Udaipur: Part One

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Along Lake Pichola

 

 

We have arrived back in Delhi after a bumpy ride on Jet Airways from Udaipur.  I was in seat 43A, i.e. the very back row of the plane against the window.  Good thing the flight was only 65 minutes long.  But, I can’t be back in Delhi without bringing you up to date on our time in Udaipur.

Udaipur is built around three artificial lakes, which have been around for centuries.  In addition to his big palace on the shore of Lake Pichola, the maharana also built a palace way up high on a hill as his monsoon palace,* the palace in the middle of the lake, which was our hotel (see following post), and miscellaneous other residences and gardens scattered about (to say nothing of the thirty plus forts he had constructed throughout his kingdom) because, as we all know, there is no such thing as too much of a good thing!

On our first afternoon in Udaipur, after taking boats out to the Lake Palace Hotel and settling in, we boarded other boats for a sunset cruise on the lake.  We visited another mini-palace as part of the cruise; the mini-palace was where Shah Jahan (of Taj Mahal fame) spent two years after having a dust up with his father.

In spite of our beautiful surroundings, I didn’t sleep well our first night and our full day in Udaipur was difficult.  We began the day by boating back to the shore and walking to the main palace (where, incidentally, we saw the current crown prince of Udaipur, a very nice looking man, I must say, and he carried off those red trousers very well indeed.  The Island Palace Museum was full of wonderful things most particularly miniature paintings and mosaics.  Don’t think that miniature means small, in this context it means extremely detailed.  They were exquisite and the use of perspective was intriguing.

After our museum visit we had a power shopping interval at a shop called Anoki and I managed to spend quite a bit even though their prices were quite reasonable.  I wonder what that means?

Then off for a walk through old Udaipur’s market area.  Lots of shops, lots of noise, lots of traffic activity of every possible, narrow sort and, surprisingly, not nearly as many cows as we have grown accustomed to.  I checked out more bangles and even tried on some handmade shoes but neither were sized for my large American wrists or feet.

After lunch by another of the three lakes, which will remain forever nameless to me, we took a short drive by the shore and a brief stroll through a garden that had been created for some maharana’s ladies.  They must have thoroughly enjoyed being able to escape the confines of the women’s areas of the palace.

I was completely exhausted by the time we got back to the hotel 3 p.m. but was able to rally enough to construct a turban on my hair for our gala end of tour dinner.

*I asked our guide if the water really got that high but he didn’t dignify that with an answer.

 

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Wildlife # 2

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Almost mating mongooses

We have encountered a few more members of the animal kingdom.

First, you know how exciting it is when you are driving down a country road and see a beautiful cock pheasant sitting on a fence?  Well, imagine instead that the pheasant is a peacock.  They are everywhere in Rajasthan.  We awake to their god awful shrieks in the morning and see them in the fields, in trees and on fences.

We also saw a couple of mongooses as we drove down to our accommodation in Siana; the next jeep saw them mating.

Also in Siana, we had a little earthquake and the wasps in the dozens of HUGE hives in the trees around the property got properly riled up and formed a HUGE swarm.  We all headed to our bungalows.  Unfortunately, the wasps continued to be very active and they seemed to single out several of our group for their attention.

Monkeys are everywhere and I find them singularly loathesome.  I took a photo of one of them smiling and I think his expression sums up everything I don’t like about them.

Not actually wildlife but definitely highlife was the guy who was perched up in the trusses of a toll station pulling electrical wires.

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Miscellaneous Make Up Post

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Some people can tell a lot about the man by the way the turban is wrapped. Not me, but some people.

As I said in my last post, it’s hard to know what to cover when several days have gone by.  Obviously, Holi had to have top billing but we have seen many amazing things during our two days in Siana, one day in Ranakpur, and our drive yesterday to Udaipur.  I can barely remember ten percent of it and I won’t mine my memory in order to share with you; some highlights will have to do.

During the Holi festivities, people let loose of all their inhibitions and drive the demons from their bodies.  To help with that, a beverage called bhang is consumed during the day; it is some sort of cannabis infusion along with tea and spices.  The day before playing Holi, the village elders in Siana congregated under a large tree in the headman’s yard to partake of an opium ceremony.  When we arrived, they invited us to join in.

We saw several gers, which are dances in which the men move in a very large circle smacking sticks to the beat of drums.  It can continue for hours. We went to see a ger in a village one evening but it was over by the time we got there.  Instead, several of us ladies did an impromptu hokey-pokey for the villagers who gathered around us in the dark.

After Holi, we went for an evening leopard spotting drive.  We didn’t spot any leopards but we did see a magnificent sunset.

We finally saw a dog that was someone’s pet:  Bruno, our Siana host’s Great Dane, was huge and a huge hit.

