Udaipur was our favourite place in India, so much so, that we ended up staying there twice as long as we’d planned.
But when your hotel room looks like this and you’re paying £7 a night, it’s not really surprising.
Set on a lake, Udaipur’s main claim to fame is that part of the Bond film Octopussy was filmed there, meaning that at least ten restaurants show the film every night. Heaven for a Bond fan such as S, not so much so for the poor waiters who have to see the same thing each evening. We spoke with one guy who’d worked in one of these places for five years. Five years of a substandard Bond film would be enough to tip anyone over the edge!
Udaipur had a number of magnificent marble palaces, including a gorgeous one floating in the middle of the lake. A boat journey there was the perfect way to while away an afternoon.
We also visited the Monsoon Palace (another Octopussy setting) on the hills outside the city, where we watched monkeys casually swinging around in the trees and enjoyed stunning views of the valley below.
I loved the elephant temple in the centre, so beautifully carved, and which had a number of cheeky chipmunks hanging out on the stonework!
It was with reluctance that we left Udaipur, but our next stop of Jodphur was definitely worth the visit. Jodphur is the ‘blue city’, as it’s the Brahmin holy colour, and also allegedly keeps away the mosquitoes!
Our hotel was the final stop before the imposing fort, and had magnificent views across the city, so we could really appreciate the layers of blue buildings.
While were there, the fort had been hired out by Naomi Campbell for her boyfriend’s birthday and was playing host to a range of Hollywood stars and other famous people (we spotted Vivienne Westwood while wandering around the next day). It also meant that we got to watch all the musicians and other entertainers walk up to the fort on the path that ran next to our hotel, and that there was a fab firework display that evening!
I bought tea in the winding streets of the town, and got to try some delicious brews, including Kashmir tea – no actual tea in it, but instead a blend of saffron, cinnamon and cardamom, deliciously sweet and very refreshing. (S forfeited the tea tasting in favour of Cobra beer.)
Our final stop on the loop of Rajasthan was Bikaner, where our main objective was to go on a camel safari.
It didn’t disappoint, with half a day trekking on these beautiful animals, followed by dinner in the desert under the stars and a night in a white silk tent.
Any soreness from the riding was forgotten when the canopy above was so beautiful.
I nicknamed our mounts Alice and Humphrey, for obvious reasons! Alice, S’ mount, was a bit naughty, and kept veering off to eat plants, refusing to follow our guides. She was about half the size of everyone else’s camel, and when she stood up, he had to ask me from my lofty perch if she was fully extended!
Bikaner is also famed for Karni Mata, a rat temple. Yep, the rats have full run of the place, and are considered sacred. Our taxi driver – guide did tell us why, but I forget the story in the horror of seeing so many rats running everywhere. And so many flies! Normally I don’t have a problem with going barefoot, but I had to truly gird my loins to walk around the temple with no flip flops on.
It’s considered auspicious if one runs over your foot. I was happy not to get lucky that day.
The camel breeding centre was much more our thing, where we ate camel milk ice cream and watching the daily parade of camels – all sizes, shapes and colours.
From the peace of the desert we returned for more day to the insanity of Delhi, although we were much more prepared for it this time. Diwali was in full swing on our final day, with firecrackers exploding everywhere and a permanent haze over the city, which we were told would get much, much worse. In fact, many Indians want to stop the custom of exploding firecrackers as Diwali is the festival of light, not loud bangs and smoke. As we’d seen most of the things we wanted to see on our first visit, we decided to take things easy on our final day and just hang out in a rooftop restaurant.
We watched a lovely Diwali ceremony at the restaurant, where the staff lit candles to Lakshmi and gave sweets to everyone.
India was a good country to end our Awfully Big Adventure with, as we were definitely ready to come home, even if it did mean leaving 30 degree temperatures and flip flops for grey skies and winter coats!
Taking time out to do this trip was one of the best things I’ve ever done. So many fantastic experiences, lovely people, amazing meals, new ideas. And so, so many memories. If you ever get the urge to do the same, go. You won’t regret it.