The Romantic City of India!!
Trip Start Feb 08, 2012
6Trip End Mar 22, 2012
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February 11:The overnight train trip was uneventful (sleeping was OK - sheets, blankets and pillow were provided!), and we arrived in Udaipur, Rajasthan, at 7:30am (about a 12 hour trip). A driver from the hotel was waiting for us as we exited the station, but was a bit shocked at the amount of luggage we presented him!! Driving the ever-narrowing streets through the throngs of people, motorbikes and cows was interesting… if not a bit disconcerting!
The Aashiya Haveli (haveli is a hotel) is tucked in a host of different layered buildings, in the old part of the town, almost on the waterfront of the large man-made lake, Lake Pichola. The James Bond film "Octopussy" was filmed here, so if you really want to see what Udaipur looks like, watch it…again…
As we headed out to see the old town, (Udaipur is known as the "most romantic" city in India, and is a honeymoon destination), we had to be very alert to jumping out of the way of honking tuk-tuks, motorbikes and cars. They always seem to miss you, and everything else, by a good centimeter… incredible sense of the width of their vehicles. The cows don't seem to respond to the horns, but no one hits them - they're sacrosanct and must be respected!!!
The Udaipur City Palace is a huge collection of buildings towering over the city, and is the second largest palace in India. The guide we hired was quite good, informative, and allowed “us foreigners” to ramble around at our own pace. Oh, and another admission fee lesson – cameras are charged extra fees (and the guards watch closely when you are shooting photos that you have your “camera tag” displayed. Here, the camera fee was equal to the foreigner admission fee – 200Rs (just under $5).
The Maharana – “great warrior” (as opposed to a Maharaja – “great king”) founded this palace in 1559, and this was capital of Mewar and stood against the Mughal empire as the center of Rajput power. The royal family, and their long line of descendants, finally gave up most of the palace as a museum in 1951, but they still occupy part of the buildings today. My very limited knowledge of Indian history was expanded with this visit, and it sounds like India, as we know it, consisted of many city-states, each fiercely independent, each trying to resist the forces of invading empires from Persia, especially the Mughals (who ruled large parts of India from 1526-1707), and then the Europeans, and finally the British in 1773.
The browsing of the market stores and limitless entrepreneurs on the street pushing their wares upon you eventually exhausted us (saying “no thanks, I’m just looking” really means I’m not interested in THAT item, but I want to see ALL the other stuff you sell!!). If you look at something, they move towards you, expectations high… it you are bold and actually touch something, it is as good as a sale, and they become your shadow, even following you down the street lowering their price as the distance from their store increases. Lost in translation… “NO THANKS”…
Beat up from shopping-without-buying, we headed back to the haveli. It is quite hot during the day here!
Went out to have Mughal food under a bright moon, on a rooftop restaurant. Funny how great a cold beer (Kingfisher) tastes to get the dust out of your mouth. The alignment of Venus and Jupiter was very cool also!
February 12: Today we elected to have a day trip to go to the massive fort of Chittorgarh, a 692 acre site on top of a 180m high rocky cragg-hilltop. Built in the 12th century, and continually added to over the next 400 years, it houses an impressive view of the surrounding area, and some incredible architecture. Being only 115km, north-east from Udaipur, one might expect to take an hour and a bit travel time, but that would be a silly estimate in India. We did make decent time on the main roadways (we rented a car and driver) but it took nearly three hours to get there - traffic and towns slow things down en route (as well as animals, carts and slow trucks).
Being a Sunday, the fort was very crowded with Indian visitors, and several school trips to the fort were evident. We, as strange white folk from wherever, were a source of amusement and excited chatter for the students (who love to ham for the photoshoot, much to the teachers' chagrin). But it was friendly, and fun to try to chat with them - although they were reluctant to use their school-learned English.
I'll let the photos do the rest of the talking about this incredible fort.
