So this is where all the tourists are: I assumed they must have been hiding somewhere. I have absolutely nothing against other travellers, it is just that after a month of being the only gora in town it feels just a little bit strange. Finding so many foreigners here is not in the least bit strange and not unexpected at all. I have visited Udaipur before so was well aware how many tourists to expect. The reason that I have come back is, I assume, the same one that has bought everyone else here, namely that the place is just incredibly beautiful. There are many advantages to keeping oneself off the main tourist trails, seeking out remote villages and relatively unvisited cities, but there are also a great deal of equally valid ones for jumping in the mix with everyone else.
I think one of the main reasons that Udaipur is so loved by so many people, most definitely including myself and Anny, is that it feels, how can I put this, just so very Indian. Travellers to India, especially first timers, have certain preconceived notions as to how India will look. Notions that upon arrival can be pretty quickly
dispelled. I remember landing in Chennai six years ago, so hopelessly full of excitement and overloaded with unrealistic expectations, and stepping of the plane to find a vast concrete ocean of dross with only a few tatty islands of the India I was expecting to find. My fault; not India's. If it had of been possible to have flown into Udaipur then all my hopes would have been instantly realised. Udaipur is the romantic city of every Indian travellers' pre-trip fantasies.
Like so many other Indian cities Udaipur sprawls in an untidy mess over a huge area of land. Unlike other cities, Udaipur's centre is still mostly intact and has been saved from the worst ravages of rampant development. You can walks its narrow streets and whilst dodging cows and heavily laden donkeys, gaze upwards at intricately carved havelis, palaces and temples and easily imagine yourself transported back in time a couple hundred years. Well, I exaggerate just a little, but at some spots, when positioned just so, we were able to enjoy some immaculate views that contained barely a handful of modern buildings. From an intricately carved stone balcony high up on the imposing walls of the city
palace, we were able to gaze across Pichola Lake to view the Lake Palace that seemingly floats like a three dimensional rangoli upon the calm green waters. Upon the banks of Lake Pichola are to be seen several large havelis, most converted into hotels but all still undeniably beautiful, several palaces and a couple of temples. The backdrop to this beautiful scene is a range of large hills that recede into the distance, fading from lush green to a barely there grey.
We have spent three days here, two excellent and one not so. The forgettable day was due to a 40 degree fever with severe body aches, dizziness and a disorientation so strange that upon now looking back on that day it seems unreal, like trying to remember a dream, or an acid experience. I never visit doctors, I haven't taken any medication in years, but this fever scared me to such an extent that I took myself to hospital. I was pretty convinced that I had finally caught either malaria, dengue or typhoid, but thankfully the test came back clear. The other two days I remember in much more detail.
On one gloriously sunny day we
hired some rickety pushbikes and cycled the ten kilometres to tiger lake, both as an excellent way of spending the day and also to try and improve our fitness a little in readiness for Nepal. The ride to the lake was beautiful and only gently undulating; the lake itself was stunning. Calm waters were surrounded by beautifully sculpted hills and our only company were the gently wallowing buffalo that sat mostly submerged in the shallows. from here we cycled back to town before completing a circumnavigation of Lake Pichola. Half way round we stopped for chai at a delightfully small village where we attracted a small but pleasantly interested crowd. We spent an hour here just taking in the scene. Men sat in a circle underneath a banyan tree playing an animated game of cards; women, immaculately turned out in bright saris, walked with absolute (but hardly comprehendible) dignity carrying huge loads of bricks on their heads to a construction site; cows lowed in the sun; and a mildly harried old woman tried unsuccessfully to keep control of her, or I suspect her daughters, lively bunch of offspring.
The other day was a little less active as it was
the one that followed my illness. We shopped, very successfully I might add, visited both the city palace and haveli museums, and spent the rest of the day happily ambling the charming streets. Galub Jamuns (the paragon of Indian sweets) were stickily and guiltily savoured, random conversations with locals and tourists alike were had, and some fascinating street performances were watched. Udaipur is at the moment celebrating the gavari festival. It is a festival that I know nothing about (not from want of asking) but one that was absolutely fascinating to watch. We have witnessed three performances of street theatre so far in different parts of town, one of which played in the courtyard by our guest house. We sat down to watch the overtly humorous story for about an hour before leaving to visit town. Upon our return three hours later the performance was still in full swing and, when some three further hours had elapsed and we again left the hotel for dinner, we found the feverish antics of the players still very much unquenched.
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