Wednesday March 21`
Asim saw us off on the midnight train from Ranthambore, ensuring that we got on the train quickly as the train stops only for two minutes – not a long time to locate the right coach and get luggage on board. Our expectations weren’t high for our first class sleeper cabin, but it was fine enough ...if you avoid using the blankets. I loved the rocking of the train and Blair slept soundly, with Clark a little more tired than us on arrival at 7:30 a.m. in Udaipur. Went directly to our hotel, Jagat Niwas and delighted in its location right on Lake Pichola. Blair enjoyed his very own bedroom alcove overhanging the lake and curtained off from our portion of the room by wonderful Rajasthani curtains. The hotel had at least eight different levels and courtyards, connected by stairways with flowers everywhere amid small temples and bowls filled with petals and candles. The rooftop restaurant looked out onto the enormous white palace in the middle of the lake, once a summer spot for the Marahana, now a Taj hotel – one of the most famous (and expensive) in the world. The view more than made up for the mediocre food.
Arvind, our Udaipur guide, arrived late morning to take us on a brief tour. First stop was a 5-minute walk away, the beautiful 17th century Vishnu temple, where the women had gathered to sing afternoon bhajans while the curtains were drawn around the idol so that it could be presented with its mid-day meal (all idols at Hindu temples are treated like persons, enjoying three meals a day, bathed, then dressed in clothes suitable for the weather. They are also and offered rests throughout the day and a sleep at night.) We walked from there to the neighbouring royal palace (the largest in India), where we explored many of its marble rooms, many of which still have original frescoes on the walls. On the way, Arvind treated us to a fine but very abbreviated lesson on Rajput history (Arvind being a proud descendant of those warriors in Mewar who were one of very few groups able to fend off the Mughal invasions). Small, low doorways throughout the palace served two purposes: one, they forced everyone to bow their heads in the presence of royalty – and they also allowed for invaders heads to be summarily cut off by the palaces’ Rajput soldiers. The current Maharana and his wife and son live in a portion of the palace, though they lost all their few residual reigning rights and government financial support in 1971. Entrepreneurial in spirit, they now live off the revenue of tourists visiting the palace and they own some of the very large Indian hotel chains. Blair got a little too close to one of the palace monkeys who got very aggressive, and hissed at him with teeth bared. Very freaky, but Blair loved it!
After the palace, we headed onto the lake in a covered boat with many others and coasted around, stopping at one of the other summer palace gardens on Jagmandir island. Our last visit was by car to yet another royal garden built by a Maharana of the past for the amusement of his 48 wives. Beautiful fountains and flowers just at the end of their season. The woman working in the garden whose photo we took said to us, "It is your destiny to walk through these gardens, it is mine to work in them."
After we said goodbye to Arvind, we had a short rest at the hotel and then on to walk the narrow streets of Udaipur, known by some as the "Venice of India”. Impossible traffic and noise and shouting from stall operators led to Blair’s return to the hotel while Clark and I battled it out for a little longer, talking to children on the ghats, jumping aside for cows and scooters, and trying to haggle with a government shop owner who wouldn’t bargain. Good potential here for culture shock.
Thursday March 22, 2012
Breakfast with a stunning view of the lake in the morning, parrots chirping and the dust still low enough to see the monsoon palace high on the hill. We checked out of our hotel and climbed into Jagdish’s car. We drove 2 hours toward Ranakpur and stopped long enough at a small, carpet weaving factory to see the looms and the process, demonstrated by a charming man whose family have been weavers for generations. For once we felt we were at the true source of the craft rather than being taken to a large shop where bejeweled owners ply their wares and the workers aren’t allowed to interact with you. Blair chose a cotton carpet for his room and off we went for lunch before continuing on to Ranakpur. Thanks to Rasik and Melinda for suggesting we visit the amazing Jain temple there, with its 1400 marble columns, each carved differently. It is a spectacular place where I could have spent more hours. Instead we left for Pushkar, encountering monkeys along the roadside that Jagdish decided to feed – which resulted in families of them jumping on the car, much to my horror and Blair’s delight.
These drives with our most trustworthy and good-natured Jagdish have turned out to be one of the most delightful aspects of our trip so far – allowing us such incredible views of the people, the livestock, the farms, the villages, and the changing landscape. Definitely a good way to see India!
Blair is a might homesick, but remains an intrepid traveller and in good spirits.
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Love to everyone.