December 19, 2008
The night bus from Pushkar to Udaipur was yet another chapter in the adventure that is India. I had bought a “sleeper” compartment without knowing exactly what it was, feeling that stretching out would be better than sitting up all night. The bus stand, just a shoulder along side a highway in Ajmer, was a bit chaotic, and luckily my car driver found my bus and oversaw loading my large backpack into the luggage compartment.
My sleeper compartment consisted of a narrow bunk with a mattress but no bedclothes that was suspended above the regular seats. It had a sliding door to enclose me, and on the other side was the top of the bus’s side window. At least I don’t feel I was in a coffin. There really wasn’t much room though, and, what was worse, I had to keep my small backpack in the compartment with me. Another drawback during the first part of the trip was that I had to pee. At our first stop to take on passengers, I struggled out of my bunk and pushed my self outside to urinate against the rear tire.
The curious thing was that, although all the seats were taken, the driver let on an extra bunch of young men who stood, sat and slept in the aisle between the seats. I have no idea of what would have happened in an emergency. This crew of men was extremely noisy, so that even if I could have slept in spite of the rocking and bumping of the bus, the noise would have made it impossible. Some of these guys got off at a way station and things did calm down for a while. I must have slept a bit because I seemed to have lost an hour of consciousness.
A new day and a fresh start. Once again, this city is different. The lake, with its very expensive Lake Palace Hotel is one difference. Like Jaipur, this town has a City Palace, the seat and residence of the Mewar Maharajas, known as Custodians, for more than 500 years. During that time the palace grew until it reached its colossal length of 244 meters and corresponding great height. It was first built as a stronghold during the times when the Mughals were consolidating their empire and made a great effort to annex this Rajasthan kingdom. Because of this need for security, the internal doorways and passages are small and narrow.
The history of the Palace is the history of their warrior chiefs, who were sometimes also visionaries and men of culture and learning. Touring the palace with my audio guide, I got a good idea of what daily life was probably like for its royal inhabitants. There are paintings illustrating important battles, festivals and ceremonies. Much of the palace décor and decoration is splendid and different from the palace in Jaipur. Like an Ottoman Palace, this one was divided into men’s’ and women’s’ quarters. The women in purdah couldn’t be seen by men and were guarded by eunuchs. The palace didn’t have an open feeling. Instead it has a lot of small rooms and balconies with, now and then, a larger courtyard.
The architecture is a mix of Rajasthali (beam and post) and Mughal (cusped arches) with a few touches that the British brought.
I prefer audio guides to the local guide because they allow me to move at my own pace. Human guides talk and move too fast for me.
I needed a break after my lengthy palace visit and retreated to my nearby hotel where I ate some unappetizing fried rice. I really have to stick to Indian food. The attempts at western and Chinese dishes too often don’t succeed.
After lunch I visited the remarkable Jagdish Temple, a towering pile near the City Palace, whose every exterior square inch is carved with gods, dancers, elephants, etc. It’s a temple to Jagdish, which is a local name for Vishnu, but there are ancillary shrines to Ganesh, Durga, and Shiva. Inside the temple the idol representing Jagdish is black. In front of his altar there was a seated group of women and a couple of old men chanting what I took to be verses from the scriptures.
The Bagore-Ki-Haveli is a rambling old palace built at the end of the 18th century that had fallen into serious disrepair and is now partially restored. It’s smack on the water not far from my hotel. Someone has turned it into a museum, partly ethnographic and with a collection of photos, contemporary art and crafts.
One room is set up to display a few of the entertainment options available to the nobles of the time. Chess was popular along with some other games I’m not familiar with. One is called Snakes and Ladders and reminds me of one of the exercises we use when teaching English as a second language.
One terrace of the Haveli is also the setting for a nightly dance performance, featuring three musicians, a drummer, another percussionist and a singer who also plays a kind of accordion, striking the keys with one hand while moving the back plate forwards and backwards to generate air pressure. The dancers were a series of women dressed in saris or skirts and tops that performed intricate hand movements. The was also a puppet master, who made his puppets dance in different ways.
The final act was performed by a woman who danced while balancing a stack of painted, wide-mouthed jars on her head. She began with one, and then added two more, and finally an additional three. It was an impressive feat of balance akin to a circus act.
At the performance I met a young man from South Africa who had just passed his actuarial exam and was taking a three-month break. He was with a young woman journalist from Mexico. After the performance we ate a meal together at the Savage Garden. I had falafel with fried eggplant, which was too oil-soaked to be appealing.
I hired a tuk tuk to take me to Ahar on the edge of town where there are more than 300 cenotaphs, or memorials to the Jaipur Maharanas and their wives and children. It’s an interesting site with all these white marble and stucco monuments clustered together. Their size depended on how rich each of the deceased was.
I also visited Nehru Park on an island in the middle of the smaller Fateh Sagar Lake north of Lake Pichola. It wasn’t anything special, and the short distance in a small, smelly, crowded boat wasn’t fun.
Because I’ve not been eating well lately, I decided to go to an upscale restaurant and chose the Udai Kothi in a hotel of the same name on the other side of the estuary across from my hotel. The ambience of the rooftop restaurant and the service was a pleasant change. My Mulligatawny soup was delicious and my Mutton Rajastpuna less so.
The highlight of the day was a boat trip on Lake Pichola with a stop at Jagmandir Island and its centuries old palace much of which is now a fancy hotel. The breeze on the lake was refreshing and I got to see some of the sights from a different point of view. Udaipur around the lake really is a pretty place with more high-end hotels than I suspected. The weather has been so so, not cold but very hazy. This place must really be something when the skies are clear and the sun shining.