We had read in a few places that Udaipur, in Rajasthan, is considered the most romantic city in India. My reaction: how on earth can anyone think a city here is romantic? I can well understand how a secluded beach with swaying palms and stunning sunsets could be associated with amorous lovers, but a city? Our experience up to that point had found them to mostly be dusty, dirty places with too much traffic and excessive numbers of people.
However, once we arrived, we realised just how wrong we had been. Udaipur is gorgeous. Many of the hotels are in old havelis, which were the private residences of rich families. Our room for around $10 a night had shiny tiled floors, latticed windows covered in blue glass and a rooftop restaurant with a stunning view of Lake Pichola. Past the jumble of picturesque alleyways leading downhill you could see ancient royal residences out in the water and the towers of the huge city palace in the distance.
One of our favourite day was spent exploring said palace, which demonstrated all the opulence you would expect from the abode of many generations of maharajas. Part of the palace still occupied by the current reigning family, a portion is on display to the public and some wings have been converted into luxury hotels. After a few hours in the museum I decided that, English girl as I am, I would enjoy partaking of the high tea served in the Edwardian-style reception room of the Fateh Prakash Palace Hotel.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of afternoon tea, this is no quick cuppa in a coffee shop. It is a full meal complete with delicately cut sandwiches, tiers of cakes and biscuits and pots of fine aromatic blends served in china cups. However, unlike traditional tea in England, there was a conspicuous absence of waiters with crisp white shirts or girls in frilly old-fashioned aprons. Instead, we were served by a giant of an Indian man wearing a sash and an orange turban. The whole thing cost us more than an entire day’s budget, but was entirely worth it for the experience.
Little did we know it, this was not the end of our encounters with my favourite beverage. A day or so later we stopped in a little travel shop to try and book onward bus tickets. There we found the cutest little travel agent named Kumar who was one of the friendliest Indians we have met. He wasn’t so concerned about taking money from us as wanting to just sit down and chat. Taking a break from sightseeing, we were more than happy to lend him our company for a while. After a few minutes, he asked us if we would like to learn how to make what he termed ‘love tea’, essentially very sweet black tea flavoured with lots of lemon. Always happy to try something new, we followed him into the tiny kitchen behind his shop and cheerily squeezed, stirred and poured under his direction. Whether it was his special recipe or just the fact that we were having such a fun time talking to Kumar, the tea really did taste wonderful. I hadn’t noticed until Paul pointed it out that his relaxed manner and excessive verbosity may in part have been due to another type of beverage altogether, but this didn’t detract from the fun we were having.
With two entirely different types of tea in just a few days, I really did grasp the romance of the beautiful city of Udaipur.