Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of India  ,
Friday, March 23, 2007

From Dungarpur we took another detour, in order to visit Jaisamand lake, one of the largest manmade freshwater lakes in asia, or something. This was well worth doing, as it required us to camp wild, which I had hitherto been frankly too scared to try. Peter being an old hand put me at my ease, and his stove meant we didn't even have to go hungry. The sounds of dogs and other wildlife happily remained distant, and the cool of the evening made for a surprisingly good nights sleep. Unfortunately, the road that we'd taken, despite being marked on the map as running right along the bank of the lake, was in fact separated from it by a series of small, but large-enough, hills; so we never saw it. 

There was only one small problem with wild camping, as I discovered the next morning. There's a distinct lack of conveniences. We came to a village before long, but it was, along with about 70% of India's habitation, unplumbed.
-Is there a toilet anywhere near here?
- (grinning) Only the open forest!

We moved on. I bore the villagers response in mind, but the forest just seemed, well, too open. Finally a convenient hillock offered a measure of discretion, and I bit the bullet. It turns out there's actually something quite liberating about shitting in a field by the roadside.

The day ended in Udaipur, a beautiful town on the banks of a large, shallow, man-made lake. We spent three days visiting the local sights. These included the city palace, which has been extended by every new generation of Maharaja, producing an enormous maze of courtyards and living quarters. No porn however, which was a shame. The main, if somewhat dubious selling point of Udaipur is the lake palace hotel, built on an island in the lake but covering every inch of it, so it appears to rise straight out of the lake. It was an impressive sight, but it was its starring role in the Bond film 'Octopussy' that Udaipur has latched onto. Almost every guesthouse offers nightly screenings of the film.

We arrived in Udaipur during the festival of Gangaur. A celebration of the love of the hindu gods Parvati and Shiva (I think) it involved for four successive evenings a congregation of many women on the Gangaur ghat (steps leading down to the water of the lake). They dipped flowers in the water and carried models, presumably of the gods though I'm not sure, on their heads. Hundreds of Rajasthani women in their finest apparel really created the sense of occasion, since even their ordinary clothes are striking. The religious activity was complimented by a carnival atmosphere, and even though we didn't understand much of what was gong on, the goodwill was infectious.   

I didn't see any of this until my second and third days in Udaipur, since I woke up on the first morning with what google kindly informed me was a textbook case of heat exhaustion. Lethargy, sweating, dizziness, nausea and a pathological aversion to being in the sun confined me to lying under the ceiling fan for the whole day, emerging only to restock on water.

India is the land of great coincidences and cycle tourism. While taking photos of the festival on the Gangaur ghat Peter happened to spot a couple he'd last seen in Kathmandu, after they'd both made it through Tibet. Nearing the end of their four year bike ride Nathalie and Xavier are on their way back to France. They and Peter spent the next few days catching up, while I eavesdropped enviously on their mutual memories of 5000m passes and sharing Yak butter tea with Tibetan nomads.

Finally, despite the fact that Xavier and Nathalie were heading for Mumbai, which is in the exact opposite direction, we left Udaipur in convoy, heading for a temple complex of the Jain religion in a small town called Ranukpur. The ride was again mainly quiet roads through dusty but picturesque semidesert, with some steep climbs to keep it interesting. Finding a discreet spot to pitch the tents proved somewhat trickier with four people, and our little camp may technically have qualified as an 'encroachment' (euphemism for slum) under Indian law.

The Jain temple in Ranakpur was an impressive edifice of intricately carved marble, the roof held up by 1111 marble pillars, apparently no two alike. I can't say I checked this claim. After a couple of hours in the temple complex, we moved on, but only made it about a kilometre before we saw a sign for 'lakeside camping'. It was still early to pitch tents, but we decided to check it out. The sign was actually for a hotel, with two luxury marquee-style tents next to a lake and a swimming pool. We asked if we could pitch our tents, expecting to be refused or asked for money. To our surprise we were told that we were welcome to camp and could have free use of the pool. This prospect was too much for us to resist.

We passed a lazy evening, and a lazy morning, paddling in the pool. We abandonned paddling in the lake out of deference to the crocodile. It was after midday before we set off again. At the first town Peter and I parted ways with Xavier and Nathalie, who were looping back to Udaipur on their way to Mumbai.
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