After departing Bundi on a rickshaw ride through sheets of wafer-bodied midges, I board a clanking train for Udaipur, a city famed as one of the most beautiful in Rajasthan. But before I reach my destination, I have a stopover in Chittorgarh. Built on a mighty plateau, the Chittor fort rises over the metropolis, largely (unlike Udaipur) untouched by Western tourism.

Leaving bags at the station, I join a tuktuk driver for a guided tour, before returning for the connecting train to Udaipur.

All I wanted was a sweet distraction for an hour or two.
Had no intention to do the things we´ve done…”

After an unexplained (and likely inexplicable) delay, the loco sidles into Udaipur late into the night. Eventually I’m sprawled out on my bed in a guesthouse on the shores of Lake Pichola, the windows curiously barred shut. Arriving in such places at such hours is often like an unexpected one-night stand: one does not know who or what one will wake beside, until one does. In fact, more than a few travellers had warned that Udaipur was not so special after all, a trap for tours and honeymooners.

Yet as the sun rose over Lake Pichola, I could see why Udaipur was indeed the stuff of legend. Glittering lake watched over by a soaring Rajput palace, it was a place of light.

That said, much of Udaipur – around the lake, at least – had long congealed into a concentrated tourist hub. The extent to which this sullied one’s ability to enjoy a stay in Udaipur depends on how willingly one surrenders to the city’s charms: the palace and the lake. And I surrendered willingly.

I wandered in a fantasy that had displaced the world for just a moment, except for that dream of India projected from the palace and Pichola’s liquid splendour.

Even the city’s own self-referential effort to destroy its charms with endless tat, and guesthouses that played Octopussy on endless loop – what Gitmo of the mind is this? – could not take that away from me.

The dream lingered as sunset cast the city red, then mauve, then shrouded her in black, until finally I withdrew again, content that I had seen the Udaipur of dreams.

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