India - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 192 (2)
Thursday 16th September
I’ve said this before but it still catches us by surprise at times. We can scarcely believe that we only arrived yesterday. It feels like we’ve been here now for quite some time and we are starting to get a good feeling for this place. The culture shock has all but worn off. We’ve crammed a lot in since arriving but have somehow still managed to hold on to a feeling of relaxation and this has surprised me, pleasantly. If I had to criticise our last trip through Africa and the Middle East, it would have to be that we were constantly on the move with a new place and a new bed every night or every other night. Maintaining that pace was difficult and wearing. This is something that we intend to correct for this trip and we’ve started on a good footing since we’re planning on staying 3-4 nights in each place here in India that we plan to visit. Tonight marks the second night here in Udaipur and we plan to stay another couple here too. Knowing that we aren’t going to rush off too quickly has enabled us to relax quite a bit and simply enjoy ourselves more.
This morning, then, we decided to kick up a tourist notch or two and take in some of the main sites in Udaipur. First up was the Jadgish Temple in the middle of town just a few hundred yards from our hotel. We’ve pretty much arranged for the same rickshaw and driver from yesterday to drive us around for the duration of our stay here now. After a wonderful rooftop breakfast, we strolled outside to show ourselves and one of the two men greeted us. He immediately set off to locate the driver, who showed up just a few minutes later. Since the guide had to work in his shop, right next door to our hotel, this morning, it would be just the driver taking us on our errands this morning. After a brief ride through the now fully awake and bustling town centre, he dropped us off at the magnificently decorated marble temple. It’s quite an impressive building, taller than it is round and seems to be made of one continuous, huge mountain of marble. Sculpted all the way around its walls are thousands of six to twelve inch sized elephants, horses, camels, deities and so on. The couple of dozen steps that lead up to the temple are adorned on either side with large marble elephants. Beneath each elephant sat a very old man dressed in nothing but a robe and looking very pensive. The promise of a few Rupees was enough to encourage a great grin on each of their faces after we asked if we could photograph them. Alms for the poor, you might say. We always try to ask permission before photographing people, if it is practical or appears to warrant it, and a few Rupees are always graciously welcomed. A number of Sari clad women sat crowded inside the centre of the temple singing and clanging bells and small hand-held cymbals. We weren’t allowed to take photographs inside the temple (although it must be said that this restriction rarely stops us) but the entire outside of it certainly kept our cameras very busy.
The temple is located at a junction of several small roads and the atmosphere there is very much like a busy market place with people, rickshaws and cows all vying for space in the middle of the road. It took us a few seconds to locate our driver (all the rickshaws look the same) and we were off to our next destination, which would be lunch at the Lake Palace Temple in the middle of the lake (or mudflat). The Lake Palace Temple is, for the most part, a very expensive and chic hotel that is lifted straight out of the era of the Maharajas and the old British Empire. It’s probably the most expensive place to sleep in Udaipur at between $350 & $1000 a night but is supposed to be one of the most romantic places to have lunch or dinner. Since today is our sixteenth anniversary, we decided to splurge. We are at the front end of our trip and there is still plenty of money in the bank at the moment. Our driver drove us the few hundred yards to what appeared to be an entrance gate where we called in to book our table. The tourist season hasn’t really got underway yet here and we were quickly given a table slot pretty much immediately. We drove through the gate and just around the corner where our driver left us to catch our transportation out to the temple in the middle of the lake. Not all of the lake has completely dried up yet and there are a few hectares of low-lying water still. A small, powered boat would come across this stretch of water from the temple to collect us. We strolled down the walkway to meet the oncoming boat and a rather colourful and ceremoniously dressed official looking gentleman, clutching with both hands a large and colourful four foot diameter domed parasol on the end of a pole, followed uncomfortably closely behind in our wake. After a few steps, it became evident that the purpose behind this was to keep us shaded from the heat of the sun. This umbrella man, as we dubbed him, followed us to the end of the jetty and stood there silently next to us whilst we waited, all the while smiling at us politely and directing the shadow of the parasol over the top of us. This set the ‘being waited on hand and foot’ stage that was to remain for the duration of our visit to the temple. Already my wallet was trembling with fear.
The Lake Palace Temple is everything you might expect it to be from a palace that is fit for a king. Everything is made of marble and the staff there are so gracious, friendly and helpful that you almost feel embarrassed to open your mouth for fear of someone rushing to you desperate aid. We were quickly greeted, led to the dining room and offered a table with a view overlooking the palaces on the other side of the lake. I took off my day-pack, sat it next to the table and we sat. Within a few seconds, somebody showed up with a small wooden pedestal. He lifted my day-pack and placed this pedestal under it so as to elevate it into our view next to the table, and then left. Another, different, waiter then arrived and poured each of us some mineral water into our silver goblets. Our menus arrived via yet another waiter and I was almost scared to open it. As it turned out, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had expected it to be. The most expensive entrée on the menu was just R750 ($17). The going rate for a decent entrée elsewhere in Udaipur seems to be between R100 & R150 so it would still be an expensive meal but only relatively speaking.
There wasn’t a great deal of familiarity with the menu items but the spicy lamb seemed benign enough so I went with that. Had I known at the time that this was the hottest and spiciest item on a menu in a country known for it’s spicy food, I might have thought better of it. The meal looked delicious when it arrived but after a full mouthful of one of the lamb pieces that was submerged in some sort of saucy concoction, my mouth erupted into flames. I think someone must have noticed my reaction since after a while the chef arrived to inquire about the food. I’m pretty sure it was the chef but it was difficult to tell through the streaming tears and my squinted eyes. The assortment of ice cream that I ordered for desert eventually dimmed the flames just a little and we both rather enjoyed the experience overall. The total bill came to just R1,700 ($38). I was floored at this, as this meal in these surroundings in my home country would have cost me an arm and a leg.