One incident at Chittorgarrh fort was alarmingly interesting… three young guys in their twenties on a motorbike were passing ourcar, making comments and laughing…we assumed it was all in good fun and just being friendly to the foreigners. Our driver sped up, passing them, and then
cut them off, stopping them along a stone wall as he wedged them in. He got
out, walked around to the bike, and started to chastise these young men in an
angry voice. He then smacked the front guy across the side of the head, with
gusto, yelled some more at them, smacked the stunned guy again across the face,
reached over the handlebars and pulled out the keys, pocketed them, and calmly
walked back around to get into our car… and drove away!! He told us, in his
broken English, that the boys had been saying rude things about Brenda and
Shayna, and were being disrespectful. At our next stop to visit an ancient part
of the fort, he drove away to give the motorcycle keys to a policeman!
We returned to Udaipur to have a nice rooftop (where else?) dinner as the sun set.
We went into a fabric shop near our haveli, and the guy remembered Jonathan and Andrew from a previous trip they took last year. They were best friends, once again... and how about a nice pashmina silk scarf for their mother (they had bought stuff from him last year also). So friendly, so helpful. We looked at many... and then the pressure was so great that we broke and Brenda decided on a nice scarf. Now let the games begin... Andrew takes over, as he is the master of Zen Bargaining. "4000 rupees - best price". "NO" says Andrew - "a better deal than that"... "OK - how much you want to pay?" as we start to look like we are leaving. 2000Rs says Andrew. Now he is no longer our friend. "3500, and I'm taking a loss...". "No - 2200Rs is all it's worth", replies our Zen Master. Things get really intense as we inch towards the doorway, and as we say "No - we're not interested any more"... he goes "OK - 2800Rs, and you are stealing from me now..."! Wanting to withdraw sooooo badly from this heated verbal sparring, we agree to 2800Rs (about $65) and he packages it up and acts like we just stole his first and second born children from his family (Indians, it goes without saying, have more than two children...). So we feel really badly for making this guy mad, and we don't really know why we bought the stupid scarf in the first place - there are MILLIONS of these in India!! However, we ran into the guy the next day and he ignored us, and then we figured out that the trip he was planning to Vancouver for a big sales convention the next day - yes, flying to Canada tomorrow!!! - was probably not true. And when we overheard him tell a French couple that he was going to fly to Paris for a big sales convention, TOMORROW....
He was also in the store the following morning, having missed his flight(s) to Vancouver and/or Paris...!!!
February 13: Up at dawn - Andrew and Shayna decided to take an art lesson, on how to micro-paint on silk - a famous trademark of Udaipur. Jonathan was feeling very ill, and decided to lay in bed all day. Brenda and I went for a walk to the other side of the city and ran into a wedding processional - very noisy and colourful - and went to an antique car museum (not so fantastic...but it did have an old 1955 Austin Cambridge, one of the earlier cars my parents had in Scotland!!. A walk through a large garden which was in need of a lot of gardening - geez it's getting hot at midday!!!
Some shopping (yes, we succumbed to the silk paintings), and then a leisurely boat tour around Lake Pichola in the hot afternoon, followed by a cold beer on the rooftop bar...
We took an autorickshaw up to Monsoon Palace on top of a nearby mountain (see photos) to see the sunset. Really nothing at this palace, other than the view, which was good, and worth the rough ride up. Saw the sun set. Then we got talked into seeing an art school by the friendly tuk-tuk driver (to buy paintings, not to see the school), and then we extracted ourselves from there for the final leg home. As we didn't buy any paintings, the driver did not speak to us again (no commission on that trip!!)
Then a sprint to see an early evening dancing show of Rajasthani folk dances. Then another rooftop dinner of Indian food (Brenda had a cheese and veg. sandwich for respite, but there was no cheese in it!), then an early bedtime as we were bushed from being out in the sun all day.
Udaipur was a great starting location for our trip. Overall, a very nice city. Welcome to India, in a romantic way!!!