India - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 193 (3)
Friday 17th September
All the ‘touristing’ of yesterday must have left its mark on us since we slumbered peacefully till quite late in the morning. I was quite prepared to let today be a day of rest but Sandy wanted to get the day moving again so we slowly prepared ourselves for the outside world. This involves several specific activities that would not normally play a role in our non-travelling daily lives. We do all the usual things of normal life such as all the usual bathroom things and, of course, we get dressed too. In addition to all these things, we also prepare our money belts with enough money to sustain our needs for the day. We also make sure we have a few travellers’ checks stashed away along with our passports, an ATM card and a few hard currency notes thrown in for good measure. We fill up the integrated water bladder inside Sandy’s day-pack with a couple of litres of cold, bottled water to keep us going during the heat of the day. The cameras are usually charge and memory cards offload onto the laptop the night before but a cursory check of the cameras is also obligatory and these are stashed into the day-pack. The small medical kit also travels with us during the day and contains one of everything that we might need. Finally, we collect our Malaria tablets, don the day-pack and head on out – usually not until Sandy has spent at least five to ten minutes ‘collecting herself’ and making last minutes checks.
After the now usually boiled egg and toast breakfast on the rooftop, we went downstairs to wait for our driver to show up to whisk us off to the day’s sites. The first of these was to be the royal monuments on the other side of town. A brisk rickshaw ride through a new part of town was quite enjoyable (we are now immune to the madness that is driving in India) and we were set down at the entrance to the monument site. I had no idea what to expect of this place. Sandy has done some reading through the guidebook but we are otherwise mostly allowing our driver to lead the way today. The royal monuments are a collection of dozens of large domed, marble monuments that have been erected in the name of the various past Rajasthan maharajas. There must be over a hundred of them all crammed into a plot of land no larger than that of a small cricket pitch. Each one is beautifully decorated with marble statues of various gods to pay tribute to each of the leaders represented by each of the respective monuments. The maharajas are not buried here. Their bodies were burned after their deaths and their ashes distributed, to where I’m not sure. The more important the maharaja was, the larger and more impressive the monument has been built in his honour.
Just around the corner from the site of the royal monuments is a museum. Entry was just R3 so we couldn’t really pass it up. Although quite a small museum with just a handful of rooms with exhibits, it was quite interesting nevertheless with excavated artefacts dating back over five thousand years. Photography was not allowed and since we were the only visitors, we were constantly within eyesight of one of the two guards and couldn’t sneak a few surreptitious snaps.
Next up on the agenda was a puppet show. Puppeteering (is that a real word?) is somewhat of an Indian tradition and dates back several centuries. The tradition is still maintained today and puppet shows can be enjoyed at venues all around the country. The place we visited put on a puppet show every half an hour or so and had quite an extensive museum attached that we wandered through before enjoying the show with half a dozen other punters. For just R15 entrance with another R10 for the camera, it too was a cheap way to enjoy the morning. We even got to meet the people who make and operate the puppets. Although verbal communication was near impossible, this wasn’t too much of a problem for people who so expertly express feelings and emotion through the gestures of a few puppets on strings.
There are several nicely maintained gardens throughout Udaipur. Although not really impressive compared to standards back home, they do provide a bit of an oasis in the middle of a very chaotic and dusty city. We stopped off at one such garden after visiting the puppet show and spent half an hour wandering around. Udaipur attracts not only tourists from outside of the country but also from within Indian too. Several groups of these Indian tourists were also meandering around the park including a group of school children ranging in ages from about eight to about twelve. Each time we passed a small group of them, not one would pass up the chance to smile and say hello to us. Many insisted on shaking our hands and some of the braver ones even ventured a “Where are you from?” or “What is your country?” Sadly, none of the school children’s English extended to anything beyond this and it was pretty much giggles all the way around each time we would reach this communicative impasse. It was very a very gratifying experience nevertheless. It seems that these kids were from parts of the country where tourists are much less common and seeing westerners like us was a new experience for them. I’m not sure who enjoyed it most, them or us.
The kids were not the only Indian tourists there. A group of about a dozen adults must also have been from less touristy areas, as they too were extremely enthusiastic to see westerners and all jostled around us, each shaking our hands and practicing the very little English they knew. A rather old woman in the group seemed to take a particular liking to Sandy and insisted on singing to her for quite a while. All the time, the others were standing around and giggling with huge smiles on their faces. Not sure what to make of this, sandy could do little else but feign misunderstanding about why the old woman was singing and this seemed only to add immensely to the enjoyment of the other adults in the group. With enthusiastic “bye bye’s” all around, we eventually were able to drag ourselves away and into our awaiting rickshaw.
