Published: April 20th 2009April 19th 2009
After three fun, frenetic weeks in India, our only problem was food related . . . we were both starting to put on weight from all the dirt cheap and delicious curry, dahl, and nan. Here's the lowdown on week three, which we spent in Rajasthan.
Our first stop was Udaipur. We arrived somewhat weary from our sprint west, so we were happy to learn that one of the big attractions in town is watching the sun set over the imperial edifices of the small city's central, man-made lake. During our three nights in town we tried all the available permutations: First, we had cocktails on the porch of the City Palace, where we watched the sun swell and turn bright orange before sliding out of sight behind the stark white Lake Palace. Second, following a short boat ride, we sat behind carved elephants on the Lake Palace's ramparts and watched as the setting sun turned the walls of the City Palace pink. Finally, we ate dinner on the far side of the lake, as the fading sun cast the same light over both palaces, while diving birds gulping fish from the water, causing looks of exacerbation
At the City Palace Museum, Udaipur
on the faces of nearby twilight fisherman.
During the day, we visited the Maharajah's vintage car collection--although we nearly asked for our money back when our guide explained that the Rolls Royce Phantom from "Octopussy" was "in the shop"--as well as the City Palace Museum, where the impressively mustachioed employees and catchy religious slogans that dotted the corridors ("You do your best, Ganesh does the rest") made amends for a somewhat lackluster collection (I mean really, four paintings of the Maharajah's favorite horse?) and paranoia inducing 6-foot archways and doors. We also enjoyed mornings on our hotel's rooftop restaurant, which looked down on a central square and Hindu temple, affording us a view of the busy garland sellers outside the temple, packs of donkeys being driven through the streets oblivious to the cars stacked up behind them, and a sadhu who spent his days asking for spare change on the temple stairs, and who arrived each day around 9, except--possibly following a tip-off--at 7:30 on the day that a large tour bus disgorged its passengers in front of the temple around 7:45. Our hotel's location also had a significant downside, however, as we were jolted awake before dawn each
Bah Bah Billygoat
At Amber Fort outside Jaipur
morning by the distorted, call-and-answer cadence of the temple's amplified hymns and colored strobe lights, which are actually eerily beautiful in hindsight, but were not exactly appreciated at the time (see video). Our last night in town we also checked out a great group of traditional dancers. For the finale, the narrator announced a woman would dance with bowls balanced on her head, and she elicited thunderous applause and a barrage of camera flashes as she twirled around with first one! then two! then three!! bowls on her head, but ultimately left the crowd worn down to the point where people either didn't have the strength to clap harder, or weren't sure exactly what to do after a man on a ladder placed the ninth bowl on her head and she did a jig on a pile of crushed glass.
From Udaipur we drove fifty miles east to the sprawling, abandoned fort at Chittogarth, where we poked around the compound's remaining fortifications, and tried to wrap our heads around the words on a plaque at the edge of a ruined, open-air courtyard marking the spot where 13,000 woman threw themselves onto a fire in the 14th century rather than
face being captured by an invading army. After crossing paths with a group of giggly local woman on their way home from the market and a shepherd trying to get his flock to stop using the jagged walls of the fort's Jain temple as a huge back-scratcher, we were back in the car, cruising through barren lands that included a fifteen-mile stretch where all we could see on either side of the road was a red sandstone quarry, with groups of men carrying huge slabs of rock out of the pits and loading them onto waiting trucks by hand. About this time we also passed a jam-packed jeep that sped by us in the opposite direction with an old bearded man in white robes and a turban sitting on the roof, Indian style, with an expression that was either a smile of pure, unadulterated joy, or the distorting effects of the 60-mile an hour wind in his face.
