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Jaipur to Udaipur India: The Journey Is the Destination

01/13/2017 08:00am ET | Updated January 14, 2018
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It's a ten-hour drive from Jaipur to Udaipur in the Indian state of Rajasthan. Most first-time visitors fly from one to the other, if they go to Udaipur at all. But add another day or two to your itinerary and you'll benefit from a deeper dive into the smaller villages, where locals are happy to engage, and invite you into their generations-old family compounds where you'll gain a better understanding of the non-touristy side of this vast and diverse country.

Things to Do From Jaipur to Udaipur

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DO: Hire a Car. This applies to anywhere in India. You do not want to get behind the wheel of a moving vehicle here. Not only does the driver sit on the right side, traveling on the left side of the road (a 'la UK), but, to put it plainly, Indian drivers are crazy. They love to play "Chicken" any time they can. You'll see local buses, trucks, tuk-tuks, scooters, bikes - all coming your way and even being a passenger is a harrowing experience. Put your faith in your driver, but don't try to do it yourself.

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DO: Keep Your Camera Ready. You'll be driving through small villages and past farmland where women clad in colorful saris walk the road with produce on their heads and men dressed in muted colors drive oxen and wait for customers at small food stalls.

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STAY: In a Small Village near the Half-Way Point, Nawla Narlai, Narlai. To break up the long drive, stay in Narlai - a village of about 7,000 - with a stunning Heritage Resort, Nawla Narlai.

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The hotel is actually a meticulously landscaped complex, with courtyards, a pool, restaurant and a variety of rooms around the property. Flowered vines blanket what were once sleeping quarters for the Nobles tasked with overseeing the village during the time of the British Raj.

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Though Nawla Narlai is presented as a "Hunting Lodge for the Royals" - it was never a hunting lodge for anyone. The last inhabitant of the exquisite compound, aging gracefully, still lives here and is happy to meet with guests. A distinguished figure with cane, turban and in village dress, he personifies an age long past yet still very alive here.

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DO: Visit the Cliffside Hindu Temple, Narlai. Climb the 150 steps to the Hindu Temple. Even if it is closed, you can look through the gate, and the hike up through rock crevice is a very cool experience.

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WALK/PHOTO OP: Through Narlai Village. If you're staying at the Rawla Narlai, enlist a guide who will introduce you to villagers, especially those who are happy to invite you into their homes. Narlai encompasses the whole spectrum of society from the very rich to the (literally) "dirt" poor. The wealthy live in large residences marked by lovely doors and facades, the less well-to-do in crumbling structures.

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There are even farming families who have lived in the same compound and in the same way for generations; sleeping outside in hammocks, cooking over wood fires, working while goats have the run of their home-site. Within these primitive enclosures, it's strange to see the younger generations with cell phones - but the 21st century is encroaching quickly, even here.

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If you wander around during school vacation (there's a K-12 school in the village) or after classes let out, you'll most likely be followed by smiling kids, with a decent command of English, showing off their school work in notebooks.

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Instead of candy or money, kids here ask for pens, so come prepared. By the end of an hour long walking tour, you'll feel like the Pied Piper - with dozens of kids trailing you and calling for their friends and family.

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Almost everyone, from Moms and Dads to school kids to the elderly, love having their pictures taken. Just be sure to ask permission first.

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TOUR: Jain Temple, Ranakpur. On your way from Narlai to Udaipur, do not miss this house of worship - considered the most magnificent Jain Temple in the world. With nearly 1,500 intricately carved white marble columns throughout a hushed marble pavilion, it's worth the two-hour drive from Udaipur just to see it. Words and even pictures cannot express the absolute beauty of this isolated, yet still operating Temple.

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DO: Sunset Cruise on Lake Pichola, Udaipur. The end of day is the perfect time to cruise around this manmade lake surrounded by (and encompassing) palaces. As Udaipur is nicknamed The City Of Lakes, it behooves the visitor to experience at least one. You'll be let off on an island - now a restaurant and lovely gardens - on which you can meander before returning to shore.

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TOUR: City Palace, Udaipur. A portion of this multi-complex series of 11 palaces atop a hill overlooking Lake Pichola is still occupied by the Royal Family (symbolic only, now), with all the pomp and circumstance surrounding them while they are in residence. You are allowed to explore the public areas, however, which are breathtakingly beautiful - courtyards and multi-level buildings accessed through small halls and narrow stairways.

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The city of Udaipur is known for "Miniature Paintings" - masterpieces that are not small in size, as one would imagine, but exacting in their depictions of life in the Royal Court. Each of these paintings, some which take up whole walls in the palace rooms, tells a story - of weddings, wars, families - and are so elaborate, you can make out distinct emotions on the faces of thousands of tiny figures.

The City Palace also houses the Crystal Gallery (separate entrance fee) - one of the largest private crystal collections in the world. In 1877, Maharana Sajjan Singh ordered all this crystal from the UK-based F&C Olser & Co., but he died before the commissioned pieces arrived. The shipment was packed up and hidden away for 110 years before seeing the light of day again. Now, the whole assembly is on exhibit in an observation gallery atop one of the palace's grand ballrooms.

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WALK: Food Markets, Udaipur. You just can't take a bad picture in these alleyways lined with women selling some of the largest produce (scallions, carrots, cauliflower) you'll ever see anywhere. The kaleidoscope of colors - women's saris, the oversized fruits and vegetables, shops jammed with sweets, nuts and spices - are feasts for the eyes and camera-perfect. There's just nothing that gives you a clearer idea of regular life in Indian cities than hanging out among the people doing their daily marketing.

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SHOP: Miniature Paintings at Royal Arts & Crafts, 42 Devali Near Fateh Sagar Lake, Udaipur. You'll find miniature paintings on camel bone and canvas in every price point from $30-$1,500 at this collective, where this rare craft is kept alive. Watch artists at work before entering the shop, which also sells carvings, textiles and other hand-made goods.

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STAY: Taj Lake Palace. Fans of James Bond will recognize this ultra luxury hotel in the middle of Lake Pichola from the movie Octopussy. You must get there by boat, and of course the views are incredible. It's a special place favored by celebrities like Mick Jagger and Nicole Kidman, and pricy, with rates starting at over $600 per night, but worth it for that special occasion.

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STAY: Trident Hotel, Udaipur. On shore but with lake views, this gated luxury hotel sports a pool, stunning grounds and pretty, upscale, though not opulent, rooms. But at around $150 per night, it's great value for the money.