Published: February 25th 2013February 25th 2013
'Two Forts and a Wedding' - India 3 Mumbai-Udaipur-Ranakpur-Jodhpur-Nagaur-Roopangarh-Jaipur-Ranthambore-Keoladeo-Fatehpur Sikri-Chambal-Agra-Delhi-Shimla-Dharamsala-Pong-Amritsar
Udaipur - Kumbhalgarh Fort - Ranakpur- Jodhpur
15th February 2013
There's no peace for the wicked. Our 2am wake-up call put paid to any dreams of lazily holidaying under swaying palms on sandy beaches. There's a plane to catch at 5.20am and our pre-booked taxi speeds through the city's red traffic-lights to Mumbai Domestic - en route to Udaipur.
Delightful Udaipur rattles and bangs under the the towering shadow of the enormous City Palace, looking out over serene Lake Pichola and Lake Palace, that icon of Octopussy fame marooned on the lake as if tethered by an anchor, sparkling white in the morning light. At the heart of the town is the lavishly carved Jagdish Mandir Temple and the black stone statue of Vishnu. This is indeed a scintilating city of narrow bustling lanes lined by open-fronted stalls and meandering cows picking at rubbish, turbaned bikers, scooters not made for their three or more passengers, taxis, motorbikes and tuk-tuks dodging haphazardly in all directions between unflinching pedestrians.
Nestling in a ring of arid hills under the watchful eye
...with a faint hint of a cheeky smile
of a hundred black kites, its beauty is truly in the waters of Lake Pichola. Tomorrow is Valentine's Day and as we have other things on our agenda to celebrate the occasion, what better way to see the lake than to take a romantic sunset cruise a day early. Shades of Venice reflect on the water's edge from white balconied buildings, pillared steps and little jetties. There's a rather grand view of the Lake Palace across the water from our balcony, Room 31, Jaiwana Haveli Hotel. We're not lucky. We went to a lot of trouble to pick my younger brother, Mike, as our guide!
Mike, as you will have gathered, has many friends in this part of India. He took us to meet Vijendra, a tour guide of some repute with sparkling eyes and a faint hint of a cheeky smile. Vijendra has arranged for us to rent a car and the services of a driver for the next three weeks of our journey. For the price of £30 per day, we have a smart white Toyota Innova, with driver, his accommodation, tolls, all fuel, insurance and tax. As a bonus, Yadu, our driver and long-term
Lake Palace Udaipur
On serene Lake Pichola
companion, knows his way around Rajasthan and speaks perfectly good English. We were honoured too, to be invited to Vijendra's sister's wedding the following day, Valentine's Day!
Three white faces amongst 500 men attracted the attention of many delightful children, inquisitive to learn more of these strange grey-haired people, stretching out their hands in invitation to be photographed. As darkness fell, the groom arrived on a dashing white horse with much drum banging and bagpipes, taking to the stage for the start of the ceremony. Janice, the only woman to witness this male-only ritual, later joined the ladies for the marriage ceremony around an open fire in a nearby marquee, a little anxious quite naturally, whilst Mike and I followed the men to far-off tables for rather too much best Scottish whisky, and food from the bar. How privileged we are indeed.
Granite and marble is mined around Udaipur and massive slabs and statues line the road out of town. Snow-white carved figures and elephants were much in evidence, displayed amongst cut marble slabs outside stone marchants workshops. We'll see more of India's marble as we travel through Rajasthan. Groups of men stand on street corners anxiously awaiting
the offer of a day's work, tuk-tuks nip in and out of the traffic laden with up to eight uniformed children on their way to school, helmetless couples with their children on scooters weave between the roaring taxis and ladies in bright saris ride side-saddle on their way, express, to another life.
Litter, mud and the ubiquitous rubble line the fringes of narrow unpaved village streets; bikes, scooters, busses and cars tack to and fro, dodging in and out between the cows, goats, pigs and pot-holes. Cows meander along the central reservation on the highway, sublimely indifferent to the advances of grossly overladen lorries arid traffic going the wrong way down the dual carriageway taking a short-cut to the village! In India, most people drive on the left.
Away from town we drifted on single track roads across the parched scrubland of the rugged mountainous desert of this region of Rajasthan. In the valleys sugar cane, wheat and mustard weave a green line along the valley floor, irrigated by narrow channels fed by small water-wheels. A family of Tribal people were drawing water from two adjoining wells with teams of doe-eyed oxen, dizzily winding the wheel.around and around
February 13th Lake Pichola - Udaipur
and around..... There are donkeys, oxen and buffalo wandering aimlessly everywhere, the occasional pig and goat, and bricks piled high beside busy kilns, ladies and young lads walk the road bare-footed and head-laden with sticks and logs for firewood and scrub for fodder for the animals. It's a tough life in the hills. It's a tough life in India for many - if not most.
Our drive for the day to Ranakpur takes us to the seemingly impregnable 15th centry Kumbhalgarh Fort, also known as The Eye of Mewar, built by Maharana Kumbha in the 15th century. High in the hills at 1050m, this dramatic fort's enormous fortifications command distant views across the dry Aravalli Hills, the magnificent walls and ramparts, wide enough for six horsemen to ride abreast, stretch way out of sight forming an incredible defensive barrier 22 miles (36Km) long. This wall is said to be the second longest wall in the world after China's Great Wall, but here it's possible to stroll up the hill to the fort in the company of a mere hundred-or-so other tourists. The fort has been well restored but there's enough work still to be completed to keep a Health
A special friend
and Safety consultant happily employed for some time. I left a note with a drawing of a glaring potential death-trap in the suggestion box in the vain hope of saving a life or two. Hopefully all 36 km of the wall will be open one day, bringing the hoards of visitors this magnificent gem, and this exciting country, deserves.
