to use the palace as a summer resort and “pleasure palace” for holding parties (lol). It is situated on one of two natural islands, the other of which is the home to the Summer Palace. As with most of the Palaces in Udaipur, the Jag Mandir is now a hotel. We had no issue, though, hopping off the jetty boat with the rest of the tourists and exploring the open courtyard and public portions of the Palace. The views from this place are incredible and I would highly recommend checking out, especially if you want some killer photos of lake and city.
From there we took a boat back to the main jetty terminal, and made our way to the near-by City Palace. Teetering on the edge of Lake Pichola, the City Palace is made up of a series of mini palaces that have been patchworked together slowly over time. It is made up of a series of courtyards, overlapping terraces, corridors and gardens, each more beautiful than the last. It is also full of antiques, paintings, decorative furniture and utensils, so it provides an interesting look into the lives of the past royal families. I particularly loved wandering through the private waiting rooms of the royal family – everything is so lavish that it’s hard to believe this place was once someone’s home.
One fun (and hilarious) activity that I would highly recommend if you plan on visiting the City Palace, is taking some time to do a photoshoot in traditional clothing. There is a little setup on the far side of the main courtyard, where you can be suited, booted and photographed for a decent price. You can then have your photos taken with the Palace in the background, and choose a number of shots to be printed. It makes for a great souvenir and Ricky’s mom loved receiving the pictures of us all dressed up in traditional Rajasthani clothing.
From there, we continued on to the Saheliyon Ki Bari, a beautiful garden that was once a hang out for ladies of the royal court. It is made up of are pools with dainty kiosks, surrounded by flowerbeds, lawns, pools and fountains protected by a series of walls and shady trees. The garden’s fountains are particularly beautiful.
After running around all day, we were pretty hungry so we took a tuk tuk from our hotel to the old town, and paid a visit to Yummy Yoga Cafe. This place is a pretty OG grungy hippie joint, but my friends were patient and toughed it out so that I could try their vegan pizza (thanks, guys!!). While YYC is pretty casual, it was really nice to go somewhere super vegan-friendly for a change. We hung out and played cards, gobbled up numerous cashew cheese pizzas and finished it all off with a vegan brownie. It was a perfect treat after a long day of touring.
During our second full day in Udaipur, we kiboshed our plans and took off wandering through the City to do a little shopping. Since we were getting close to the end of our trip, we needed to track down some souvenirs. We started just outside the City Palace, and wandered up City Palace Road stopping in a few knick knack stores until we made our way to the Jagdish Temple. From there, we wandered through the Bada Bazar, and until we made it to the clock tower (also known as the Ghantaghar). There are tons of little shops along the way here, where you can find thinks like juttis (shoes), textiles, artwork, pottery and more. We stocked up on kitchenware and miniature paintings, only stopping for briefly to refuel with some fresh coffee and treats at the Udai Art Cafe.
When we were done all of our shopping, we headed back to our hotel for a quick break and then made our way over to the Monsoon Palace. This comparatively run down, little fort-like structure is built out of white marble, and is located on Bansdara peak of the Aravalli hill. Also infamous for being the residence of Kamal Khan in the 1983 James Bond film Octopussy, the Monsoon Palace hasn’t been restored so it isn’t much to see, but it does make a great location for watching the sunset. We made our way to the peak, wandered around, oogled the giant langur monkeys, and hung out until finally watching the sun sink past the horizon.
Once again ready for supper, we took a cab back into town and wound our way through Chand Pole until we found Millets of Mewar. This health-conscious, 3-level restaurant uses local and organic ingredients in its global dishes, and has raw, vegan, gluten-free, and oil-free options. We sat on their top patio, looking out over the lake and enjoyed a long and delicious meal of smoothies, vegan tacos (pictured below), peanut curries, fresh salads washed in filtered water and more, all of which was followed with vegan chai and cookies. This was hands down one of my favourite restaurants that we visited in India, and it was awesome to enjoy delicious, healthy food (that my omnivorous friends enjoyed, too) while looking out over the City.
I can’t believe how quickly the time passes when you’re having fun travelling with friends. Not to be stereotypical, but I kind of thought that going to India would bring me some sort of spiritual enlightenment and I really don’t think that it has. Instead, I feel like it has renewed my sense of life and vitality. India has reminded me that life is way too short to be wasted doing things that are mediocre. I want to make sure that I am always engaged in doing something that bring me and the people around me happiness and fulfillment. That is so important to me and I feel like it really makes life worth living. Since being reminded of this, I feel like I have a lot of goal setting (and achieving) to do, which might be tough to carry forward into my regular grind. I’m confident, though, that I can bring this focus into my life at home.
Well, that’s all for this portion of the trip. From here, we head to Goa for a few days. I will be posting about that final portion soon, but until then keep doing what makes you happy and fulfilled!