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Published: January 30th 2019
Blog #1: Awesome Udaipur
Namaste from incredible India. We arrived five days ago, on a five week trip. The plan is to visit places in the popular Indian state of Rajasthan, then across to the Hindu heartland of Varanasi, on to the capital, Delhi, then finally to central India in search of tigers. The first two weeks by ourselves (independent), two weeks with Brent and Shirl’s recommended guide, Mayur Hada, then the last week wildlife spotting from an eco-lodge. So, we are currently in the state of Rajasthan. This is the most touristed place in India. It is the land of maharajas and palaces, magnificent fortresses and desert landscapes, peacocks and tigers, bustling bazaars and the vivid colours of saris and turbans. India at its most exotic. Here’s an extremely quick overview of Rajasthan. Rajasthan101. Rajasthan is a Hindi word meaning “Land of the Kings” and this part of India was ruled for hundreds of years by several princely states. You will certainly have heard of the rulers. They were called “maharajahs”. They built incredible forts and palaces. Then the Mughals invaded. They were a Muslim Empire from Central Asia (Afghanistan area). A major Mughal protagonist was Akbar,
whose name seems to crop up all the time here. The Mughals brought Islam and its influence is everywhere here, especially in the architecture. Then in the 1800s the British came - the era of the Raj - and the Rajput states became kind of subordinate to the British. India found itself a Commonwealth country. Then came partition and in 1940’s there was complete independence. The legacy of this deep and varied history is an array or magnificent palaces and forts that rival those of Europe, and vestiges of British colonialism everywhere.
It is currently the winter dry season. Fresh at night, but warm and sunny during the day. Perfect sightseeing conditions. We decided to ease ourselves gently into India by starting in the beguiling lakeside city of Udaipur in southern Rajasthan. My pre-reading indicated that of all the big cities on our itinerary, Udaipur would be the least crowded, the least noisy and the most chilled out. A good way to start, I thought. The city is built on a large tranquil lake and features a magnificent white Rajput palace and many lovely havelis (heritage mansions) along the lakefront. Furthermore, there are many wonderful rooftop restaurants for sunset
viewing across the water. Little wonder that Udaipur is widely considered the most romantic location in all of India. The Bond film Octopussy was filmed here, and not far from here was the setting of that wonderful movie, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”. Today, Udaipur is a major stop on the Rajasthan tourist circuit and we had four days here. We thoroughly enjoyed the magnificent Rajput city palace and its rooms, the sumptuous Durbar hall and the wonderful crystal gallery – featuring beds, chairs and anything you can imagine made of crystal. We took a boat trip to see the city from the lake and one afternoon we caught the ropeway (cable car) up the mountainside for stunning views over the lake and city at dusk. In Udaipur, we also went along to a cultural show one evening, held in the beautifully lit courtyard of a grand old haveli. It featured Rajathani folk dancing from some beautifully dressed young women and an old puppeteer who was awesome. He walked the stage with stringed puppets whose heads would fly off and land in the puppet’s hands, and one ornately dressed female puppet that lifted her dress and flashed at everyone !
The next act was an older woman - who we later learned was 72. She danced about with about 12 fricking pots balanced on her head ! The last act was a girl who sang a mournful tune for quite some time. I said later to Ross:
“That was great overall. But did you enjoy that young girl singing?
“”Well”, he said, ‘more or less.”
“More or less?”
“Yeah, I would have enjoyed it MORE if she had sung LESS.”
Away from the touristed and lovely old town around shimmering Lake Pichola , Udaipur is just as noisy and chaotic as you might expect an India city to be. Constant horns beeping from cars, motor bikes and the ubiquitous auto-rickshaws (three wheeled tuk tuks). Cows, dogs, and occasional camels as obstacles on the road. To paraphrase Dr. Zachary Smith: “a cackling cacophony of chaos”. It can be tiring to walk along sometimes, but its kinda wonderful to watch the ebb and flow of life. We took our first auto (auto-rickshaw) the other day. It’s was a hair-raising ride through small winding streets, dodging a sea of other autos, motorbikes, people walking along, dogs, cows and
goats. Forget about any road rules as well. It is extraordinary how no one seems to collide! We have ridden tuk tuks before in South East Asia - but we actually find them exhilarating ! Also, if you do elect to walk rather than hand your life to an auto-driver, you are often accosted by people - touts and traders, imploring you to enter their rug or suit shops. Usually we just ignored them. However, one random guy on the street said to me, “Hello, my friend. You are from Melbourne, right?”
I stopped in my tracks. WTF? Nothing I was wearing indicated my nationality or city.
I said: “Ah – yes. How do you know that?”
“I can tell by your smile. I have a cousin in Melbourne. He makes small ornaments, like these in my shop. Come see….”
