The Jewel of Rajasthan

Trip Start May 04, 2011
Trip End Oct 08, 2012

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Flag of India  , Rajasthan,
Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Udaipur, notorious for scenes from Octopussy, is undeniably one of the most romantic settings in India. Easy to fall under its spell, I stare out at the lit up city palace made brighter by the reflection of the full moon tonight. From the rooftop café of Dream Heaven Guesthouse I have a perfect view of the silhouetted 500 year old multi-story havelis and the nightly fireworks that shoot out over the lake.

I spent the first two days just walking the outskirts of the city center without any aim, merely soaking up the local flare and getting a lay of the land. Rajasthan is definitely the "colorful India" I imagined it would be. The women are wrapped from head to toe in sparkling, bright rainbow color saris. Most are adorned in gold dangling earrings and nose piercings sometimes attached to the ear by another gold chain. Half of their forearms are lined with equally colorful bangles and on display as they support the urn of water on their head. I've also taken note that the complexion of the locals is a much deeper brown than anywhere I’ve seen to date. As I walk through the narrow streets it becomes obvious that like most tourist destinations in India, there is no shortage of shop keepers shouting “hello, which country you from?” But unlike elsewhere, I’m finding that here they are even more desperate for mere conversation than they are for selling me something. Although the incessant honking of cars and rickshaws warning you to jump aside as they win their space on the narrow road, provides a good excuse for not sticking around for the usual chai invitation that follows.

Udaipur is a relatively clean city and from what I hear the jewel of the state; another reason that it is the ideal destination for the current peak wedding season. Luckily during my stay and in just one day, I witnessed three separate wedding festivities. First I salivated over the lavish preparations filling up the courtyard of the city palace. A large crew of men decorated 50 ten feet long round tables with garlands of sweet smelling, fresh flowers, as others focused on the audio/visual and or catering.

Shortly after exiting the palace I heard a marching band. It was more like one drummer leading a procession of local women, some effortlessly balancing urns on their heads, on their way to a pre-wedding offering. As I stood witness, the groom and his friend kindly shared with me the relevance of this party. This gathering is meant solely to honor his parents while the bride celebrates in her home with her family. They further divulged the sequence of events that would take place over the next 48 hours. Apparently there would be very little time for sleep before everyone would meet again the next day and carpool 200 kilometers for the official ceremony.

Completely satisfied with my brief cultural lesson, I said one final “congrats” to the groom and bid adieu. However; I barely made it 100 meters toward the bridge before I was pulled into another private courtyard. Actually it was more as a result of my need to photograph this family sitting in front of an enormous pan of sliced carrots; later to be made into the local desert, Gajar Halva. The same curiosity kept me from declining a formal invitation to step even further inside when asked to partake in the additional rituals. Dressed in jeans and a fleece I awkwardly approached the brides to be, also cousins, and their respective parents. Activities included one girl painting henna on one of the bride’s hands. Others managed some indiscernible system for distributing new saris to the sea of women sitting on the floor. Raj, the proud uncle of both brides made me feel like royalty by pushing me closer into the middle of the crowd as if on display. Raj was constantly on my heels encouraging me to get closer, take more photos and ultimately requested that I return that evening for more celebration. It is the Indian way to invite foreigners to their weddings because amongst the natives it is actually seen as a status symbol to have us present. As in Rome, I returned that night for a fair share of dancing. Although in hindsight all the jumping around after a non-veg meal, might have been the instigator to the horrible case of “Delhi Belly” or as I heard it called here the “U Diaper, Piper” which violently attacked me over the next 48 hours. The symphony of gurgling that kept me awake all night finally resulted in me running the 1 meter sprint 20 times. Ultimately I was left feeling thoroughly depleted, flu like and unable to eat.

Unfortunately I had already planned to go visit Kumbalgarh fort and the Jain Temple of Ranakpur with Janna, a fellow American and Gabriella from Australia. Even though I was still quite weak I was a trooper and made the 200 km journey anyway; so glad I did. Both sights are magnificent. First we ascended upon the remote hilltop fort of Kumbalgarh surrounded by the second largest (36km) wall next to China. The grounds were too much to explore in the short time period allotted but we got a good sense of what the environment must have been like in the 15th century. It was interesting to find both Hindi and Jian temples co-existing on the premise.

Rankapur was equally impressive. A masterpiece made of marble built in 1439 according to a strict system of measurement based on the number 72 (the age at which the founder of Jainism, Mahavira, achieved nirvana). The entire temple sits on a pedestal measuring 72 square yards, held up by 1440 (72x20) individually carved pillars with another 72 elaborately carved shrines.  

By the time we returned to the city I regained an appetite. We closed the day with a meal at Millets of Mewar. My daily eatery and one of the better places I’ve dined in India. Ironically it reminds me of Raw Food Daily, based on providing clean, healthy, organic food; these four guys collaborated and are on their way to big success. Needless to say, I will miss this establishment upon my departure. And sadly the day has come.
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Alan on

Great stuff, Stacey...your travels clearly have been the experience of a lifetime and your entries vividly bring us all to where you've been. Which is great but for the 20 1 meter sprints....;-)...oddly, as I write this, there is a very Indian food like aroma wafting in from Zabar's kitchen...yes, I am still at the old place, but the closing and moving dates should be here soon. Remind me to tell you about the near disastrous hi speed crash I had on a training ride the other day...pretty banged up, but will be fine. Enjoy another excellent day on the other side of the world....Alan

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