An hour later we were immersed in the luxury of The Maharani Bagh Orchard Retreat at Ranakpur where Mike first met another very special friend, Pintu, some sixteen years ago. They have been close friends and travelling companions prior to Pintu's marriage last year. Pintu's family invited us to dinner in his parent's lovely appartment nearby. His wife Rajshree, his father, mother and sister showered us with quite exceptional hospitality, bright yellow garlands and wonderful gifts. 'Guest is God', here in Rajasthan they told us and Mike is coming close to that in the way he is greeted everywhere we go.
This fine resort hotel, The Maharani Bagh, is owned by the Maharaja of Jodhpur, and managed by Pintu's uncle, Khuman, whom Mike has also known since his first visit here with his wife, Pat; to the
extent that he is now considered an important member of the family. Such importance could be attached to this connection that we were invited to meet the further extended family for dinner around the hotel fire-pit where we were presented with more lavish gifts and spicy nibbles prepared with loving care by the delightfully attired ladies once again. Late into the night.the men (and honoured guest, Janice) were left around a ring of fire under a crescent moon to chat about manly things whilst the women left to prepare the main meal. Mike takes all this in his stride by now, but Janice and I have been quite overwhelmed, almost to tears, by the generosity and respect we have been show in recent days. What delightful people we have been so privildged to meet and how could it ever be possible to repay them for their kindness.
The grand exterior of the nearby 15th century Adinath Temples is left uncarved, in contrast with the stunningly ornately carved, dazzling white marble interior, corbelled ceilings, sculptured panels, halls and temples set amongst a stunning 1,444 intricately carved pillars, each one significantly different, all dancing in sunlight and shade as the sun
passes overhead. The Jain faith is reflected in this wonderful monument dedicated to Adinath, that as with man, the exterior is of little importance. It is what is within that is of value. A breathtaking hour of sheer delight!
You will have gathered by now that we are not following any prescribed tourist route. The long drive to Jodhpur took us on bumpy roads through remote villages to the real India we came to see. The land where water comes from the village pump, ladies in bright saris carry water on their heads, camel and donkey carts join blue-smoking motorbikes on the dirt-strewn village streets, where peacocks strutt down the seriosly pot-holed single track roads, past granite quarries spreading a coating of dust everywhere - and around the next corner comes a bus packed to the gunwals and more on top! Hence the old London red-double-decker conducror's expression, 'plenty more room on top!' It's a dangerous life on the roads here. We've seen many lorries in ditches and upsiide-down in little pieces. It's all a game, in the countryside as well as in towns and cities. Everyone has priority on the road - whichever direction they might be going.
Our confirmed accommodation in Jodhpur was a home-stay, 'Indrashan', tucked away in a quiet leafy corner of the city. We joined a group of new arrivals from Austria for afternoon tea and biscuits in the courtyard before our hosts plucked up the courage to break the bad news. 'I am so sorry', Chandrashekhar said to Mike. 'Your room is not available. We have a German family staying and they have fallen ill and refuse to go to hospital for treatment. I cannot kick them out.'
'Would you like me to?' I asked with considerable sincerity. Chandrashekhar, with such graciousness as only an Indian gentleman can muster, kindly escorted us to a superior local hotel and happily paid the difference. We returned to the homestay later that evening for a cookery class run be his wife, Bhavnar. I now expect some very special Indian dishes from Janice when we get home! I'm not renowned for my cooking skills. I am, however, somewhat surprised to discover there is no gun-powder or nitro-glycerine included in any of the recipes. Whilst Delhi-belly has been avoided by all of us to-date, my stomach suggests there are some very serious signs of rebellion going
The blue-washed city
Jodhpur's manic Sardar Bazaar surrounds the Edwardian clocktower in the cenre of the old walled city. Trader's stalls spill out into the road, selling everything imaginable from socks to saris, fruit and veg, lacquer bangles and leather belts, aromatic spices, silver jewellery and colourful shoes, amidst the dust and bustle of jostling crowds. Looking down on the city is the pink sandstone Umaid Bhavan Palace, built for The Maharaja Umaid Singh as recently as 1912, taking 3,000 men 15 years to complete. He ordered a shipment of hand-made furniture from Maples in London and it was dispatched by sea in 1942. Sadly, it's all at the bottom of the ocean, the ship having been sunk by the Germans en route. The Maharaja was a keen flyer, polo player and a serious collector of magnificent cars. The two Rolls Royces in his classic car collection will surely make any living male drool, but there is little of the palace to see as much of it is now an Hotel and open only to those of sufficient wealth to be able to stay there.
Yadu, our driver, dropped us at the entrance to the forbidding Mehrangarh Fort, towering
The receiving of gifts
over the city on a sheer-faced rock. We're on the verge of Fort overdose right now, but this one should certainly not be missed for within the imposing ramparts of the fort there are magnificent palaces, decorated halls and ceilings and stunning courtyards. The ramparts provide a good view of the blue-washed houses of this 'Blue City'. We gave the zip-wire experience a miss! Mike informs us there's every chance we'll meet with Kuman's elder son, Vinku and his wife, Sheetal, when we arrive in Jaipur in just a few days. We look forward to that.
It will leave us with only 2,199,999,982 more people to meet here in India and we've met 'em all.
For my little brother, Mike's, take on our five-weeks in India, go to: Keep Smiling
Janice and David
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