At our last (?) Jain temple, we met a young man who is the 18th generation of his family to be a priest at the temple.  The Jains don’t have priests of their own, so, Hindu priests are the ones who take care of the temples.  Hashmat told us that if he could see only one temple in India, this would be the one.  He didn’t oversell it.  It has almost 1,500 columns that are intricately carved with different designs and it has many exquisitely carved marble friezes and sculptures.  Maybe when I look over our itinerary, I will even remember its name.

At our one night in Ranakpur in a jungle-like garden hotel, we dined out of splendid copper chafing dishes that were kept warm by coal fires. On our way from Ranakpur to Udaipur, we stopped to watch a Persion wheel pull water up from a very deep catchment basin and I even got to ride on the mechanism that the bulls pull relentlessly in circles to cause the whole thing to work.

We also stopped to see a magnificent fort built by the king of Udaipur way back in the day. The kings of Udaipur have the distinction of being the only kings not called maharajas (great king).  Instead, they are called maharanas, which means great warrior.  The reason for this difference is that the king of Udaipur, back when the Moguls were running around creating mayhem and defeating Indian kings all over the place, never formed an alliance with the Moguls or the other Indian kings who were allied with the Moguls.  He fought on independently and although he was defeated, his strength and fortitude earned him tremendous respect.

Enough for now.

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Holi Guacamole

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A nice cold beer after playing Holi (with a vengeance)

It’s so hard to know what to write about when I have been out of wifi range for several days. So much happens on every single day of these trips it is easy to be working on overload. I think I will skip to the chase and deal with major highlights. And, of course, the first one of those was Holi, a Hindu festival that is to India what Christmas has become in the USA. By that I mean, it is celebrated by almost everyone, not just Hindus.

There is a religious element to the festival and that portion of the festival takes place in the evening of, let’s call it, day one. I will not try to explain the religious significance except to say that it has to do with some really bad ass demons who wanted to take over EVERYTHING and almost got away with it. The climactic point involved a really big fire with the number one BA demon’s sister, Holika by name, clad in her cloak of indestructibility, sitting on a really, really big fire holding her nephew, who, through some godly intervention while he was still in the womb, was a follower of Vishnu, a really, really good guy god, which situation was intolerable for BA demon who asked his sister to kill his son. The nephew was sitting on auntie’s lap outside of the cloak of indestructibility and, so, was in major danger of turning into a crispy critter. However, Vishnu intervened in a most dramatic way causing the cloak of indestructibility to fly off of Holika and cover baby boy. Bye Bye, Holika. Later on, Vishnu put paid to BA demon, too. Whew!! Definitely a situation worth celebrating.

Back to religious element, big and small fires are erected all over the place. Priests come and do a prayer ritual and then people symbolically beat Holika with sticks to make certain she stays dead.

Somewhere along the line, however, a non religious element appeared. This is called “playing Holi” and it usually occurs the morning after the bonfire piece. We went to a village where it is done two days after. What fun! That meant we got to participate. We had new Indian outfits for this purpose as playing Holi involves throwing color on each other. It can be wet color, which you suck up out of a big tub using a rudimentary water canon and then blast onto other participants; or, it can be dry Holi where you pick up handful of dry, powdered color and fling or press in onto other participants.

Ours was both. We were staying at the village headman’s lodging and the villagers came to his compound to play with us. It was a general mélée. I learned a lot that morning (that would be March 14th): First, never do combat with a group of teenaged boys; second, never do combat using a weapon that is new to you but second nature to your opponents; third, as pretty as the fuschia and deep violet are, avoid them, they do not wash away easily (if at all, I still have pink hair after two shampoos; and, fourth, don’t plan on wearing anything white for several days after the battle is over . . .in fact, don’t plan on touching anything white for several days. I wouldn’t have done anything differently but I wouldn’t do anything the same if I had to do it again.

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Jodhpur, It’s Not Just Funny Trousers

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Jodhpur: The Blue City 

Jodhpur is known as the blue city for the many buildings that are painted blue.  There is at least one reason for them being painted that color but I’m darned if I can remember even one.  All I know for certain is that it sure is purdy.

Yesterday afternoon we took autorickshaws up to the fort and had a nice tour of the various museums in the fort.  Almost too much to absorb but the displays were quite good and ranged from elephant howdas to palanquins to royal cradles to paintings.

We also stopped at a lovely scarf shop.  Enough said?

Today, in addition to the wildlife, we also visited a village where they weave traditional Rajasthani durries. They were glorious!  Need I say more?

 

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Wild Life

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Heading out in our jeeps

Lest you think India is all Hindu temples, Rajasthani forts, masala chai and garlic naan, there is also a fair amount of wildlife in this area

This morning, Sunday, March 12, we headed out in jeeps to do a bit of game viewing.  It was predicted that we would have good luck as we were heading out into an area where the Bishnoi people live.  They have been very involved in environmental issues since the 16th century or maybe even earlier.  They don’t kill animals and the animals have become habituated to that and live in close proximity to the Bishnoi.  We saw a variety of birds and animals.  Photos of a few follow . . . Including wild life of a different sort at a beautiful step well in Jodhpur.  We ate our lunch at a cafe overlooking the step well.

