Leaving Jodhpur we traversed the typical flat and dry terrain of Rajasthan for a while.
We were supposed to camp on future nights, so Ali was scanning the roadside for firewood. We came upon a few kilometres where the locals had been cutting a lot of brush, leaving the cuttings in the ditch. We pulled over in the scrub and began harvesting. This led to one of the most comical of our road adventures.
Just as we packed our wooden booty onto the truck a guy appeared on a motorcycle and began remonstrating with the harvesters. It soon became clear that he wanted money for this wood. Ali began bargaining with him. Apparently these cuttings were what the local community planned to use for their daily cooking. In a stalemate, the motorcycle guy got on his phone and contacted the community elders. They found someone who spoke English so a brief discussion followed. And in a few moments we at the mercy of the authorities!
So we drew up our heavy gun: Doug. More bargaining by phone ensued. Doug’s tenacious battling with the Glasgow Council paid off. We narrowly avoided having the truck impounded and the lot of us entombed in the Black Hole of WhereverweWere. Instead, we unloaded the wood- except for two sticks which we were granted as a way of saving face on both sides.
Eventually we left the dry plains, heading up some narrowing roads to the Jain Temple of Ranakpur in dense forest populated by a lot of monkeys. The architecture of the shrine is quite impressive. It celebrates the Māru-Gurjara style of Rajasthani architecture, originating in the sixth century in areas marrying the RajasthanI (Maru is the former name of Rajasthan) and Gujarat (Gujara) cultures.
The renowned Jain temple at Ranakpur is dedicated to Tirthankara Rishabhanatha. Dharna Shah, a local Jain businessperson, started construction of the temple in the 15th century following a divine vision. The temple honors Adinath, the first Tirthankar (religious leader) of the present cycle of the Jain ‘wheel of time’ ( called “avasarpiṇī a period of increasing sorrow and immorality”…hmmm) , according to Jain cosmology. The town of Ranakpur and the temple are named after the provincial raj, Rana Kumbha, who supported the construction of the temple.
Light colored marble has been used for the construction of this grand temple which occupies an area of approximately 60 x 62 meters. The temple, with its distinctive domes, shikhara (high towers), turrets and cupolas rises majestically from the slope of a hill. Over 1444 marble pillars, carved in exquisite detail, support the temple. The pillars are all differently carved, … no two pillars are the same. (modified from Wikipedia)
The temple is full of remarkable marble statues, many depicting elephants.
The carving is exquisitely elaborate. This looks like a prayer wheel.
Apart from the throngs of tourists and pilgrims, the main occupants are the locals.
Some apparently practicing the Indian art of nail-sitting.
Here we did sample the simple thali meal offered to the masses (for a few rupees in this case). Interacting with the other participants was quite fun.
As we continued we encountered some of the toughest terrain, rising up the steep slopes of the mountain ranges of the massive Deccan Trap forming the Western Ghat Escarpment, some of the oldest rock in India dating back to the primeval Gondwanaland continent.
The drive was complicated by fact that leader James suffered a serious ailment- headache, fever. All the way from Jodhpur he slumped on the back bench of the truck, looking quite stressed. So Ali did all the driving, round the endless switchbacks. It was really fun to see faces of local macho males when they saw her in control of our huge truck. Significantly, Archie filled the co-pilot’s seat, and another role as well, as we shall soon hear.
For some time we traveled narrow switchbacks following a stream up deep canyons…
…eventually reaching the flatlands of the high plateau…
…and an entirely different terrain on the highlands…
…eventually leaving Rajasthan and reaching the Udaipur region.
Udaipur, on the shores of Lake Pichola, the lower of the two lakes on the left of this fuzzy topological map, is popularly known as the City of Lakes because of the chain of lakes on the Berach river system, which eventually drains into the Ganges.
Five of the major lakes- Fateh Sagar, Pichola, Swaroop Sagar, Rangsagar and Doodh Talai, are covered by a restoration project of the National Lake Conservation Plan (NLCP) of the Government of India.
Udaipur was founded in 1559 by Maharana Udai Singh of the Sisodai rajput, in the fertile circular Girwa Valley to the southwest of Nagda, on the Banas River. The city was established as the new capital of the Mewar kingdom. This area already had a thriving trading town, Ayad, which had served as capital of Mewar in the 10th through 12th centuries. The Girwa region was thus already well-known to Chittaud rulers who moved to it whenever their vulnerable tableland Chittauraurgh (Chittor, about 100km downriver to the west) was threatened with enemy attacks. Maharana Udai Singh II, in the wake of 16th century emergence of artillery warfare, decided during his exile at Kumbhalgarh to move his capital to a more secure location. Ayad was flood-prone, hence he chose the ridge east of Pichola Lake to start his new capital. There he came upon a hermit while hunting in the foothills of the Aravalli Range. The hermit blessed the king and advised him to build a palace on the spot, assuring him it would be well protected. Udai Singh II consequently established a residence on the site in 1553. In November 1567, the Mughal emperor Akbar laid siege to the venerated fort of Chittauraurgh. To protect Udaipur from Mughal attacks, Maharana Udai Singh in 1559 built a six kilometre long city wall, with seven gates. The area within these walls and gates is still known as the old city or the walled city.
As the Mughal empire weakened, the Sisodia rulers, reasserted their independence and recaptured most of Mewar except for Chittor. Udaipur remained the capital of the state, which became a princely state of British India in 1818. Being a mountainous region and unsuitable for heavily armoured Mughal horses, Udaipur remained safe from Mughal influence despite considerable pressure. With independence the Mewar province became part of Rajasthan in 1947. At present, Arvind Singh Mewar is the 76th custodian of the Mewar dynasty.