Fighting back my tears, we left the palace and crossed back over the narrow stretch of water to meet umbrella man who walked closely with us again the sixty metres or so back to shade where we found our driver and set off once more. We didn’t have far to go to reach the next palace. In fact there are dozens of spectacularly ornamented palaces and temples in Udaipur, mostly lining the lake. It’s what this place is most known for. The City Palace Temple is open to the public and is where one of the current Rajasthan kings still lives. We were greeted by a guide at the front gate who offered his services to us, for the hour or so that we were going to be, there for just R150 ($3). Sandy had read somewhere that the guide was a good idea and we accepted his offer and were off. Our cameras immediately went into overdrive, as did our miscomprehension of our guide’s accent. It was a pleasant enough hour and a half wandering around the rooms and corridors of the beautiful building and we did get to see some stunning views in all directions due to the prevailing height of the palace. A recurring theme throughout the paintings and adornments of the palace is that there are just three seasons here: Summer, Winter & Monsoon. Udaipur is apparently known as the White city of Rajasthan. This region also has a Pink city (Jodhpur), Blue city (Jaipur) and Golden city (Jaisalmer) – all of which are on our agenda in the coming weeks.
After our tour of the City Palace we met up with our driver who was once again accompanied by our guide from yesterday and we set off to the Monsoon Palace at the top of the hill. This is the one we just missed getting into yesterday. Our guide had big plans for our enjoyment for the day and we stopped off at a couple of places along the way. The first of these was a craft village - a sort of showcase village for tourists (foreigners and Indians alike) where stalls of traditional crafts and buildings were on display. The absence of any appreciative numbers of tourist meant that we were given the full attention of everyone that we passed. Musicians would immediately sit up and start playing; we were offered all sorts of things from saris to earthenware pottery to trinkets of varying construction; we saw some nice dance routines; a magician performed for us and Sandy even got roped into trying her hand at a pottery wheel – followed by the obligatory offer to purchase some pots of course.
Having dragged ourselves out of the clutches of the artist’s attempts to sell us everything under the very hot sun, we set off farther up the mountainside towards our goal of the Monsoon temple atop its peak. We managed to get into the wildlife sanctuary this time and our guide asked us if we wanted to take a stroll into the park on foot first to try to catch sight of some animals. This seemed like a good idea at the time but we were about twenty minutes in when it came to light that amongst the more benign deer-like animals, birds and such in the preserve, there was also the very real possibility that there might be Tigers and Leopards too. It took about fifteen minutes after this came to light before we were out again.
Another twenty minutes of slow ascent finally brought us to our long awaited goal. The temple itself looks very much more impressive from a distance than it does close up but the views from atop this peak (the highest in the mountain range as far as I could tell) very much more than made up for this. We could clearly see for a good fifty miles or more in all directions with almost no haze in the air. What was also clearly visible was the outline of the nearly empty lake area that is supposed to be under water, the city of Udaipur and all its palaces and temples surrounding it. The runoff from the mountains during the monsoon is what would normally keep the lakes (there are actually five large lakes in Udaipur) topped up but they are mostly just barren and cracked mudflats now. The view was spectacular nevertheless and certainly worth the effort to get there.
As it happened, a film crew arrived shortly after us with a rather dishy looking, bouncing, Bollywood style female presenter being followed around by the camera and its entourage. They were apparently some sort of magazine program that were doing a piece on the temples and palaces of Udaipur. The Bollywood style of presenting seems to be speaking a few words every now and then but mostly looking coy and posing in various positions for the camera. It was quite amusing to watch but the sun started to set and we eventually headed back down the winding mountain trail back into town.
On the way back, our guide had us stop at a student art school where we were invited to look at a presentation of the student’s work. I was reluctant at first but it turned out to be very informative and some of the intricately painted artwork was so incredibly detailed that I was genuinely taken aback. Our master student (having already studied and trained for the past fifteen years as an apprentice) showed us some of his work and the techniques used. These painters use silk or some sort of marble as their canvas and use a brush with a thickness of very much less than that of a human hair (Squirrel hair as it happens) to draw the most detailed drawing on a truly miniature scale. As we watched, he drew a complicated image of an elephant that was so small that it would have fitted a dozen times or more on my smallest fingernail. This miniature artwork is apparently a tradition here in India and I can quite easily see some of this work making its way into our souvenir bag as a memento of our time here in India. We will definitely look into this some more.
We eventually dragged ourselves out of the art school, after pleading that we had no money with which to make a purchase, and set off again. There were no more planned stops but I had told our driver earlier in the day to watch out for elephants. I saw one yesterday but too late to photograph it. As we passed through one of the villages, he stopped and motioned us to the other side of the road where an elephant apparently lived. After making sure it was OK with the owner, we walked around to the back of the walled enclosure and, sure enough, a colourfully decorated Indian elephant stood there munching on something or other. Nervously, I went to pat his trunk at the owner’s insistence and took a few shots. Sandy came in and did the same but was rather taken aback when the elephant seemed a little too eager with his trunk and near dragged her to the ground. It was all rather fun and I showed our appreciation to the owner with a couple of R5 notes. He seemed very pleased at this.
We rounded off this rather full day with dinner at our hotel rooftop restaurant. Chicken featured heavily again in the menu (it always does here) but fortunately we practically live off the stuff and rather enjoyed our meal thank you very much.