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View From The Front

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Long and not so winding road in Rajasthan

Touring by coach is interesting.  Who sits where?  Which seats are more desirable than others? Which side of the bus will get more or less sun?  At the beginning of our trip, Hashmat reminded all of us that we should try to rotate through the seats so that one person didn’t always end up with the best or worst seat. But it takes a while to figure out what “best” and “worst” mean.

I think the front seat is the best because you can see ahead of you as well as out to the side.  I think everyone might think that at least at first.  Then all of the tall people with long legs decide that the space in front of the front seat is too short.  Then some people decide that there isn’t anyplace to put stuff;  there’s no bottle holder for your water bottle or hook on which to hang your bag.  Some people prefer the foot rest in the regular seats.  And, some people really don’t want to see what’s coming.

Yesterday, from my seat towards the rear and after everyone was settled, I noticed that no one was in the front seat.  I moved up.  I have short legs, so the lack of legroom  doesn’t bother me and I am happy to dangle things off of my knees.  And, I really like the view from the front.  I took one photo every 30 minutes during yesterday’s five hour drive and although they were much of a sameness, I enjoyed it all. I won’t burden you with all the photos but here are a few:

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Jaisalmer: Final Images

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Jaisalmer Fort at sunset

This afternoon we went back to town (our hotel is about five kilometers outside of town) for a short walk in an area we hadn’t previously covered.  We were not within the walls of the fort but, instead, went to a couple of havelis and then up to the roof of a hotel for a cool drink and a sunset view of the fort.

During our walk through the market we came to a stall where a gentleman makes an Indian snack mix every day.  It’s nice and fresh and many of us made purchases after tasting his crunchy, yummy treat.

The havelis were, not surprisingly, different from those we have seen in other parts of Rajasthan and were even more ornate and gorgeous.  One that we entered is still occupied by multiple descendants of the original builders but they have turned much of the front portions into souvenir shops to try to generate income with which to maintain the buildings.  We did our part.

A final evening dining outside by the pool.  A bit breezy but very pleasant.

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Jaisalmer: Part Two

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This morning, March 10, we went into the fort proper of Jaisalmer.  Jaisalmer is sometimes called the golden city because of the color of the sandstone which is the primary building used in the town.  It is quarried locally and has a beautiful, warm golden hue when the sun hits it.  The fort is referred to as a “living” fort because there are many homes and shops within its walls.  It is also a tourist destination and we encountered more tourists here than we have been up until this point.

The fort contains beautiful havelis and elaborately carved Jain temples of which we visited three.  It sometimes seems as if we are seeing SO VERY MANY temples but, in fact, as one of our co-travelers said, “with each temple one more piece of the puzzle fits into place.”  So, yes, we do see a lot of temples but each is a learning moment.

The fort and buildings within the fort are constantly being maintained and there are still a fairly large number of families who know how to dress and carve the stone in order to repair or replace with the same type of carvings.

We have noticed as we have been traveling, both in Delhi and now in Rajasthan, that you see little garlands hanging over the doors of homes and shops and even, once, on the windshield wiper of our bus.  The purpose of these is to keep the evil eye away and the garlands are replaced each Saturday, which is considered a particularly inauspicious day.

At one of the Jain temples, there was a bright orange object protruding out of a wall.  We discovered that it is a fierce, protective form of Shiva to which oil and vermillion are regularly applied.  To me, it looked like a particularly angry orange M&M.

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Jaisalmer: Part One

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Jaisalmer street scene

Our first afternoon in Jaisalmer was spent walking through some of the lanes of the town.  Many delightful vignettes presented themselves, although one had to step carefully to avoid the many deposits made by cows.

When it became clear that some of the group was interested in shopping for the silver for which Jaisalmer is known, we went to the home and shop of one of the town’s silver smithing families.  The head of the family sat outside the door and allowed us to enter where we took off our shoes (just like at a temple) and then went into the basement where the goodies were kept.

After we sat down on low chairs that surrounded a large, covered mattress sort of thing, the young men of the family began dumping heaps of things on the mattress:  Anklets, bracelets, pendants, earrings, whatever you could imagine they had made in every possible variation.  Most of what we looked at was silver but they could also offer gold.  They also had pieces set with precious and semi-precious stones.

We spent quite a bit of time there and, in all probability, quite a bit of cash.

One of the intersting traditions unique to Jaisalmer is the way that weddings are announced. When someone is to be married, a Ganesha is painted on the outside of the house with the date of the wedding and the names of the bride and groom.  If it is the bride’s house, her name appears first; if it is the groom’s, his name will have top billing.  These signs remain until the next marriage in the house or until they fade away.  In days gone by, these notices served as invitations to the wedding.  But as the town grew and more and more people began to live there, the paintings became announcements instead of open ended invitations to anyone who might happen to see them.

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