Udaipur, dubbed the Venice of the East, has oodles of that mystical other-worldly quality that makes India so alluring and unknowable. The ancient city is famed for its man-made lakes – including the stunning Lake Pichola, which was formed in 1362. Here, you can find the famous floating Lake Palace Hotel, which, depending on the time of day, can appear to hover over the water. If you have been travelling in the sub-continent for a while, Udaipur, in the northern state of Rajasthan, can offer a welcome change of pace. The streets are slightly cleaner and less mad than those of Varanasi or Delhi, but they are no less fascinating, particularly at night as the masses gather to eat, chat, shop and do business.
From the moment we pass the grounds where elephants once played tug-of-war and enter the spiked city gates to the City Palace, we are awestruck. This granite and marble palace, a day-dreamy landmark beside Lake Pichola, defies belief. Our knowledgeable and entertaining guide leads us from one intriguing pavilion or terrace or courtyard or passageway to the next, all full of amazing antiquities, vibrant paintwork and ornamental tiles. You will need to spend some time here to comprehend the palace's sheer scale, incredible craftsmanship and beauty. Tip: Arrive early – it can get very crowded. See tourism.rajasthan.gov.in/udaipur-city-palace
You haven't been to Venice until you've taken a gondola ride. Likewise, you haven't been to Udaipur until you've floated across Lake Pichola. A 40-minute sunset cruise is all you need. The ancient sandstone buildings on the water's edge take on a rose gold shimmer under the setting sun and we watch transfixed as swathes of swallows dance through the misty air above that floating palace, now a hotel. See tourism.rajasthan.gov.in/udaipur
Cultural performances are often scintillating for five minutes and then dive swiftly into dull territory. Not this one. The Dharohar Dance Show, held daily at 7pm at the atmospheric Bagroe Ki Haveli by the lake, comprises Rahkasthani folk dances guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat. The first act involves women dancing with flaming vessels on their heads, and the finale sees a 73-year-old dancer add pot after pot to the top of her head until she balances 10, not once missing a beat. This is a riveting way to spend a few dollars and you will come away with amazing photos. See dharoharfolkdance.in
For a special night out or just to celebrate that you are in "the other Venice", check out Tribute Restaurant, by Fateh Sagar Lake, which offers authentic Rajasthani food and excellent cocktails. Top picks? Baingan ka bharta (an eggplant dish) or maas ke shoole (marinated barbecued lamb). Or, for a calming and cool respite amid the busy streets of the old city, climb the stairs to the rooftop Natural View Restaurant, which has stunning views of Lake Pichola, free and reliable Wi-Fi and excellent food. See tributeudaipur.com/ and facebook.com/naturalviewrestaurant/
The boutique Hotel Lavitra is a beautifully restored heritage hotel near Lake Fateh Sagar. It is reasonably priced and very handy, with the bustling shopping, palaces, boat rides, night life and palaces just a short tuk tuk ride away. At the lake, just a five-minute walk away, you can watch locals swimming and exercising, ride a camel or a horse, snap some graffiti art or just walk on by. See thelavitra.com
Jane Richards travelled to India at her own expense and visited Udaipur as a guest of G Adventures. See gadventures.com.au