We Went to India, Part 6: Udaipur

Okay. Now. You thought I’d forget to finish this, and I almost did, but I didn’t quite. We are almost done with this, bear with me while I continue to tell the seemingly interminable story about how we went to India. So we went from Jodhpur to Ranakpur and then from Ranakpur to Udaipur. Jodphur is off in the desert-y direction, but Ranakpur and Udaipur are not like that at all, and the scenery gets lusher and more hilly the closer you get to Udaipur. Udaipur is not very much like the other parts of India we have been to, mostly because it is a beautiful city. The foothills of the Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh and Darjeeling are beautiful, but the towns themselves are not so nice. Parts of the Andamans are extremely beautiful, but that is because they are remote. Calcutta has a lot of beautiful things in it, but I don’t know that anyone would argue that it is a beautiful city. But Udaipur is a genuinely attractive city.

It is entirely due to accident (also generally poor planning) that we ended up visiting Udaipur after Jodhpur and Pushkar and Jaipur; if it had been the other way around, we probably would have been incredibly disappointed. Udaipur is built around an enormous artificial lake in the middle of the city which has been there for a long time. Weirdly, the lake is still beautiful. This was the view from our tiny balcony:


Without Harriet in the way it looks like this:


And looking the other way – the big island in the middle of the lake is a fancy hotel accessible only by boat:


Here is the view at dawn:


We stayed in a haveli on the lake which was full of pleasant little spaces:


Like other havelis we stayed in, it was full of stairs and courtyards, though it also had an extremely large German shepherd puppy that Harriet was very interested in:


Harriet about to have a scenic breakfast:


Because of the afore-mentioned poor planning, we were not actually in Udaipur as long as we could have been, and I suspect there are a lot of nice things that we missed because Harriet was dragging us off in search of chandeliers or audioguides. However, we did see some nice things, mostly by accident. One of the nice things to do in Udaipur is the car museum. We had intended to go to a dosa restaurant run by quarrelsome waiters, but when we arrived there the dosa restaurant was closed because it was not late enough for dinner. However, we were invited to go to the car museum, which is where the maharana of Udaipur keeps their collection of cars. They have a lot of cars there! The guy who looks after them is extremely excited about cars, and told us a great deal about them. Also he was very interested in posing us in front of the important cars in such a way that it would look like we were touching the cars even when we were not:


(It is possible that this is the only family portrait of us that exists?) I don’t know if that’s actually a car or a carriage. The important thing is that we are not actually touching it, it just looks like we are. Here you see the man’s technique:


He is a true master. I am not sure that I have ever been to a car museum before so I cannot tell you how it compares to the other car museums, but it was a fine experience. They certainly had a lot of cars in Udaipur! Eventually the dosa restaurant opened up and we had dosas and they were delicious.

Udaipur does have cows roaming the streets, like other Indian cities, but the cows somehow do not make a mess and they are also more decorated than is usual:


The big thing to do in Udaipur is to visit the City Palace, which is enormous and still belongs to the maharana. It is a lovely palace, though most of the exciting things were off-limits to photography, so I didn’t take many pictures. Here, however, is the maharajah’s horse, dressed up as an elephant to confuse the enemy:


Enemies back then were, one suspects, generally dumber than they are now. But also they might not have noticed the poor disguises of the horses because they were dead afraid, as in this astonishing(ly poorly photographed) painting:


You will notice, in the upper left, the horse’s elephant costume. What is not clear because I had to take this picture surreptitiously is that the enemy and his horse have just been chopped in half with a single blow:


We spent a long time in this museum, in part because we had to take Harriet to part of it called the Crystal Gallery which was said to have the second-largest chandelier in India; the Crystal Gallery also had an audioguide, which slowed our progress down to nothing. They were very strict about people not taking pictures in the Crystal Galley, which consists of the maharana’s seemingly endless collection of crystal things, as well as a selection of awards not unlike those you could see in the National Museum of Libya that Qaddafi had been awarded. The maharana has a lot of sets of crystals. That said, the views from the palace are still very beautiful.

The other thing we did in Udaipur was to go the Haveli Museum, which is an enormous old building on the water that’s been turned into a museum full of exhibits attempting to explain a lot of things. There were, for example, a lot a Rajasthani puppets:


As well as what was said to be the biggest turban in the world:


(it is unfortunate that this picture makes it look like ground beef) as well as a very systematic presentation of the different turban styles of India:


Who can imagine what this man’s whiskers are made of:


And there are a lot of balconies on the lake:


In conclusion, Udaipur is very nice and you should go there. Other things happened there too, but who can remember them.

After that, we flew back to Delhi, and after that we came back to Bangkok, and that’s where we are now. The end.