An hour later, we reached our next stop at the small town of Bundi. Once ensconced for the evening, Anna began her ritual of transferring the day's photos to our laptop, which, on this occasion, briefly flashed a "disk corruption error"
message before erasing every single one of our 12,000+ plus photos from the trip! We only avoided a complete meltdown (ours, not the computer's) because we'd run across a cheap external hard drive in Shanghai, and had *just* finished backing up six months of pictures in Delhi. Anna spent the next morning restoring photos, while Jub over-caffeinated himself at the neighborhood Chai stand--enjoying Bundi's mellow, tout-free streets. He was eventually joined by a group of locals who promptly broke out the shop's back issues of the India Times, and flipped to each edition's Bollywood Page to solicit a thumbs up or thumbs down vote from him on the actresses pictured therein--with each vote followed by lengthy discussions amongst themselves in Hindi. In the afternoon we hiked to Bundi's hillside fort. Nearly deserted and unrestored, the fort had a distinct haunted house feeling to it. We spent a few hours poking around in dimly lit rooms--some completely empty and bearing scars where tiles and paintings had been ripped from the walls, some filled with bats, and some still bursting with beautiful, centuries-old mosaics. From there we headed further uphill, walking nervously since we'd been warned about swarms of aggressive monkeys and
had not been able to find a large stick that we'd been advised to bring. Jub's admission that he instead brought a banana along in his pocket, followed by his convoluted arguments about how he might use it defensively, heightened the tension--mostly between us. Shortly thereafter, we heard distinct, primal monkey calls, but also sounds of splashing, like at a pool. We walked towards one of the fort's concrete water tanks to investigate, and came upon maybe two dozen monkeys gathered on the tank's walls and descending stairways, who were leaping off platforms into a huge pool of fetid water, and surfacing to the hoots and hollers of the others, after which they swam over to the stairways, and climbed out to lay in the sun and watch the next jumpers. We probably shouldn't have been so surprised that our distant primate relatives were enjoying a swim on a hot summer day, but we stood there transfixed for 30 minutes as the jumping and hooting continued, with the monkeys paying us little mind (although we had since located a stick).
Heading north, we spent the next three days in Jaipur, (pop. 3.5 million), which had its charms, although air
Outside the Jagdish Temple, Udaipur
quality was not among them, as it was easily the most polluted placed we've visited. We signed up for Ayurvedic messages on our first night in town, but neither one of us found the process of laying buck naked on our backs on a cold, pleather-coated table while two gallons of scented oil was rubbed over us in long strokes particularly relaxing (Anna reports: "Especially because I could hear Jub in the next room saying things like "Whoooa" and "Hey now."). The next day we visited the city's justifiably famed and beautiful Hawa Mahal, which features five stories of domed, heavily latticed walls built so the Maharajah's harem could peer through the narrow gaps and observe life along the city's main thoroughfare without anyone outside being able to see their faces. The view from up top was fantastic, although the stairway up was marred by graffiti etchings, including thousands declaring so and so were in love, but also several praying for high GMAT scores. The next day we shook off fort fatigue and headed to the nearby Amber Fort--Bill Clinton's favorite place in India, all the locals told us. And it was definitely gorgeous--rivaling Jodhpur's fort for our favorite in
View from the City Museum
Udaipur (and me in my Ali Babba pants - yikes).
India. But the trip will be best remembered by the number of people who asked to have their pictures taken with us--leading to one incident where the matriarchs of two families got into an argument about whose family got to pose for pictures with Anna next, and another where a cooing mom straightened her child's clothes and hair before thrusting her into Anna's arms, where she instantly became hysterical. Also noteworthy was Jub's attempt to send away a particularly aggressive postcard-selling tout as we headed out of the fort by barking the Hindi phrase for "Go away" that our rickshaw driver had taught us that morning; so as the seller continued to follow us, Jub barked out "Chembo! Chembo!" only to have the seller cock his head and stare at us for a moment and then ask in perfect English, "Are you trying to say 'Chello?'"--yes, yes he was.
Thanks for reading everyone; stay tuned for details on our last week in India and our trip to the Middle East.
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