Our first stop after Mumbai was Udaipur (उदयपुर), the capital of the kingdom of Mewar. Instead of taking a 15 hour+ train ride we took a 1.5 hour flight on Indigo Airlines – a low-cost carrier that serves India’s growing middle class. The Indigo Jet was modern and the flight was on time. However, the rest of the experience was all India from the cheeky head bopping stewards giving out Indian snacks (veg junglee sandwich) to the passengers in bright red and yellow Kurti’s, bangles, gold jewellery and nose rings that also served as veil hangers.
Udaipur is located in a mountainous area. We arrived in the dry season and it was hot. The town has a series of artificial lakes made by damming the monsoon rains in narrow valleys.
We stayed at Jaiwana Haveli a small family run hotel in the old city. This was one of our favourite hotels during our stay in India, the rooms were clean and decent sized, the a/c functioned and the shower worked. Best of all it had a rooftop restaurant with panorama lake and city views. The rooms had old style padlocks that looked like something out of the 1800’s. Our first stop was a small hindu temple where we removed our shoes and wandered around looking at the stone carving. Inside worshippers sat cross-legged and chanted, outside, two kids were playing with plastic guns. On our way out we saw a couple of processions of women in bright red and yellow sarees bearing statutes of smiling deities covered in flower garlands. The road was filled with pedestrian, cyclists and motor scooters ridden by entire families. The largest vehicles were moto-rickshaws and you had to watch out for the occasional cow. It was a total immersion into different sites sounds and smells. We stopped at a sweet shop for Gulab Jamun drawn from a huge vat and moved deeper into the market area. This was the India of our imagination, old, new, religious, crowded, chaotic and vibrant. There was some garbage and some beggars but compared to northern Ethiopia, it seemed quite prosperous.
For the next three days we toured various sites including the city palace and the monsoon palace. My favourite was the city palace and museum. Wikipedia describes it has “being built in an extravagant style in a fusion of the Rajasthani and Mughal architectural styles” I liked the period rooms, art work and history of the raj. We ate at local restaurants (dahl fried and Allo Gobi). One evening we cycled around the lake to have dinner with a local family. They were a relatively well off family with a multi room home, a tv, stereo and running water. It was a wonderful evening, we danced to bollywood music, helped make chapatis and some of us got henna tattoos. One son took out his two pet goats which promptly crapped on the deck. Suraj explained that Moslem families keep goats as pets rather than dogs. That evening on the bike ride home we left the relative calm of the suburb and went straight into the chaos of the outer city. We had to navigate in the semi dark through a dusty crowded road. I nearly biked into the flank of an elephant. It was like a crazy 3d video game. I was worried that Eliot would be stressed as he does not like to bike in traffic, but he was fine in the chaos.
One afternoon we decided to take it easy so we went to the pool at the hotel on the City Palace grounds. Suraj was like a little kid in the water while Eliot (who is not the best swimmer) showed him some strokes. Suraj did some paddling and yelled out excitedly “Eliot look I am doing doggy style.” This cracked up the Indo Americans in the pool so we decided to tell Suraj that it was the dog paddle. That evening we went to see the folk show at the Bharatiya Lok Kala Mandal temple. Women dressed in bright colours spun around. An older woman piled ceramic pots on her head and walked on glass. It was touristy but still lots of fun.
After Udaipur we headed to Jaipur the blue city in a private car. The drive was spread over 2 days. On the first day we stopped at the Ranakpur Jain Temple an impressive Jain temple with elaborate carvings. We got scammed on arrival by a “priest” that got us to hold hands say a blessing and then asked for a donation. Within 5 minutes I felt my stomach turn and was rushing out of the temple to find a toilet. The attendant was not around – good news no 5 rupee fee bad news no toilet paper, luckily I had my emergency kit (toilet paper and hand sanitizer) and was used to squatting after Ethiopia. Next time I will pay more for the blessing.
We drove through dry highlands and went through a toll booth which posted tolls for different vehicles and the exemption for the prime minister. We saw herds of ox on the road and buses with people on the roof. At the lunch restaurant we saw kids splashing in the river. In the afternoon we visited Kumbhalgarh Fort a large hilltop fort with a 38 km long wall- the second longest after the great wall of China.
That evening we stayed in a small hotel/riding stable/move set complete with a pond with a brownish green kombucha like mass floating inside.
The “hotel” was newish but already run down. Eliot and Christine were not impressed. The stables were across from the rooms and the sound of the horses kicking the doors sounded like loud knocking on the door. Dinner was on the lawn in front of the stables. I brought out the Japanese scotch and we got drunk watching two dogs trying to detach themselves after mating as Suraj and his friend tried to fly their chinese lanterns. That evening Eliot pointed out the stains in the bathroom walls and insisted on sleeping in his sleeping bag liner. In the morning we got to ride one of the trick horses and then it was back in the car to head out to Jaipur. On the way we stopped at bullet baba a shrine to a man who died in a motorcycle accident. The legend was that the motorcycle returned from the police station to the site of the crash. Travellers visit the site to get blessings for a safe trip. From bullet baba we went to Jaipur the next big city in Rajasthan.