In any case, in good time we reached our fine hotel, the Supreme ( supreme indeed!)
on the edge of the lake.
From the patio above and to the right of the blue roof we had a superb view of the floating palace, now a hotel where a room can run to thousands of pounds. We could not get 14 of us into one so we settled for some at the Supreme.
We were in a fine area, near the edge of the water,
surrounded by other upscale hotels…
..a local museum,
several tiny bookstores, and at least one dog
Because we were to stay in Udaipur for 3 days, Ali, now our de-facto leader, took James to the American Hospital not far from our hotel. I thought we should elect a new co- driver, and that I had the inside track by way of seniority. Turns out there were other qualfiications.
One of the first things I did was visit the museum, an ancient house full of local oddities
Like a collection of puppets, who actually worked in the adjacent theatre where we saw a perfomance
Typical household scenes
including wonderful decoration
Dipictions of typical events like a royal procession
Our hotel lies just below Udaipur City Palace
which we all visited on a hot and busy morning.
starting in the exterior gardens
guarded by a fierce and untouchable warrior
Needleass to say it was a holiday so the crowds were massive. That’s Steve ahead in the unending queue.
But we wended our way through some glorious chambers of the former regal residence
some museum pieces, including a steam-driven fan
and some more palanquins
Fortunately the palace also offered some respite (for us) from the crowds in internal squares and gardens
and fine views of the city and lake
Later, we headed for the narrow alleys of the markets, which Pete and I had already cased…
Including a parking lot for miscellaneous conveyances…
We did not buy much. However, becoming familiar with the streets helped us find the hospital..and James.
Doug and I visit
On our run down from Jodhpur James had become increasingly sick, extremely tired and headachy. Doctor Doug (Celtic witchcraft) and I (PhD) read some bones we found in the street and diagnosed heat stroke- but the hospital thought James had dengue fever. Prognosis: 8 days rest.
We knew it was the American Hospital because it cost $800 US just to get admitted, $120 a day for the room, and $30 per staff visit. Dengue fever it was. We figured James must have picked it up during or very first days in India, perhaps in the Treehouse jungle. Dengue is not contagious, spreads by mosquito with an incubation period of 4-10 days. Since he started symptoms more than 10 days previously he probably got a bite in the safari park around 14 Oct. Which suggested the rest of us were safe.
Anyway he was pretty well treated; and we brought him a load of chocolate and other treats. Since the treatment required days of hospital rest, we eventually abandoned James; he was to follow by train to join us almost a week later in Mumbai.
Meantime we selfishly enjoyed some of our best times in Udaipur. Days began and ended on the fabulous rooftop patio of the Supreme Hotel.
The breakfasts were excellent, a grand choice of eggs, bacon ham, even porridge for the homesick, tasty yogourts and fresh fruit salads. We closed the day there with Kingfishers of course, but dined outside, as a group on our final night, and a few of us on a spectacular lakeside patio looking over the water towards our hotel. Really fine food.
As I recall I had lamb, I think Doug had a steak and risked some local wine with not-so-good results, and Greg had- what else?- birani. I can’t remember who else was with us, maybe Carol. I think Ian and Marilyn were already there at a separate table.
Other parts of our stay also made Udaipur especially memorable. For one thing, in the heat I sought out a pool on the roof of an adjacent hotel where I enjoyed a fine afternoon til sunset.
For copyright reasons I don’t have shots of the English bathing beauties also taking the waters.
The mug shots were alas not taken by the beauties but by hotel staff who interestingly informed me that the hotel hosted the stars of the first Marigold movie when they were shooting nearby.
So they had enlarged photos and autographed movie posters on the walls.
The other big attraction was the supreme Hotel itself. This time Pete and I shared, a modest room virtually in the lobby- I thought maybe we were expected to serve as night-staff and let in the drunks afterhours. We had a narrow view of an alley and lived with its urban orchestra of barking dogs and indigenous disputes. But I spent a lot of time in the lobby talking with half the ownership, two 30-something brothers. For one thing I was continuing my battle with the fraudulent Russian ‘travel agent’, who scarfed my payments, this time for the flight out of Mumbai to Amsterdam, having to rebook thru the hotel.
Doug and I had great long conversations with the half-owner, a lively entrepreneur, about India, its development, world politics (he predicted a Trump victory). He had a memorable summary of the reasons Indians were slow to develop their economy. I quote: “they don’t give a shit”.
He also had a lovely new pup.
In return for his hospitality I provided him with a good laugh. On the way out to dinner, he looked at my new red shift that I had bought in a Delhi market and exclaimed “That’s a girl’s dress!!”. No, no I said. But as we whistled thru the streets, several groups of young men lounging streetside shouted out “that’s a girl’s dress!!”
Well, I thought it was quite handsome
I think the others I brought home for the lads in the family have been passed to the nearest female…
Udaipur certainly marked yet another highlight in a string of them. I can see myself spending Januaries lounging on that rooftop patio and soaking in the pool.
It also marked the blooming of the dramatic Ali-Archie romance. There was some sort of fuss over Archie trying to get a private room for himself, not sharing with some other guy, though not necessarily not-sharing…Thus began another beyond-the-pale event in a long string of them on this trip: phantom breakdown, driver dengue fever, passenger as co-pilot, on-board romance and eventually fist-fights and premature departures.
Do all Dragoman tours have so much fun?