Monday, December 24, 2018

Udaipur ... and the long road home

At the Jaiwana Haveli I have upgraded to a ‘corner room’ which gives the best lake views, but on arrival we are shown to a different room. It’s a large refurbished room in a more modern wing of the hotel, but as it is twice the size and with better facilities than the ‘corner room’, we are satisfied. Udaipur is very touristed, and this is reflected in the more professional management of the accommodation. And also in the large numbers of western tourists, tourist shops and tuktuks surrounding our hotel. But at night it is quieter than Ghanerao!

We are situated at Lal Ghat, one of many ghats (bathing places) around Lake Pichola. Seeing local residents bathe and wash at these places is a common sight. Each ghat has a small temple, and the adjoining waters may be considered sacred.

We eat most nights at the rooftop restaurant at Jaiwana - it’s good, not expensive, and a lovely location, and we get to have breakfast there too. One night we walk over (just a minute or two away) to Jagat Niwas Palace Hotel, which has a classy restaurant (also a gorgeous hotel, but lake view rooms a bit too pricy for us). The location is unbeatable, but we are disappointed with the food, the tandoori platters (veg and non-veg) are rather boring and dry, and the extensive drinks menu is expensive. A special mention to Millets of Mewar, a healthy food restaurant, where we have the best cardamom lassi and organic peanut butter cookies.

Jaiwana Haveli - view from restaurant terrace
Breakfast table
Dawn view from 'deluxe' room
Bathing at Ambrai Ghat
While the tuktuk drivers have their own ideas about where we might like to drive to during our visit, we are determined to stay around the town and walk. I decide I’d like to get out of the tourist area and we walk up to Hathipole market, a couple of km away. There are few tourists, but it is very busy and dirty, and as everywhere in towns, difficult to walk with the amount of traffic, hooting motorcycles, dust and rubbish. After walking around for some time before finally finding a working ATM, Chris has had enough. But before we head back to Lal Ghat we get a tuktuk to drop us at the wine shop.  I ask for desi daru, a cheap, locally produced liquor, but am told that it’s 'only available in the lower shops’, so we stick with Indian blended 'scotch' whisky, which is not bad. An elephant ambles by - the one and only we have seen in our trip.

I do not do much shopping here, it’s just too touristy to be comfortable. But we do find a nice dusty-old-shop (DOS) just around the corner. An amazing collection of bric a brac and sculptures, quite highly priced, but I do finally find a few cheaper items: an old boteh (paisley) printing block and two amulets. I chat to the shop owner about art and photography and technology, apologise for not spending more, and tell him that I will send custom his way, but he has no business card! (I think this is the place).

I also want to check out the government craft shop just out of the city centre. I have tried these shops before, and they tend to be in out of the way places, with good fixed prices, but a poor range of stock. I admit it’s the fixed prices that are attractive to me, I hate more and more all the haggling with shopkeepers in the tourist shops. But the ceramics here are poor quality, the textiles just a bit better, and I pick up some rustic patchwork cushion covers. The back room has miniature paintings, which seem to be the usual rather kitschy stuff, produced for tourists. But I see an older,  slightly scruffy painting pinned to the wall - in spite of the condition the quality of painting is a cut above, and the price is ok ($28). I find out later that the artist, Tilak Gitai, is a prolific and much lauded painter of miniatures from Jaipur.

Tilak Gatai miniature painting
Bathing at the ghat 2
So … we ‘do’ the following -
City Palace - truly spectacular, but crowded with tour groups. Is it racist of me to say that the French groups are particularly annoying? Yes, I guess it is.
Bagore-ki-Haveli - a charming museum in a restored old house, that also hosts dance/puppet performances in the evening. Fun, but not a patch on Balinese performances we saw earlier in the year. There is definitely an opportunity in Rajasthan to manage regular folk dance performances in historic locations, it would be well supported as dance is so popular here.
Lok Kala Mandal - a very dusty, crusty old folk museum outside the old city, that has a good puppet and dance show in the evening. It's so retro, nothing seems to have changed since it opened in 1952.
Ahar Royal cenotaphs, also a bit out of town, a marvellous, slightly unkempt cremation ground full of old monuments to maharajahs and maharanis. Sadly the nearby museum was closed, due to renovation or something …
Jagdish Temple - a wonderful temple in old city centre with multiple daily ceremonies, gorgeous carvings, very welcoming, but no photos inside :(

Crowds at City Palace
Folk dance at Bagore-ki-Haveli
Mirrored apartment at City Palace museum
Dancers at Lok Kala Mandal
Ahar royal cenotaphs
Carving at Jagdish Temple
On the whole, Udaipur is still a really lovely place with its lakes, parks and palaces. Yes, tourists are a pest, but I console myself that we bring in the means to keep the cultural beauty going. And walk down any side street in the old city - the tourists are gone and it is just local neighbourhoods with cows and donkeys and chickens - lovely. Sadly, like elsewhere in India, motorised traffic, particularly motorcycles, is taking over and this makes walking no pleasure.

