Indian drivers are crazy. Driving on Indian roads is like playing Gran Turismo, only it’s real. There is no braking. No gear changes. No lane markers. Just a constant swerving with acceleration (overtake on blind corner) and deceleration (elephant on road). Using Darwin’s theory of evolution, you would think that Indians had a highly developed sense of perception and coordination. Not so. On our trip into Udaipur, we saw a gaily painted Tata truck half crumpled through a stone retainer, teetering over the precipice like a cartoon. Locals and passersby were out in force taking snapshots over the edge, of what I can only hope was bits of machinery. Shortly afterwards we swerved to avoid a small crowd in the middle of the road, where a man was lying in the road, safe but shaken having been knocked down whilst crossing the road. In fact, on our (quite short) trip, we saw no less than five accidents. And not once did we see an emergency vehicle. We did see a number of signs with cheerful slogans like “Road Rules And Promises – Not Meant To Be Broken”.
Our own driver, the cheerful and very sweet natured Mr Rawat from Bhutan, seemed completely unfazed by the carnage around him and by our wide eyed stares and fearful clutching of armrests as we raced about the countryside. We had countless narrow escapes only to find him chuckling quietly to himself as we opened our fingers a fraction to peek out and check that we were still alive.
The only time I saw him lose his cool was when something hit our windscreen. He flattened the accelerator, leant forward in his seat and put the pedal flat to the floor to catch up with a lumbering truck in front of us. Tooting hard, he swerved right in front of the truck and braked so hard it had to stop to avoid rear ending us. He leapt from his seat and after much furious gesticulation and cussing with the drivers of the truck, got back in the car. “These people – they have just throw their banana skin at us! Peasants!” He spat and snapped his fingers ferociously and drove off, satisfied at having vented a bit of road rage.
Having avoided near death in a number of ways, it took more than a cold towel and a warm smile from our hostess at the Udaipur Lake Palace dock to soothe our frazzled nerves. We were still a bit jittery, seated on plump cushions and wearing voluminous life vests, for the boat ride to the hotel. The petals showered upon us as we walked through the entrance barely registered. It was not until we had several fairly stiff gins that we began to ease back into it.
The Lake Palace was very lovely. Our room was sumptuous, perhaps a little frou-frou for me. It had many cushions and tapestries and teak furnishings and cool tiled floors. It had several bars and nooks and crannies in which to enjoy the aforementioned gins. It had a few average restaurants, including the rooftop restaurant, which although it had a spectacular view, left something to be desired in the food stakes, and friends who were meeting us there for dinner from less salubrious lodgings in Udaipur were piqued at having to hand over their passports before being allowed on the boat over (“So exclusive it has its own customs and immigration department” they grumbled). It had the obligatory evening dance performance. It had a small bougainvillea clad swimming pool and spa and the beautiful internal lily pond. It has more character, I feel, than the newish Oberoi across the water, partly because it is an 18thC Maharajah’s summer palace, and partly because James Bond cavorted here in Octopussy.
However in its current incarnation you do need to be prepared for hordes of wealthy people of a certain age, either in couples (he in navy blazer with salt and pepper hair and she in white linen with jewelled sandals) or as part of an Abercrombie and Kent tour group.
We enjoyed our stay in Udaipur, and felt very grown up at the Lake Palace. We still skipped out for street food and shopping, and really enjoyed a boat trip around the lake, particularly seeing the smaller palaces along the lakeside, some as small hotels and others still housing local families. We didn’t feel like we needed more than a couple of days there but as an integral part of the tourist trail around Rajasthan, it was worth a stop, if only to get off the roads.