Road signs are mounted on the sidewalk in India and at 'Indian' height. I know this now, thanks to a rather large lump on my head.
I'm in Udaipur, Rajisthan, which is the old Mewar capital of the Rajisthan area. Its described as India's most quintessentially romantic city, with the most famous landmarks being the Lake Palace Hotel and the Jag Mandir Palace both floating like small islands on Lake Pichola. I was fired up to come here by some undeniably romantic shots of Udaipur and Lake Pichola on the Udaipur Wikipedia page. I was hoping to take a few similar shots myself but instead was greeted by a rather large festering puddle, the remnants of Lake Pichola. Unfortunately, the monsoons have failed to provide enough rain in the past couple of years to be able to keep the level of the lake.
With what's left of the lake, they still run boats to the lake palace hotel, through a dredged channel. I can hardly imagine that its much of a romantic feeling with the skipper trying to avoid getting grounded. But, its the only way they let guests get to the hotel, with is rather exclusive at $850 per night. In an effort to keep the place exclusive and the rif-raf out, they have posted guards around the dry parts of the hotel, as no visitors are allowed. I'm staying at a somewhat salubrious place for $10 a night, where I took the above photo from my bedroom. No wonder they want to guard this place from intruders, the guests will be shocked at how the rest of us live all for probably less than they pay for a cuppa !
You'll probably be quite familiar with the sights of Udaipur as the 1983 James Bond classic, Octopussy was shot here. And so, not surprisingly, this place is Octopussy crazy. There's the usual plethora of Octopussy souvenirs and tat. Most of the budget guest houses play Octopussy on dodgy old VHS recorders every evening, as a 'means' to entice you in and try their fare. Even the unofficial guides tout their services by claiming they know various places used in the various 007 various. After some research watching Octopussy, I realized that they are talking complete crap, as I already know is the case with many unofficial guides.
Its all a little bit of a let down, however the town still has oodles of charm and ambiance which has meant I've settled in for a few days. And I've needed to, after breaking one of my golden rules:
- Don't drink the tap water. That means no ice, no salads washed in tap water and no mineral water with the top glued back on (yes, its happens !)
- Only eat at busy restaurants, ideally ones that locals frequent
- Always wash your hands before and after you eat, using disinfecting soap
- Stay veggie in all but the most tried and tested places
I broke rule number two and four with a chicken curry in an empty tourist restaurant during the low season. I'm not sure when they saw their last guest, never mind when the chicken last flapped its wings and if they have a backup supply for their fridge during power cuts (or even if they have a fridge ?). I knew I should have walked around to find another place, but it was the third four story building I'd climbed in search of a place that was open. Result ? Dehli Belly like I've never had before. So I've hauled up in Udaipur, which is not such a bad place to be. Its the first place I've stayed in the hotel which has wireless, so lots of catching up with the world in general.
Its has allowed me to wonder around town a little more, and it seems that Udaipur in the place to come for a wedding. Every day there are multiple wedding processions passing through some part of town and small parts of this town are given over to selling jewelry as a dowry for the bride. Given that most Hindi weddings take place over a week, its a pretty happening place. Each procession is different, one to go and get the groom, one to get the bride, one for prayer, one to visit the lakeside Ghats (of the dry lake !), etc. Each procession is let by a brass band and a silver cart containing a massive amp with singer seated inside. Its a epic sight, especially with a huge array of different coloured sari's in tow. But after a little more of a detailed look, I could see that none of the chaps brandishing the brass instruments were actually playing and one poor chap with a french horn had the thing upside down ! But no worries, from the silver cart had music blaring at a deafening load volume, with the singer chanting a Hindi tune at a deaf defining rate. In front of the procession is some chap letting off fireworks and Chinese firecrackers. I flinched. So did the horse carrying the groom. I thought it might bolt, but then again, I guess he's used to it by now. I'm not.
Groom on horse
Prior to Udaipur, I traveled from Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat. The journey over was my first 'sleeper' bus experience even though I opted for a normal reclining chair as it was during the day. The bus was a dirty, infested flea pit and I was glad I did not need to spent the night on one of the higher level beds. It was obvious the chairs nor the beds had ever been cleaned. I've been really amazed at the total lack of maintenance in many of India's services, never mind preventative maintenance. I think the bus operators idea of keeping the upholstery clean is to leave the wrapping on the chairs for as long as it lasts, then just letting the upholstery get dirty. I mean, why don't they send the bus to an upholstery cleaner every month ? Surely they could operate with higher fares if the differentiated the service, or do Indians really care ? I am totally perplexed by this.
I spent the day in Ahmedabad wondering the town and markets. It was a interesting place, although busy and polluted. In addition to Mumbai, its now the second place I've seen that has mandated taxis to use natural gas. This includes the auto-rickshaws and I really noticed the difference in a crowded street with rickshaws flying past - here I did not have to cover my mouth in disgust (until a bunch of motorcyclists come past, which doesn't take long!). Natural gas is cheaper that petrol and this is reflected in the pricing of the rickshaws, as well, I believe, in the attitudes of the drivers. They were the most honest bunch I've met, I even had a couple of guys only ask for 20 rupees straight-off, which is a first. Speaking of environmental issues, I really can't remember seeing an incandescent light bulb in India so-far... they are all florescent. Why is it taking the west so long to wake up to the cost saving revolution, never-mind a green one ?
The highlight of my time in Ahmedabad was a visit to Gandhi's ashram, where Gandhi spent around 15 years of his life. It was packed with loads of well thought out background and it really brought into perspective how and where Gandhi formulated his ideas, as he changed from a well dressed lawyer in South Africa to a 'man of the people' dressed in a hand made white cloth, of which we are all familiar. Here Gandhi spent a large amount of his time reading, learning, thinking about the problems facing India, writing to people with such humility and living by a set of rules that many of us can learn from. It was an interesting place.
Tomorrow I'm moving on to Jodhpur, for a very short period before I hit the desert in Jaisalmer. I just hope that the 3 hour bus journey is kind to me and my Delhi Belly.