India - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 194 (4)

Udaipur

Saturday 18th September

Today would finally be our day of rest after several days full of non-stop activity. It would also be our last day in Udaipur. We’ve finally done it all. There are some things that we might still have been able to do and visit but those things that we have done have been enough for us. I think it fair, at the very least, to say that we’ve gotten a very good feel for Udaipur and what this city is all about.

By the time we awoke and made our way upstairs for breakfast (brunch might be a more fitting description), a group of youngsters were already into what was probably their third innings of cricket on the dry lake-bed. Cricket is a national past time here and we’ve seen kids improvising a game with little more than a stick and a ball all throughout the villages and in the alleyways wherever we’ve been. The game is really quite simple; one kid tosses the ball to another who stands a short distance away with a bat. The kid with the bat tries to hit the ball as hard as he can. They then spend the next ten minutes looking for the ball. This cycle repeats itself over and over.

We didn’t want to spend today moving from one site of interest to the next, as we’ve been doing so far, so we chose instead to content ourselves with simply taking a stroll through the markets in town. It’s really the best way to soak up the atmosphere anyway. We started at the Jagdish Temple, just a hundred metres or so from our hotel, and walked slowly down the hill, all the time meandering our way through the alleyways, rickshaws, shops and cows. It’s always busy on the narrow streets and you can get a real feel for how these people live by just looking around at all the traders tending to their small shops. Each shop is little more than a metre or two wide and several metres deep. They are usually crammed full of their wares on all walls and on makeshift stands out front. Each shop owner typically sits or stands at the entrance, surveying the world as it goes by. There are tailors with foot driven sewing machines stitching saris or shoes or whatever else is their speciality. People selling all sorts of exotic fruits and vegetables try to attract our attention as we pass. Indeed, almost everyone seems to want to attract our attention as we pass them – particularly children who love to say ‘allo’ with a smile and a wave. I’d say about half the shops along the main roads, themselves little more than four or five metres in width are directly targeting tourists with the others providing those services necessary for simple, everyday life. All the time, traffic is weaving up and down the streets in both directions. Motorcyclists and rickshaw drivers are constantly sounding their horns and buzzers to alert those in their paths ahead of them to their oncoming presence. At first, it sounds like a completely chaotic and disorderly cacophony but as you slowly become accustomed to it, you can appreciate the order beneath the surface. For all the frantic tooting and buzzing of the seemingly impatient drivers, we’ve yet to see any collision of any description between any moving vehicle and the meandering pedestrians. In fact, we’ve yet to see any sign of annoyance even from anyone at all. It’s almost like there are all on the same wavelength and each side knows exactly what to expect from the other. Generally, however, it seems that the order of precedence is cow, then pedestrian, then motor vehicle.

Today is the Ganesh festival here in India. I’m not entirely sure what it’s all about but people take to the streets more so than normal and visit Ganesh shrines that are dotted around town. Most of the shrines that we saw seemed to be temporarily erected for the sole purpose of the festival. People take it in turns to offer money in return for a small handful of corn or some other food that they then eat. Before and after they do this, they stand and face Ganesh, the four-armed deity with the head of an elephant who is the symbol of good luck, and prey. It seems that everyone goes through this ritual at least once before moving out of the way for the next. At the more popular Ganesh shrines, several people vie for a spot in front of the deity simultaneously and the whole thing has the appearance of a rush to see who can get in first. All day, we’ve seen older women sitting on the floor stringing flower heads together. These somehow make their way around the neck of the various sitting Ganesh statues as the evening wears on. I can only assume that this is some kind of offering, perhaps in the hope that Ganesh will bring them good luck. At one of the larger Ganesh shrines, we stopped to try to get a little closer look. It somehow didn’t seem right to try to get too close. I very much got the impression that this might be considered rude. I’m not sure how these locals would like an outsider trying to pry into what might for them be a very personal and private ritual. One of the men nearby noticed us trying to see what it was all about and started to tell us what was going on. He insisted, in fact, that we did get much closer so that we could see what it was all about. He was clearly very proud of this tradition and was eager for us to understand it. I’d have to say that this typifies what we’ve come to expect from the Indian people. They are a very proud people, extremely polite and friendly and have generally shown a great deal of interest in us, as outsiders I suppose, and have always been eager to talk to us and teach us about their traditions and their way of life. In return, they have an unending thirst to learn from us about who we are and how we live. It’s quite addictive really.