We Went to India, Part 5: Ranakpur

Okay, we’re getting to the end. We got another guy to drive us from Jodhpur to Udaipur, stopping along the way to see the Jain temples at Ranakpur and then have lunch. Ranakpur is a tiny town not that far outside of Udaipur, but it does have some very attractive temples in it which I did a basically terrible job of photographing. Here is what the main one looks like from the front if you are a little bit tilted:


The interior is incredibly intricately carved columns and domes:


There are a lot of little courtyards:


And this is up in the hills so there are trees all around. Off in the distance (this is from a balcony) you can see a smaller temple:


I was immediately grabbed when I went into the temple by a fellow who claimed to be the high priest of the temple. Probably he wasn’t! He claimed he was better than the audio guide (I missed out on these again) though I have my doubts on this and still cannot really explain the architecture of Jain temples whereas Harriet probably can. But he took me on a whirlwind tour of the place and pointed out a lot of things very quickly, possibly because he was trying to avoid the authorities. He did give an address for the Jain temple in New York that seemed reasonably accurate, and I was impressed with that. You would do better to go to Wikipedia, which describes the place in some detail and has pictures of the best parts. Evidently each of the temple’s 1444 columns is individually carved and you could spend a long time looking at them all if you were so inclined.


The grounds of the temple are kept up beautifully and it’s pleasant to wander around: there are a couple of smaller temples as well.


This is one of the smaller temples:


Also the place is infested with monkeys. Here you see how the monkeys here have long tails:


And here another monkey considers his options:


I don’t understand why every single picture I took in Ranakpur seems to be tilted:


Maybe I was coming down with something? It doesn’t make any sense. None of my other pictures are tilted like this.


At least you get a sense what it was like to lurch through Ranakpur. I don’t remember lurching that much, but can the pictures really lie? I don’t know.

After we went to Ranakpur our driver took us to lunch at some place nearby where they had an ox-driven irrigation system that seemed to exist for the entertainment of small girls:

It was a pretty good time. Then we went to Udaipur.

We Went to India, Part 4: Jodhpur

So! Continuing. We left Pushkar for Jodhpur. Pushkar is not that far from Jodhpur, but the roads between – or at least the roads our driver took – were far and away the worst we ran into on this trip, and it took a very long time. Looking at the map, it might just be the route we took – if we’d gone back through Ajmer (which would have brought us up to 2/7ths of a pilgrimage to Mecca) it looks like we would have been going on less bouncy roads. Who knows! But because of this we arrived in Jodhpur relatively late in the day.

Because of last-minute changes in our itinerary, we ended up in Jodhpur a day earlier than we had imagined we would; we had already booked a hotel for the night we were going to be staying, but then it turned out they only had the room for one night so we got a room at another hotel. A lot of Jodhpur turned out to be admiring the insane old hotels of Jodhpur, which is fine. Our first hotel was not the finest place we stayed at, but we did have an extraordinarily large room, which consisted of a bedroom, another bedroom, a bathroom larger than the bedroom with a bathtub larger than the bed, and an enormous living room which we were not entirely sure was part of our room, seeing as there were many doors and only one lock. I think it was? It was hard to tell. Also that hotel had a swimming pool, which is not something one sees very often in Rajasthan, and it was nice to go swimming after a morning of riding camels.

We basically failed to see anything of Jodhpur the city, though I’m not entirely sure that we wanted to see that much of it. We went out and a lot of bangles were bought and then we wandered around and the touts kept telling more and more elaborate stories about the qualities of the markets there as opposed to the qualities of the markets here (touts speaking English makes traveling in India much more complicated than traveling in Thailand, as the main focus is on starting conversations and becoming your best friend rather than shouting the few English words one knows) and we eventually just gave up and went back to our splendid hotel room and lazed about there. Eventually we went off and had a fine dinner at what would actually be our hotel the next night, which is meant to have the nicest restaurant in the city; it’s on top of the hotel and has a fine view, though my phone is terrible at taking pictures of things at night:


That’s the big fort, Mehrangarh, which is perched above the city. During the day it looks like this – this is from the top of our first hotel, I think, which did not have quite such a nice view but then it was the morning and you could actually see things. Constraints, constraints, constraints. Ki was feeling somewhat under the weather the next morning, so we took it slowly, but we did go up to the fort, which is enormous. Here is near the entrance:


And this is a little further in:


And shortly after this our progress basically came to a halt because when you buy a ticket to the fort you get an audioguide and it turns out that Harriet is enormously interested in audio guides – that of Mehrangarh is narrated by the current maharajah – and listening to them to the very end.


So there was a lot of listening to audioguides. I did not have an audioguide so I cannot tell you anything about Mehrangarh except that the current maharajah is said to be very good at describing things. But the palace is pretty splendid.


