Our friendly rickshaw driver craned his neck, shouting so we could hear him above the rattling engine.
“Udaipur is the most romantic city in all of India. In the whole world!”
“Oh, really?” I said, gripping my backpack and wishing he would keep his eyes on the road.
At the moment, his statement was unconvincing.
It was cold, dark, and from what I could tell, crowded. The streets were lined with shops selling harem pants, leather book covers, spangly shoes, and amateur art.
“Yes,” he said. “The lake is very romantic.” Satisfied, he faced forward, swerving to avoid oncoming traffic.
When someone tells you a place is romantic (or breathtaking, jaw-dropping, stunning – choose your favorite adjective), it’s immediately at a disadvantage. Now I had high expectations for Udaipur, and we all know how that usually pans out.
First of all, we couldn’t find this so-called lake. After an hour of turning our xeroxed hotel map every which way, I was starting to believe that it was all a scam.
“There’s no lake,” I said to Jared. “I don’t even think there’s a palace. I’m going to ask that girl.”
A small, blonde white girl wearing a day pack and genie pants was headed in our direction.
“Excuse me,” I said, blocking her path. “Can you tell me which direction the lake is in?”
“Which lake did you want to go to?” Her voice was squeaky, like she’d spent the morning sucking helium.
“The main one,” I stammered. “The…romantic…one.”
“By the City Palace?”
I nodded dumbly.
“Go straight this way, then turn left at the temple.” She pointed in the direction where we’d just come from.
“The temple. Oh! Is that the one with the beggars out the front?” I hadn’t realized it was a temple. I’d just avoided eye contact and pretended it wasn’t there.
“Yep, that’s the one.”
I thanked her and we re-traced our steps.
The City Palace is huge. I don’t know how we missed it. It’s smack-dab at the end of a street called…wait for it…Palace Road.
And for future reference, the lake you want to see? That’s Lake Pichola. It’s home to the über-romantic and aptly-named ‘Lake Palace,’ which routinely shows up on ‘World’s Best Hotels’ lists.
If you want to soak up the ambiance of the lake palace, you have two options:
1) Sleep there.
2) Circumnavigate it by boat.
Both of these options cost unreasonable amounts of money, so we opted for the lesser-known option three, which is:
3) Lean way out the window of the City Palace and use your zoom lens.
It was a while before Option 3 could take effect, however, because you have to follow a very specific path through the palace, and there was still no evidence of a lake.
Finally, it appeared.
“Lauren,” Jared said. “Come over here.”
Ta-daaaah! A surplus of lake views.
But the romance?
“Here,” I said, handing Jared the camera. “Take a couple of pictures of us. Then let’s get away from all of these people.”
We wound our way through the palace, which was everything a palace should be – light, airy, and regal.
The best bits were the ever-present cardboard cutouts of the Maharana Fateh Singh, reminding me very much of an Indian Stephen Hawking.
What it didn’t have, though, was a giant turban.
This, people, is where the real action of Udaipur is:
It’s a run-down old lakeside mansion with 138 rooms that has been converted into a museum. The entry fee for two of us was less than $1, and there were about four other tourists there.
It’s got views.
It’s got a room full of handmade puppets, complete with an adolescent boy who will make them dance for you.
It’s got ghostly saris.
It’s got an art gallery.
It’s got a giant turban.
As if that wasn’t enough, it’s also got turbans you can try on, courtesy of the museum authorities.
Trying on raggedy, previously worn turbans together?
Now that’s romantic.