We didn’t spent too much time this evening at the Ganesh festival. For one thing, you can only walk up and down the same streets taking in the atmosphere so much, and for another, we had to make sure that we were back in our hotel room in time to pack and get in an early night ready for our departure tomorrow morning.

Before heading back to the hotel, we went back to the same restaurant that we ate at the other day at a nearby hotel. The prices there are much cheaper than our own hotel’s restaurant and there is a much better selection on the menu too. We forewent the viewing of the Octopussy movie this time and elected to allow the owner to leave the Indian movie running. Indian movies are much longer that western movies and are typically love stories told through song and dance. We’ve decided to go to the cinema and sit through an entire Bollywood movie at least once whilst we are in India. I’m quite looking forward to it.

As we sat and ate, we chatted with the owner about various things and the subject of making telephone calls came up. We still have our UK SIM card in the phone that Sandy brought and we’ve been able to send and receive text messages but I’m sure this is very expensive. We were offered the option of purchasing an Indian SIM card so that we would have our own Indian phone number and we would no longer have to pay international rates all the time. After a few phone calls and a copy of my passport was organised, a new Indian SIM card arrived and we were in business. This should make life a little easier for us now that we won’t have to look for an Internet café or something each time we need to make a call.

When we arrived back at the hotel shortly after supper, the usual rickshaw drivers and shop attendants were standing in the streets and on the corners as they usually do. Our driver and guide were there too and chatted with them for a while. Our guide works in a shop next door to our hotel where they make leather book bindings and covers. There are dozens of these shops all over Udaipur and this seems to be a speciality of this place. Sandy was going to buy one of these book covers from our friend, probably more as a token of friendship than anything else, so I nipped into the Internet café for a short spell and uploaded my first travel journal update to let everyone know what we’ve been up to.

Afterwards, I joined Sandy and we sat chatting to the leather book binding store owner about our experiences so far here in India. We thought we’ve been on top of things since we’ve been here but it was a little more than a surprise, for example, to learn that we’ve been paying R1,200 ($27) per night for our room when the going rate in all the other hotels around us is between R300-R600 ($7-$14) per night. Granted, we have a room with a very nice view and an A/C, all of which adds to the cost of the room, but it seems that we have still been taken a little for a ride. The helpfulness and friendliness of our hotel owner and staff has been something that I’ve thus far interpreted as being the locals trying their best to look after and take good care of us. Perhaps that is still true but it just goes to show that it’s never a good idea to go with the very first hotel upon reaching a new destination. Our new shop owner friend seemed quite put out that yet another tourist had been taken advantage of and duly dispensed quite a lot of very useful tips on how to stay ahead of the game. I knew, for example, that a rickshaw driver who recommends a given shop or restaurant might receive a bit of a kickback for bringing a tourist in but I was quite stunned to learn that these kickbacks can be anything up to 40% and even as high as 50% of what we pay. The lesson here is to never be led anywhere by anyone if you want to prevent having to pay to cover the commission charges. In a country where everyone wants to be your friend, it’s clearly advisable to look out for the odd sheep in wolf’s clothing. At the end of the day, it’s still just a few dollars difference and the whole experience has made us wiser and more aware. A worthwhile learning experience that didn’t cost me too much is how I’m going to look at it. I remember a similar situation in Africa where we were shaken down for a couple of hundred Rand by a police officer whose sole intent was to pad his wallet with whatever he good con from us. That experience was a little unnerving too but ultimately toughened us up a bit at the same time. Sometimes a bit of a kick up the backside can be just the ticket in the grand scheme of things.

For my last thought before I tuck in for the night, I want to reflect on the vibrant colours of India. Everywhere we go, men, women and children all walk around, going about their lives. Most of the women are dressed in the most vibrant and spectacularly brightly coloured saris that you could imagine. They are absolutely gorgeous and the mind boggles as to how they keep them so very spotless and clean. A lot of people walk barefoot and the roads and walkways are usually no more than uneven dirt tracks. In short, there is mud, muck and grime everywhere as far as the eye can see. Cows, Donkeys and Dogs defecating unchecked where they stand does little to improve the situation yet still, in the midst of all this, almost everyone manages to keep themselves and their clothes immaculately clean. School children wear neat and tidy uniforms that are so clean, you’d think they just came home from church in their Sunday best. It just goes to show.

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