It’s possible that I didn’t take pictures of some of the most exciting things because we weren’t allowed to? That was certainly the case in Udaipur and it might have been here. Mostly I didn’t know what was going on and whether to take pictures of things because no one would tell me anything. There were a lot of howdahs and some swords. Oh, also a lot of Rajput miniatures, which wouldn’t really photograph well. That was what they had.


The fort is very high and when you look out the window there are all sorts of birds of prey circling. I think these are kites, though maybe they’re eagles. Probably the audio guide would have explained this.


Here are some more kites flying over a courtyard:


I think at about this point we were accosted by the official palmist of Mehrangarh who gave us a brochure about reading palms with a lot of testimonials at how good he was and Harriet immediately became interested in palmistry and her life line and for most of the rest of the fort I had to explain that to her and thus could not take pictures of things. Here is a room with some nice colored glass light:


(I am not the first to notice how this is reminiscent of what Luis Barragán did in Mexico.) Somewhere around here we ended up in a performance of music for meditation where we were offered two hours of Indian hammer-dulcimer (I know, I know) music though I wasn’t sure that Harriet was up for that though we did make it through five minutes of it and it was restful if not exactly meditative because Harriet kept trying to use the audio guide to make it more interesting.

On the way out we met these Rajasthani musicians.


Everyone was having a fine time and there was dancing and we had some tea with them and it began to look like they would adopt Harriet into their troop but then Kim was feeling like she was about to die so we went back to our new hotel and that was the end of that. Our new hotel was not so much of a surprise because we had had dinner there the previous night but it was a lovely old building and we had a very grand room though the bathroom and bathtub were normal-sized and it did not have a swimming pool.


Then we went to bed. The next night we drove off to Udaipur by way of Ranakpur but that will have to wait for later.

We Went to India, Part 3: Pushkar

So after we went to Jaipur we got a guy to drive us to Pushkar. Initially we had been planning on taking trains all over Rajasthan but poor preparation meant that we ended up taking only one train. But: because we didn’t take any trains we got to go to Pushkar, which you can’t really get to by train. It is, however, between Jaipur and Jodhpur and it seemed like it would break up that drive nicely. So we went.

Pushkar is a town of 15,000 people, except for the first week of November when there’s the Pushkar Camel Fair and 100,000 people and their camels descend on the town to buy and sell camels. We missed that, which was convenient, though we did see a bunch of tents they were setting up to house the camel fair visitors. Pushkar is near Ajmer, which is a much bigger city. Visiting Ajmer evidently counts as 1/7th of the way to visiting Mecca; I don’t know if it counts if you drive through, but we did spend a lot of time driving around Ajmer while our driver tried to find the way to Pushkar, the normal road having been closed down by the police for reasons that never became clear. I am sure there are nice things about Ajmer, but we mostly saw goats.

Pushkar is a Hindu pilgrimage site; it is most notable because of its temple to Brahma. Brahma had some trouble with his wife in Pushkar and because of this he doesn’t get a lot of temples in India; he does, however, get a large number of shrines in Thailand (notably the Erawan Shrine). But Pushkar is full of temples; it also gets a lot of foreign tourists, some of whom seem to be there for a while. It’s a small town encircled by hills:


In the center of town is a lake:


There are a lot of cows wandering around Pushkar, of course. But there are also a lot of feral looking pigs who fight the cows for the most delicious trash:


Maybe there are so many pigs because Vishnu appeared here in the shape of a wild boar? I don’t know. We had a man take us around and tell us about the town though I missed a lot of what he was saying. Later he took us to his house and his wife and daughter-in-law gave Harriet some very complicated mendhi:


Pushkar is on the western edge of the Thar Desert, which stretches east into Pakistan. This was not immediately obvious when we were there, as we arrived just after the rainy season had ended and everything was pretty lush and green. But you can’t throw a stick in Pushkar without hitting a camel, and the hotel we were staying at offered overnight camel safaris, so we decided to to take an overnight camel safari. We were sent to the camel parking lot across the street and got two camels, who were named Jimmy and Krishna, as well as two camel-minders. They took us out of town; along the way, we got into this ridiculous traffic jam:


It is really hard to take phone pictures from the top of a camel, so these pictures are not so good. If you were taking an advanced sort of camel safari, you could have a little cart. We did not have any carts, we just had camels.

After a lot of honking, we made it out of town. The landscape quickly becomes beautiful:


Here are Krishna and Jimmy taking a break in a sandy patch:


Krishna was the more spirited camel; Jimmy was more relaxed. Getting on camels can be a community affair:


Maybe two miles out of town we came to a sandy area and our camel drivers explained that we would camp for the night there. They started making an extremely elaborate dinner that was only finished well after it was dark and Harriet had fallen asleep. In the interim, Harriet did some digging:


Krishna was not impressed:


Later we went to sleep:


Then in the morning we woke up and went back to our hotel where we had breakfast and also showers to get rid of all the sand. Eventually we drove off to Jodhpur, but that’s for next time.