Back to Delhi …

I have booked an overnight train back to Delhi, 3rd class AC sleeper (2nd class all booked out). It turns out that our carriage is booked out by a school excursion group, so our compartment is full of giggling teenage girls. The teachers do the rounds: ‘Now don’t you disturb sir and madam!’. The girls chorus, ‘No, it is fine, they are our friends!’ It is true, they are very friendly and lovely and solicitous of our comfort, helping us to make beds when we are tired.

I have an idea that when we get back to Delhi we will have breakfast at Nizamuddin Station cafeteria, then stroll slowly to our guest house, about a 20 minute walk away. But when we arrive, it is chaos! I never saw so many people, tuktuks, cars … Chris, who is feeling unwell, says - Please let's get a taxi - but the traffic is in gridlock, so we walk a little way to extricate ourselves, then hail a tuktuk. He drives straight back into the bedlam! Oh well, we think - he knows the way - it’s just a 5 minute drive. Actually no, he doesn’t know the way, and stops multiple times to ask bystanders, one of whom says ‘A-block? that’s not Nizamuddin E, it’s Nizamuddin W’. That is so wrong! I whip out Google Maps and start directing, and we finally get there.

It must be the food I picked up at Udaipur station that’s brought Chris down with a tummy bug - damn! I leave him for the day and check out the National Craft Museum - stunning collections of carvings, ceramics and especially textiles - except there’s a power cut that means several galleries are barely viewable - very India. And do a bit more shopping - the Craft Museum Shop (where shopping is by the light of mobile phones!); Sunder Nagar - lovely but pricy antique shops; Khan Market for Fabindia and Anokhi (again). Mainly pick up some wood block printed fabrics, really a favourite thing  - a curtain, a tablecloth, a bedspread - somehow they are better value than buying by the metre).

Next day - Chris feeling somewhat better and dosed up - we head to the airport for the direct flight home, an advantage of flying Air India. But we also experience one of the disadvantages - our entertainment system AND reading light are not functioning. We take a sleeping pill and plan to snooze the flight away, until, at 2am Sydney time, we are woken for a meal. Oh, the joys of long-distance flying!

Wood block printed fabric
My favourite Anokhi dress
What was the most memorable part of our trip? India is a mess of contradictions, and is certainly challenging as well as fascinating:

Terrible amounts of rubbish and pollution, and an atmosphere choked with dust in a drought year, but breathtaking beauty of some of the landscapes and historic buildings.
Awful ugliness in the evident poverty, and the (oh too familiar) greed and entitlement of the richest in society, but beauty everywhere in everyday life, including the floral tributes of temple offerings and the startling multihued saris of the most humble road-workers and sweepers.
Great respect and even veneration for animals, and a preponderance of vegetarianism, but the condition of many roaming cows and dogs is sad, and the treatment of domestic animals seems cruel by our standards.
Some of the highlights have been staying in characterful heritage properties in small villages, where tourists are still a novelty, and we get to have a glimpse of real village life.

But everywhere we went:

The PEOPLE ...

Nowhere would you meet more welcoming, kind and curious people. After two minutes of conversation you are asked for intimate details of your life:
How old are you? How many children? Are they married? Why do you look so young? (My ‘blonde’ hair! One of the schoolgirls on the train says - You are so pretty! just like Barbie!).
There is so much deprivation and poverty, but we never perceive resentment, and we are welcomed everywhere. One expects, being a British colony for so long, that English would be widely spoken, but not so, even staff at tourist accommodations. There are many difficult and tortured conversations, we knowing no Hindi, and they no English, but the attempt at conversation is always there. There are frequent invitations to come home for tea, or a meal - though we don’t follow these up. It seems strange that just as we see Indians as exotic people, they also see us that way, and are fascinated, and love to photograph us.

Friendly locals in Ghanerao
Ganesha and Hindu bling!

and the PROBLEMS

The Hindu religion seems such fun with the bling, the festivals, the dancing - the most sacred colour is pink, for goodness sake! But still, it is complicit in social oppression via the caste system, and terrible discrimination and sexual violence against women. And there is the impression of a society that, while a democracy, is in some ways quite dysfunctional with endemic corruption in politics and public service. How will they ever solve emerging and critical issues such as pollution and traffic congestion? (The population is expected to outstrip China in just a few years, and over 50% of the population is under 25 years old.) The living conditions that most Indians, but especially the poorest, must endure is unimaginable for us.

People ask me - why travel in India when it is so physically and mentally challenging? I say - that is exactly why.

No comments: