Palaces, temples and forts

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October 10th 2009
Published: October 20th 2009
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In India, the cow is king
My arrival by train to Udaipur was like being transported into a different country. Saying goodbye to the 3 army officers I shared a cabin with (and their machine guns, which I hadn seen the night before!), I stepped onto the platform and saw more westerners than in the entire period since arriving into Mumbai, a trend which continued at my hotel which was within spitting distance of Lake Pichola and the City Palace. My only task for the day was to wait for Mozza and Em, who were flying in from Mumbai. They arrived in the afternoon and so we spent a few hours at the rooftop bar catching up and swapping stories... such a blessing to be able to have a proper conversation after two and a bit weeks alone!

Udaipur is something of a fairytale city, with grand palaces dotted about the shores of an artificial lake, rimmed with rugged mountains. In complete contrast to Ahmedabad, it is blissfully free of traffic, cool and generally quite peaceful. After catching up, we went for a stroll around a nearby temple (where Mozza and Em got involved in a few group photos and I was likened to Han Solo...
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Udaipurs impressive City Palace
a bit left field that one), then headed to the sunset terrace of the City Palace, a monumental building hogging the eastern shore of Lake Pichola. Sipping our cold (and bloody expensive) KIngfishers, we watched the sun set behind the Lake Palace Hotel and planned our week together... we had one full day in Udaipur before setting out in a taxi to Jodhpur and then on to Jaisalmer, from where Mozza and Em would train it to Delhi for a flight south to Kerala.

Our full day in Udaipur began at the City Palace, built for the Maharana of Udaipur and extended at various stages throughout the past several centuries. The end result is a massive sand-coloured building, replete with finely-carved towers, turrets and cupolas, shady courtyards and grand colonnades - a great place to explore. We strolled round the tourist shops (Udaipur is very touristy), visited the Tibetan Cultural Village (read cheap clothes) and purchased some chikki (not chicken Em) for our taxi trip the next day. We then headed down to the lakefront for our sunset cruise. A number of small ghats line the lake next to the City Palace, and are used for bathing, washing clothes
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Mozza and Em take time out at Kumbhalgarh
and seemingly as a municipal dump... come on India, please look after your beautiful country!! The sun performed for us and set beautifully over the lake, as the shimmering lights of the Lake Palace Hotel came on, giving the illusion that it was floating. Back on dry land, we dined in style in a corner turret at the Udai Koti hotel, stuffing ourselves with all manner of tandoori, naan, raita and beer... a very civilised end to our stay in this beautiful city.

The next day saw us head out of Udaipur in a taxi. Our destination was the blue city of Jodhpur, but we were going via the hilltop fort of Kumbhalgarh and the ancient Jain temple at Ranakpur. After stopping off for a fortifying cup of chai and some samosas, our driver Avi motored on through the Rajasthan countryside towards Kumbhalgarh. On the way, he decided to inform us that wed be passing through a region inhabited by Indian gypsies, descendants of a soldier clan who generally ignore the rule of law and dish out vigilante justice on any poor soul unfortunate enough to kill of injure any of their animals while driving through (i.e. a dead
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Kumbhalgarh Fort perched on high
cow equals 5,000 rupees or an arm...). Avi reassured us that we were only in danger after 8pm, when naked, oiled gypsies took to ambushing passing vehicles, but we locked our doors just to be safe.

Kumbhalgarh is an amazing feat of construction. Perched on a hill overlooking a plateau on one side and jungle on the other, it is encircled by the worlds second longest wall... a 36km long turreted wall which snakes its way across the surrounding hills. Inside the wall, the fort presides over no fewer than 360 temples, which are dotted around, seemingly by random. Entering the fort is a forbidding experience... we passed through gate after gate, each with massive doors covered with anti-elephant spikes and encased within massive bastions. What struck us most about Kumbhalgarh was how well it is cared for, with manicured lawns, working floodlights and no litter, and we were allowed to explore on our own for the small entrance fee of 100 rupees. The view from the forts palace is extensive, and a stroll along a small section of the wall gave us some idea of just what an impressive achievement it is. Small wonder that it was only
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One of the ornate domes at Ranakpurs Jain temple
ever captured once.

Leaving Kumbhalgarh and the army of adoring Indian schoolchildren (Mozza was a big hit) behind, we drove on to Ranakpur, another astonishing building. This time hidden in thick jungle, Ranakpur is a Jain temple dedicated to Adinath and built around the 14th/15th centuries. Built entirely from white marble, the temple is symmetrical in plan, containing a central stupa with four adjacent courtyards and numerous domes... plus some 1,444 marble pillars, each one unique. The startling thing about Ranakpur is the wealth and quality of carving, which is pretty overwhelming and difficult to appreciate in one viewing. The pillars are beautiful, and some of the dome ceilings are simply stunning... even more so because of their number. Unfortunately, I had to view the temple sporting a pair of sky blue baggy trousers to cover my shorts (MC Hammer would have been proud), so I was keen to de-layer after about an hour of wandering.

So, having had our fill of palaces, forts and temples in our first two days, we continued on to Jodhpur (via the main Ahmedabad-Delhi road with much dodgy overtaking and numerous novelty horn tunes) and hoped that the blue city would provide us with some new wonders to explore.

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