White City, Weddings, and James Bond

Trip Start Apr 23, 2011
Trip End May 14, 2011

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Flag of India  , Rajasthan,
Friday, May 6, 2011

After a week in the beautifully quiet rural portions of India, we were actually looking forward to getting back to the hustle and bustle of city life.  Well at least on a limited basis, and that's what the city of Udaipur held for us.  While Jaipur is known as the "Pink City" and Jodhpur (which we didn't get to visit) is known as the "Blue City", Udaipur is known as the "White City" for it's white-faced buildings.  With a population of around 400,000, it was just enough city without being overwhelming.  The city is also known as being the Venice of the East, with gentle romantic hillsides ringed about the city along with Venetian boats slowly forging the waters of Lake Pichola.  Unfortunately, both of our wives were at home, so we'll just have to bring them back!

On the way there, we encountered several trees full of fruit bats.  We stopped the van to take a few pics and the bats became quite agitated.  With wingspans around 12-15", they were quite impressive to watch, if not a bit terrifying.  Nearby, a pink wedding-party-on-wheels bus drove up and stopped.  Sitting atop were about 8 men - all of whom were new grooms in the middle of the wedding week.  Indian weddings typically last 3-7 days long and several days during the month are more auspicious to be married on than others.  May 5 and 6th happened to be the most auspicious of the month, so we have continued to run into wedding after wedding - each in a different aspect.  While the grooms sat on top, all the women and children slowly, but steadily and continuously kept piling out of the bus like clowns from a Volkswagen!

Once we arrived in Udaipur, I took a boat tour across Lake Pichola.  Once a small lake, Maharajah Udai Singh II flooded the small village of Pichola to expand the lake's borders to it's current size in the 1500s.  More recently, the city was used at various times in the James Bond film "Octopussy."  The first stop on the boat ride was the beautiful Lake Palace Hotel.  Formerly belonging to the Royal family, the converted palace is now a 5-star hotel that appears to be floating in the middle of the lake (actually, it sits atop an island) and is perhaps the most easily recognizable and memorable building of the Roger Moore movie.  We also went near the Island Palace and the City Palace (more on that tomorrow) as we returned to dock.

Later, I hiked up a trail to the top of a hillside where a spectacular panoramic view of Udaipur awaited me.  After a few pics, Girish and I took the gondola ride down in a quick five minutes.

Another day, another wedding procession!  This time I was able to catch it on a short video (see in the pics).  It gives a good sense of what we have been seeing in the streets, but the parties go on for days at the homes and hotels, including fireworks and banquets.  And whether it's a "simple" village wedding or one in the big city, marriages in India can easily run in the tens of thousands of dollars.  While dowries are officially banned, they continue to this day, and tremendous pressure is still put on the bride and her family, often driving the bride's family into financial bankruptcy or worse.  While there, we read several newspaper stories of brides committing suicide over dowry disputes.  One groom, even after an entire week of elaborate wedding celebrations, demanded more of the bride's family.  He wanted a new BMW.  The bride's family balked and refused, so he rejected her as his bride and the wedding was canceled on the spot.  Most marriages are still arranged between families, but the divorce rate is a staggeringly low 3%.

For dinner, we went to the hotel where the swimming pool was used in "Octopussy".  Again, it was a former palace turned hotel and this was a living museum.  Precious stones inlaid in marble everywhere, stunning paintings and portraits of the Udaipur Maharajahs dating back 500 years, and furniture fit for royalty in each of the rooms.  We felt quite out of place in our zip-off hiking pants, Under Armor t-shirts, and backpacks.  Thankfully, they still served us with the same incredible service we have received across all of India.  Now off to find Kamal Khan!
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