January 7, 2015 – January 10, 2015
Udaipur, India, called the Venice of India, and the White City turned out to be the nicest city we visited in India. Beautiful white buildings and palaces along canals offering great views of the lake and surrounding countryside. Great restaurants and cafes, many with rooftop views, and shopping can be found everywhere in a city of small winding streets choked with traffic. The city is very popular with tourists, both foreign and with a new generation of Indian tourists as well.
Udaipur from the streets
With busy tourist shops lining every street, Udaipur offers many opportunities for shopping. Art and textiles dominate, if you are looking for paintings or carvings, you will have dozens of shops to explore here. And if its custom made clothes you are looking for, you can walk from shop to shop until you find the right fabric you want and have nearly anything you could possibly want custom made for you within a day. Like most cities in India the streets of Udaipur are crowded with motorcycles and tuk-tuks zipping all over the place, and with all the crowds of tourists window shopping the streets can be particularly crowded and chaotic here.
Udaipur from the water
Udaipur is built along a man made lake and canal system, built hundreds of years ago in perhaps what was one of the first large scale man made irrigation and water control systems in the world. A popular activity is to take a boat tour around the lake to see the many palaces and hotels along the water.
Udaipur City Palace
We visited the Udaipur City Palace, a massive structure which dominates the skyline of Udaipur along the water.
Almost the entire palace is open to visitors and the hallways are so extensive we had to pick up our pace after a couple hours.
Cooking classes in Udaipur
Cooking classes are becoming very popular all over India, and particularly in Udaipur as you can find signs advertising classes everywhere. We looked up some reviews and decided to take ‘Shashi’s cooking class’ one of the first cooking classes offered in the area, and it had good reviews.
We learned that every Indian curry starts with a ‘basic sauce’, to which other ingredients are added at the end to make the many different curries. This also explains how the restaurants are able to serve so many different dishes so quickly. They will have a large vat of the basic sauce on hand and add the different ingredients to it before serving it.
Curry powders are not used, and don’t really exist in India, except in shops selling them to tourists. The true Indian basic curry sauce consists of: Oil – usually sunflower seed oil, but any vegetable oil will do, cumin, onion, ginger, garlic, coriander, red chili powder and salt to taste.
Basic Curry Sauce Recipe:
2 tablespoons of oil 1 teaspoon of cumin 1 large onion – half diced, half ground or blended 4 cloves of garlic 1 teaspoon of coriander 1/2 teaspoon each of red chili powder and salt
Add 1/2 cup of water and cook on high until water is gone, stirring often, leaving behind a thickened curry sauce. To which you can add tomato, potatoes or other vegetable or meat to make your favorite curry.
True Indian Chai Tea
Indian chai tea is hugely popular in India and available everywhere. At home it can be hard to find or make outside of an Indian restaurant and usually involves pre-made powders which are very unsatisfying. Here’s how to make your own chai tea at home!
Chai Tea Recipe
1 glass of milk (whole or at least 2% is best) 1/4 glass of water 2 heaping tablespoons of sugar (or just make it 3) 1 tablespoon of black tea (Darjeeling tea or Assam tea works best) whole loose tea, not in tea bags 2 green cardamom seeds, whole (green shells and black seed inside) 4 black peppercorns 1 teaspoon of chopped ginger (pea sized pieces)
Add all ingredients to a pot and bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer for about 4 minutes. Adjust sugar and ginger to taste (more is usually better). Run everything through a fine strainer when done.
One final surprise we learned about Udaipur is that it is famous for being in the James Bond movie Octopussy. Quite a few scenes were shot here in Udaipur and many of the restaurants offer daily screenings. You will see signs offering showings of Octopussy everywhere. The movie is quite ridiculous (enjoying an adult beverage helps) but fun to watch on location. It was interesting to see the various locations around the city portrayed in the movie.
Udaipur was our last destination in India. We took our first actual taxi (not tuk tuk) in India to the Udaipur airport and it was terrifying. Because tuk tuks don’t go more than 35mph or so they felt more safe than our taxi traveling at much higher speeds, swerving to overtake other vehicles, cows, etc. It was easier not to watch.
The Udaipur airport was surprisingly nice and modern, and we boarded our Jet Airways flight to Mumbai (Bombay) for a brief layover en route to Sri Lanka!