The taxi from Maharana Pratap Airport took us to the edge of Lake Pichola, where complete silence greeted us after the colorful and chaotic streets of Udaipur. I felt compelled to be at peace while admiring all the beauty that dotted the lake in the distance. The thick air and unending traffic, with its repetitive honking of horns, all felt a distant memory when we stepped aboard the boat which then took us across the lake to The Leela Palace Hotel.
Udaipur is defined as the Venice of the East, or the Venice of Rajasthan, and is famed for its romantic scenery, bursts of color and culture and above all, the fine lakes. The charm of this city lies with its waters, with one of its foremost blessings being Lake Pichola.
Created in 1362, Lake Pichola was built by Pichu Banjara, a gypsy tribesman during the reign of Maharana Lakha. Named after the local Picholi village, the man-made, fresh water lake was later extended by Maharaja Udai Singh and is now one of the most beautiful lakes in Udaipur, acting as a magnet to visitors across the world and inspiration to artists and creatives.
Arranging the trip to Udaipur was disorganized and rushed, much like my life during this time. I was in an unhealthy and mentally exhausting relationship which completely drained my personality and appreciation for life’s simple pleasures. Each day was grey and cold. I stopped laughing, I forgot how to practice self care, and cooking, which is an ultimate pleasure of mine, became a chore with all meals bland and flavorless.
The short but intense year I spent within this relationship left me living an out-of-body experience most of the time, whereby my physical self was present in moments but my mind was elsewhere, I wasn’t centered and lost all sense of focus.
Udaipur was a shock to the system, but was the change I craved. I knew nothing of this city, or of India in fact. but I booked it for the both of us because it was the wakeup call I needed.
Before arriving here I was in the destructive habit of rising from bed in the afternoons, at times even later simply because I struggled to face each day. But on the first morning of waking up in Udaipur, I woke up at 7am with no alarm — just ease and comfort. The room was pitch black, but I remember being drawn to the small golden beams of light that peeped through the curtains to then unveil the most breathtaking view I had ever seen.
I remember slipping through the curtains to open the balcony door and stepping out to a mesmerizing lagoon of beauty. The warm air was gentle and the sun kissed me softly, in a moment when I witnessed Lake Pichola in all of its glory. I admired this lake from left to right and back again several times, its tranquil waters overflowing with calming energy and enveloped with palaces, islands, marble mosaic buildings, temples and lush elevated green hills.
In the distance, the rising sun left its warm rays of light atop the water. My favorite part of this memory is the soft sounds of the birds singing along to the men sitting downstairs by the entrance of The Leela Palace, playing the Dilruba, Harmonium and Pakhwaj to create gentle, traditional Rajasthani music.
It’s one thing to stand back and take the scenery all in, but to be on the lake and admire all that surrounds it is an entirely different experience. There was no better way to expose myself to all of Lake Pichola’s charm than through a private boat tour.
My guide Dipesh spoiled me with hot masala chai, vegetable samosas and delicious Rajasthani sweets while sharing his knowledge and wisdom on the history of the city. For such an open lake, there is so much that surrounds it. Jagmandir, Arsi Vilas, and Jag Niwas, where the famous Taj Lake Palace sits, are three islands located along Lake Pichola, but the true architectural marvel of this lake is the City Palace Udaipur.
The largest palace complex in Rajasthan, construction began in 1559 under Maharaja Udai Singh and over a period of nearly 400 years, the stunning build was later completed by his successors. Proudly positioned on the east bank of Lake Pichola, the City Palace is a fusion of European, Chinese and Medieval architecture. It is the heart of this lake and I was grateful to Dipesh for his insight.
Sunsets along Lake Pichola were just as magical as mornings when the sun rose. I was lucky enough to enjoy the glowing displays during a number of evenings through traditional Rajasthani dinners. At the Sheesh Mahal and the wonderful Oberoi Udaivilas, a feast of flavorsome dishes went down with a wonderful complement of traditional Rajasthani music and dancing, birds flying off deep into the night skies as the evening came like a reminder to rest.
I visited Udaipur during a bad time, and although my partner was with me, I couldn’t have gone more solo. India is holy, India is whole — for years I had heard of the impact, or to some extent the spiritual awakening, that this wonderful country can have on a person. Never did I think that I would experience this first hand.
A friend once told me that “when you eliminate all that is toxic to you, you begin to see and hear again” and I couldn’t agree more. 7am starts in Udaipur became my new habit. Every morning I would find myself on the balcony allowing myself to be still and take in everything in sight. From the boats traveling along the water to the young men clearing the grounds and fountains of The Leela Palace, I took in everything that Lake Pichola displayed.
Towards the end of my stay, colors became brighter, the sweet sounds of birds singing became louder, and the flavors in food became bolder. Ultimately, I took back the love I had showed my partner and gave it to myself and my camera, the two of which I had neglected for so long. I was healing.
It is absolutely possible to leave India as a completely different person compared to your former self upon entry. On the last day, as I stepped aboard the same boat from the start of the trip,I looked back on the temples, palaces and islands fading into the distance. I was leaving with a new sense of peace and purpose that only came about due to the energy Lake Pichola gave me.
During the lockdown, I often reflect on my stay in Udaipur and the time I had to be still and take everything in. Although our current circumstances are very different to everything back then, I use the experience to cope with matters now. I live on my own and throughout the lockdown there are times I feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or lonely, but from Udaipur I have taken away the ability to simply pause and admire all that surrounds me. I long for the day I can return to India, but for now, traveling back through archives and memories always takes me away — even if it’s for a short while.
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