Friday, January 02, 2009

From Jodhpur to Udaipur, a harrowing journey. Udaipur the city of palaces and lakes, romantic dinners and fish and chips in a palace.

Eladio and Masha, the new Maharajas of Udaipur, ha, ha, ha
Hi again,

So on 1st January we hit the road from Jodhpur to Udaipur 280 kilometres away which proved to be an eternity and a harrowing experience, through desert and mountains, lush valleys and poor villages and even past a monkey reserve!! Driving in India seems more like a rally driving adventure, probably because we don’t understand the rules. What does happen is that all vehicles parp their horns insistently to get past other slower vehicles, motor bikes, the “totos” and, of course, the cows which cross the roads slowly, with the knowledge that no one will hit them!!!

We went past the usual villages with people of all kinds, from white dressed “holy ladies” of the Jain religion who can only use their own feet for transport, to a man using oxen to raise water from a well and so on. The very poor use any means to get money from tourists, the most well known being to offer their own image! We often pay the equivalent of 1 euro to get a good shot. But we are getting wise to the trick and take the pictures quickly and go off before they have realised.
The man with the oxen. We paid him alright. I'm still not sure whether he was there as a tourist trap or whether he was authentic.
I paid this priceless couple for the picture and think it was certainly worth it.
Ladies with piercings. I didn't pay for this shot.
We are amazed how open intimate life such as having your hair cut or your chin shaven is. You see open air barber posts everywhere. I have yet to understand why.
The barber in the street, typical scene in India.
Apart from animal and human life, there were also the famous Jain temples of Ranakpur to see on this route. This was an obligatory stop. They must be from the 15th or 16th century. The main one has 1444 pillars made of marble and not one is the same. Here the Hindus worship their Gods. The one that most captures our attention is half man, half elephant. His name is Ganesha and I think has something to do with good luck as does the elephant as a symbol in India. We have also learned that the horse means power and the camel means love!

To go into the temples you must remove your shoes. In some important ones you cannot go in with your bag either and I even saw a sign at the Ranakpur temple prohibiting women with their monthly “menses” entering so as to keep the temple pure!! Another thing that strikes me in India is the system they have for tourists entering monuments. Apart from foreigners paying more than Indians, you also have to pay a fee for a still camera and a fee for a video camera. You also get 2 papers to show at the different check points. It all seems quite pointless and bureaucratic to me. Often you could get by without paying and no one says anything. Also I think technology has grown faster than the rules because most cameras these days double as still and video.
The Jain Temples of Ranakpur
The last 50km of the road to Udaipur was sheer hell as we attempted to cross a half finished new main road which had obviously been blasted through the mountains. The dust was incredible and you could hardly see anything ahead. We think our driver is a hero. How can I admit also that none of us wear a seat belt? Ours at the back is under the towel covering the seat so we can’t get at it and our driver simply ignores it! This is India for you!

We arrived some 7 hours later, exhausted in Udaipur and checked into the worst hotel so far, the Rampratap “Palace”. It actually looks like a palace from the outside but the rooms are very spare and uninviting although thankfully not unclean.
Our hotel in Udaipur, The
Our driver took us shopping afterwards. He has taken us to various places, some of which were a bit of a rip off but this one, the Shivrati House, proved to be really good. Here I found a lovely colourful embroidered pashmina as well as more miniature paintings on silk. The shawl may not be real pashmina but at least I got a certificate. They started off offering it at 14.000 rupees and we finally paid 7000.

I learned from Sandeep and from an English travel agent residing in India that you have beat all prices down by 50%. Our driver told us it should never be more than 10 or 20% but I suppose he has a vested interest in our not bargaining too much but, of course, he hadn’t reckoned on Eladio’s negotiating powers. At the hotel we have also bought some Indian trouser and top outfits for the whole family, including my Father. They did mine and Eladio’s to fit in just a few hours and they look great!!

For dinner on the first night we went to the Shiv Niwas Palace Hotel, a recommendation from Julián and Merche. We would have preferred to stay there but you have to book at least 4 months in advance. It forms part of the massive series of palaces that form the Udaipur City Palace and are part museum, part hotel and part residence of the current Maharana (don’t quite know the difference between Majarah and Maharana!). The patio restaurant around a swimming pool is one of the most romantic places I have been in my life. It is also where some scenes from the James Bond film Octopussy were shot. Here I was able to enjoy a pure tomato salad for a first course which tasted like heaven as we have hardly eaten any fresh veg since we got here.
The terrace dining room at the Shiv Niwas Palace Hotel

And today after breakfast our driver took us on our sightseeing trip. We went to see the City Palace built by Maharana Udai Singh in 1559 which is one of the main tourist attractions of the city by the beautiful Lake Picchola. It is actually a massive series of palaces as each successor of the first Maharana added something to the original palace so as to leave his stamp. The place is sumptuous. This even beats the beauty of Spain’s best known monument, the Alhambra, at least from a non expert’s point of view.
The City Palace of Udaipur as seen from Lake Pichola
Then we went to see the Sahelion Ki Bari Gardens which were laid out by Maharana Sangram Singh II between 1710 and 1734 for the entertainment of the royal ladies and their maids of honour, one of the most beautiful gardens in India and which give a glimpse of bygone times, so says the sign at the entrance.
The Royal ladies' gardens in Udaipur, lovely.
Here Eladio and I succumbed to the ultimate tourist temptation; dressing in the local costumes for a photo to be sent to our hotel later. We thought we might be cheated but no, the photos arrived at 19h at our hotel this evening and are superb. I only wish I had been made up for the occasion. Eladio looks very authentic. Don’t you think?

After a waste of time visit to the folk museum to see dancing that didn’t happen, our driver took us to a restaurant for lunch. So far the places he has taken in the towns have been ok. However the places on the road have been below standard, specially the one on the road from Jodhpur to Udaipur where we saw tree squirrels eating from the buffet and licking the spoons we had to serve with!!! So when I had a quick look inside the place he proposed today, I quickly suggested we return to the Shiv Niwas Palace. He didn’t seem to mind.

Finally we ended up in another restaurant belonging to the City Palace complex called the Sunset Terrace overlooking the lovely Pichola Lake and famous Taj Lake Hotel which you cannot visit if you are not a guest! So far we have been eating spicy curry every day and have gone from mutton to chicken and chicken to mutton and back again and after 7 days of spice are a little tired of it. So when we saw “fish and chips” on the menu, we said, this is our day. I didn’t expect them to be very good but they were excellent. So, yes, we had fish and chips in a palace in India!
Lake Pichola
In the early evening, just before sunset we went for another tourist activity, this time a boat trip on the Lake Pichola. It was actually quite beautiful and the scenery breathtaking. The boat took us to the Jagmandir Island Palace, also built by the Maharana in the 16th century. This is a jewel of a place in perfect condition and here we decided we would have our last dinner in Udaipur. It proved quite difficult with lots of controls and checks to get there later, including paying a minimum cover fee beforehand. Anyway, we got there and the dinner was even more romantic than the night before. When we had passed all the controls, I asked when the boat was leaving and got a wonderful answer: “the boat is waiting for you madam”. And so it was. Service is marvellous in India as are its people.

That’s all for now. Tomorrow we are driving to Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. It is 410km away and I dread the road, the loos on the way and the mid way restaurant. But I look forward to seeing more of local Indian life. And so our Indian adventure continues.


No comments: