Ganapati festivities

Trip Start Jun 13, 2005
Trip End Dec 05, 2005

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Saturday, September 17, 2005

Thursday 15th September

[Word of the Day: I read that the Hindi word for "journey" is "suffer" - it's what I've been trying to say all along....]

Jaipur - "The Pink City". Pink never was my colour, and the best part about Jaipur was leaving it. I felt approaching stomach issues as I left Bundi, so attempted to starve myself for the long bus trip. I was doing very well until the kindly old dear in the seat next to me practically rammed half her lunch down my throat; I thus arrived in Jaipur about as cheerful as a camel with hump-ache and things never really improved until I reached Udaipur this morning.

I'm back in a clean hotel room with friendly staff, and things are generally rosier than this time yesterday, when all I wanted was to pack my bags and go home. From my window, I can see the famous lake: - a scene from Octopussy was filmed here, and [I]every[/I] rooftop restaurant throughout the town screens the film at 7.30 [I]every[/I] evening.

On my initial wander around town, I met a lone Israeli and together we walked a long way around the lake, to what we'd thought from afar was a palace but turned out to be the five-star Oberoi Hotel. We wandered into the gardens, past the luxuriant pool (which itself wandered right past the patio and up to the doorstep of each guest suite) and into the building, where we got a little lost. Each time we passed a member of staff we walked with utmost confidence and purpose and were greeted politely, but when we passed the same butler after a twenty-minute interval, our game was up and we admitted to being lost; we were politely shown the door.

In the last weeks of a "rainy season" in which the monsoon never really showed up, it has finally put in an impressive appearance to a great fanfare of thunder and lightning; when today's downpour began, I was sitting at a waterside restaurant, under a roof-cover but otherwise exposed to the elements, and it was a spectacular show. "Cats and dogs" doesn't do it justice - here, it rains camels and goats! Tonight, from my dinner-table, I looked out over the lake to the City Palace, beautifully lit up against a black sky, and watched nature's sound-and-light show illuminating the clouds to a thunderous soundtrack.

Saturday 17th September

Ganapati - the end of a ten-day festival marking the birthday of Lord Ganesha, the elephant-god. After nine days of worshipping a statue of Ganesha in their homes, devotees place the deity onto their vehicle of choice to carry him to the lake, where he will be sunk.

An outsider would be forgiven if they mistook Ganpati for a political riot rather than a festival: when I crossed the path of the procession this afternoon, my first sight was of head-banded youths chanting and dancing, waving what looked like missile launchers, into which some kind of firework was occasionally inserted to produce the most deafening explosion imaginable and a cloud of smoke which momentarily obscured the crowd. Police lingered near the edges of the crowd, armed with long sticks (though I never saw one used). Participants were covered in red powder, which they threw liberally at each other and at bystanders; some vehicles carried sound systems loud enough to fray the nerves of even the most hardcore nightclubber, blaring out religious chants or the latest filmi music, depending on the age of the group concerned.

The statues varied in size, from a few centimetres high to those which took eight men to lift them. They came mostly on trailers, towed by tractors adorned with banana leaves, neem branches and marigolds, but some came in autorickshaws, some in cars and some on camel-carts. Camels are amazingly calm animals: I've never seen one look even slightly perturbed at the goings-on around it, no matter what those goings-on might be. Today the camels stood in a traffic jam, patiently waiting for the signal to move forward, mini-missiles exploding inches from their ears, music blaring, crowds screaming, powder flying.... and there they stood, chewing the cud and surveying the crowd from beneath long, dainty eyelashes, like judges assessing the performance.

I followed the procession on its way to Lal Ghat, where the statues would be immersed in the lake. I was drawn to the centre of a singing, dancing, laughing crowd, then out again to watch from the sidelines. At the main intersection of the Old Town, a huge traffic jam built up, the tractors, autos and camels waiting their turn to cross - some on their way to the water and some returning, godless, having left their idol in the water. There were no traffic restrictions on non-participating vehicles: the authorities' approach seemed to be: "If you want to negotiate your vehicle through this chaos, be our guest - we'll be laughing at you from the sidelines."

For hour upon hour the vehicles came and went, stopping at Lal Ghat and waiting for a processional boat to return to shore and collect another statue for immersion. After sunset, I crossed the bridge to the other side of the lake, where I sat in a restaurant opposite the Ghat and continued my viewing from there. The water carried the drumbeats loud and clear to my side of the lake - the perfect background music for my last dinner in Udaipur.
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