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.