Lunch was up next and we had asked our driver to take us back to the hotel, where we would muse over where to eat. As we passed one intersection, he suggested that we might try this one place where the food was supposed to be very good. I went in to look over the menu and the choice was quite significant so we decided to stay and eat there. The food was indeed very good but it turned out to be quite a bit more expensive that we would typically want to pay for a lunch based on our allotted daily budget. The bill came to R500 ($11) after tip.
At was getting on for three o’clock in the afternoon by the time we had eaten and we needed to be back at the hotel by four o’clock. I had spoken to the hotel owner about our experience yesterday at the art school and he suggested an alternative place we should also visit to get a good comparison. We were to be collected by the school’s driver for a personal viewing. I’ve pretty much decided by this point to buy some fine miniature artwork paintings as a memento from India. It only remains to be decided what to purchase and where. I was absolutely thrilled by the quality of the work we saw yesterday but I did think it might stretch our budget a little too far and was pleased for the opportunity to do some comparison-shopping.
After chilling out a little back at the hotel, we received a call from the front desk to advise us that our car had arrived. He was quite pleasant and we chatted some on the way to the art school about Udaipur, the failure of the monsoons, malaria and several other subjects. Upon arrival, we met with the owner (so I assume) and he set to work parading all of their best work in front of us. We took our time to look over the various pieces but I was very disappointed in the marked inferior quality compared to what we saw yesterday. I say it was inferior quality but in truth, had I seen this work first, I would probably have been just as amazed as I was with the previous pieces that we saw. The detail was extremely fine but the student that we spoke with yesterday did not only a very good job at showing off his work, he also took his time to explain the process and to point out what to look for and where. The difference in quality lies in the details, for example, of the borders and the quality of the shading work. Shading that is done by means of a painting stroke over a piece of the canvas is not nearly as impressive as the effect of shading made by making thousands of tiny dabs at the paper in varying densities. He also told us to pay close attention to each of the thousands of very tiny leaves on the trees and bushes dotted around the paintings. The most accomplished artist will painstakingly paint in the details of each and every leaf as opposed to just painting their outlines. You have to get up close and personal to notice this but this is a distinguishing feature and one of the things that makes the difference between good quality and superior craftsmanship. Armed with this insider knowledge of miniature art, we were able to distinguish the levels of quality quite easily. It wasn’t just the quality of the work that turned us off, it was the difference in price that also did it. Some of the pieces of work that would have been in the $50 to $100 price range at the other school were marked as being in the $300 to $1000 price range here. I pointed this out to our man and he was soon talking in terms of a thirty percent discount. Alas, this still put these pieces well out of our budget range. We did take a closer look at some of their paintings on silk and Sandy took a liking to a couple of them so we agreed to buy these. They were in the $10 - $15 price range and will still look very nice hanging on our future wall. The driver that brought us, returned us to our hotel where we immediately asked our regular rickshaw driver to take us back to the previous art school where I wanted to take another closer look at their work. I wanted to make sure that I was not wrong in identifying the difference in quality.
Having now visited a couple of different art schools, I felt that I was now more than ever adequately prepared to make an informed decision about this art form. We cannot and would not buy these types of specialised souvenirs in the regular shops because of the usual huge mark-up. We’ve found that the best way to buy anything worth buying is to figure out where it is made and to buy directly from the artists themselves. Not only does this always work out considerably cheaper but also it benefits the artist in question too by completely cutting out the middleman. At item bought from an artist for, say, $50 might otherwise cost several hundred dollars in the shops in town (who otherwise cater to regular tourists – that might not have the time nor inclination to spend too much time from their one week holiday visit to out of the way places).
Our artist from yesterday was not at the school when we arrived. We knew that he had to pray this morning and that he would not normally be doing business on a Friday but our driver insisted that he would be there so we went anyway. We were served Chai (tea) and sat and chatted with another student for about thirty minutes whilst we waited for our man to arrive. He was quite surprised, pleasantly, to see us when he eventually did show up and gladly re-displayed all his work for us. It didn’t take me long to conclude that I was right all along about my original conclusions and I quickly made up my mind to make a large purchase here and now. We spent about an hour going over the various pieces and both Sandy and I each selected two items that we were particularly fond of. A very pleasant and respectful bout of haggling ensued and we agreed an overall price of R9,000 ($200) for two excellent pieces of Formica paintings (one piece about 5”x2” made by the master student & one piece about 7”x4” made by his father – who has attained the level of professor) and two painting on silk. They were very delicately but very protectively wrapped and the deal was done. We are now the proud owners of some extremely fine and exquisite artwork and equally happy for it.
Gleefully, we returned to our hotel to catch some supper. One of the rooftop hotel restaurants just a few yards from our hotel was highly recommended for its food but also for its regular showings of the James Bond movie Octopussy. They show this movie all the time to show off the city and palaces of Udaipur that feature heavily in the movie. The food was very good and very reasonably priced (the very ample meal cost less than did lunch) and we enjoyed watching the now familiar sites of Udaipur as we sat through the movie. It was a nice ending to the day.