Ah, no thanks. This happened a couple of times - people knowing where we came from - apparently based on our smile or even our hair. LOL. The only explanation we could come up with was that people working at our hotel must have passed our nationality on to their tout mates !
occasion, I strolled down an alley and ended being cajoled by a guy into his brother’s shop. I had no real intention of staying but what unfolded was interesting. His 38 year old brother painted. Not just any paintings. These were incredibly intricate hand drawings. He uses gold leaf mixed with gum Arabic to paint a golden picture of, in this instance, an elephant. About the size of a placemat. Then he was painstakingly adding colour and elaborate designs to it with an ultra-fine brush , made from the very fine hairs of a squirrel’s tail, no less. I was given a magnifying glass (handed to me by a tail-less squirrel) to observe and appreciate the amazing detail. The elephant was wearing a robe that had tiny flowers on it. And in each petal of each flower, there were other miniscule flowers! How he did this at his age without at least wearing glasses or any other form of magnification was amazing to me. Was it some sort of con? I doubt it, as I watched through the magnifying glass for a while as he did it! The prices he was asking were prohibitive, so I ended up beating a
retreat, making some sort of excuse like my traveling partner having just been bitten by a rabid dog. This is just one little example of the tapestry of life that goes on here, everywhere you look. One morning over breakfast, we watched several women at a big pile of sand by the lake. They loaded up donkeys with some sand and marched off down the street, dumped the sand somewhere then came back for more. The women and their exasperated beasts went back and forth several times till we finished breakfast and left them to it, their strenuous activity having tired us out !!
One day, we caught a cab to the wonderful Chittorgarh Fort, 2 hours from Udaipur. This is an expansive hilltop bastion dating back to the mists of time. It was really cool, with wonderful temples and decaying palaces around the place, plus I got to see a troop of Hanuman langurs up close. These are sleek grey monkeys with black faces and hands, and are rather well-mannered. Unlike the smaller brown macaques, which can be arseholes. Anyway, we had a great day at the fort. Our driver was a pleasant fellow by the name of
Shere Khan (yep, as in Kipling’s tiger). We chatted about all sorts of things while driving along, but he seemed especially keen on weddings. Here in India, weddings and marriage are big things. We learned that one wedding can cost the equivalent of $AUDS80,000 and can carry on for four lavish days, sometimes involving fireworks!! . As we drove along, he said to me:
“Are you married?”
Now, at the age of 55, I have had this question numerous times during my travels (most notably in Asia) and it does get a bit tiresome. Here in India, you are considered “peculiar” to be my age and not married – well, in the heterosexual sense of the word anyway. So, when he asked if I was married, I said:
“Well, yes, I was married once, yes indeed, but divorced now. My wife was Jane Doe, You must have heard of her, as she is well known actress.”
He said: “No sir, I’m sorry, I have not.”
“She was in that famous movie, The Girl with the Regretted Tattoo. Based on the best- selling book.”
Sitting beside me in the back seat of the car, Ross
shot me a disapproving frown. I shrugged back. Anyway, we were being sucked into an imminent vortex of motorcycles, tuk tuks and cows and that drew the attention of our driver and the topic fell away.
So, let’s talk food. Everything we have been eating has been fantastic. Light-years ahead of what we get served at Indian eateries in Australia. Highlights so far have included wonderfully delicious chicken curries, and even exquisite vegetarian curries (I could easily go vego here the whole time), and all sorts of rich chutneys and sauces. Ross had a banana lassi yesterday (the famous Indian yoghurty drink), while I fell in love with gulab jamun, a sweet dessert the size and shape of a golf ball. A few nights ago we also had our first thalis. A thali is a circular tray holding an array of small bowls of different things – maybe a coconut curry, a dahl curry, a spicy chicken mix, perhaps a rich veg curry, some paneer (cheese) in spinach sauce, some chutneys and some chapati bread in the centre for breaking off and dipping in the bowls. It was all delicious. Even the pappadums here are lovely – dusted with
pepper and chilli. Yesterday after coming back from Chittorgarh Fort, our driver said we should stop for lunch and he pulled into a less than appealing looking place. Dusty, with dogs asleep out the front and faded plastic chairs. We both ordered the stuffed capsicum and a Kingfisher beer. Well, the stuffed capsicum was divine! It was just wonderful, and for the princely sum or about AUD$2 each !!
A summary of our first five days: Fabulous. Udaipur was terrific and we were reluctant to leave. Yes, there are crowds and noise and dirty streets, but to me this is part of the experience. Plus, just around the corner is a divine and quiet restaurant or a glorious temple, fort or palace. The people have all been exceptionally warm and friendly and we feel safe on the streets day or night – so long as we side step those motorbikes or tuk tuks zooming past. The pros far outweigh the cons - well, so far, for us anyway. I guess we are enjoying it so much because it is so very different from anywhere we have ever been before.
So, if you come to India, you simply must
see Udaipur. Our next stop- via a car and driver -is the “blue city” of Jodhpur. (Inter-city cabs are easy and not overly expensive here.)
Love, Craig (and Ross).
P.S. all the photos here in the text and also below are from Udaipur or Chittorgarh fort. I haven’t bothered labeling most of them. Remember, you can click to enlarge individual photos, then scroll through them.
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