Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Ranakpur to Udaipur

In which I wish I had heard the horse’s side of things and we learn that if you can love a camel you can love anyone
Starring a woman we (unfortunately) paid to dance on glass and a art teacher bullied into drawing a peacock

Having had a little taster of private transport we all decided to pay a bit extra to hire a car to get to Udaipur – a weighty £2.50 each.  Totally worth it.   We spent the extra time lazing on the roof of our amazing hotel staring out at the spectacular views.  

Udaipur is called the Lake City for rather obvious reasons – it is series of grand and ornate palaces perched in and around a large lake in a very picturesque manner.   Quite a few of them are now exclusive hotels that you can’t get anywhere near other than with a zoom lens on a on a boat cruise, but the rest are probably enough to palace you out for awhile.

 Our first stop was the City Palace which, for anyone currently considering their options in this matter, is available for hire as a wedding venue for the very reasonable rate of about £100 per person including dinner.  The local royal family still inhabit large portions of the palace which have been extended and modernised so that the older portions of the palace can be preserved and opened to tourists.  It’s rather dull to describe these things and you really have to be there to get a sense of what its like but I will say that the tiling and mosaics were absolutely breathtaking.  The palace is also unusual because it is built on a hill so the outsides are four or five stories high, but the central courtyard, that you go up several flights of steps to get to, is actually at ground level with a huge tree growing in the middle.  There are a lot of pools in the palace which were used by the Maharaj for “playing” (details were not provided).  Some of the galleries were also particularly interesting as they had artwork detailing the battles fought with the Moghul warriors.  The Moghuls taught their elephants to fight with swords and so the Maharaja’s warriors would put long fabric trunks on their horses so that the elephants would think they were their babies. Dubious but apparently true.  There were also two sculptures of a famous horse that had displayed great bravery by carrying its master to safety despite being badly injured and dying shortly afterwards – a matter it would have been good to get the horse’s opinion on (for the sake of historical accuracy).

One of the types of art that Rajasthan is particularly well known for is its miniature paintings – these aren’t really that miniature if you’re going to be technical about it but they do contain a great deal of fine detail.  We went to a demonstration to see how they’re done and I ended up with a teeny tiny elephant on my thumbnail. Some of the brushes are made from camel eyelashes (dead ones we were assured but honestly they’ll say anything in India if you start to look a bit worried).  Camels are used as imagery in a lot of the paintings because they’re the Rajasthani symbol of love – apparently if you can love a camel, you can love anyone.  I went back the next day for a class which was basically me sitting with one of the guys telling me which brushes to use and which colours to mix.  Once he had complied with my demands for him to draw the outline of the peacock, it all went swimmingly and the end result is sure to look rather fetching on my parent’s fridge where all my major works are still hung.

In the evening we went for a sunset cruise on the lake. This was effectively a competitive photographic event where the aim of the game was to jostle other foreigners out of frame so that YOU could get the best shot of the Lake Palace as we roared past. 

The shock of seeing other and having to mix with other tourists was mitigated with a trip to a very local, all-you-could-eat Thali place.  Everything got served up on steel plates and if you stopped concentrating for one minute you turned back to find a waiter topping up your dal or dropping another steaming chapatti onto your plate.

This was followed by a cultural show at one of the large havellis in town. I do hate a cultural show. Inevitably, just as you’re starting to enjoy it and revise all your formerly held views about cultural shows, you find yourself in the uncomfortable and disquieting position of realising that you have paid to watch something that looks both impossible and extremely painful. In this case, it was a woman bearing no less than 10 copper urns (added one at a time) on her head dancing, ultimately, on a pile of broken glass that she had unfurled from a napkin.  Aside from that it was pretty good with lots of interesting traditional instruments, some puppets and two other women with cymbals all up their legs that they played in am most entertaining manner. 

We also spent an afternoon out at the Monsoon Palace. Previously you were allowed to hire a autorickshaw to take you there but the path is so steep and so winding that after a few of them had toppled over the edge they’ve now limited traffic to taxis and the only dangers are the supposed tigers and leopards in the surrounding nature reserve. At the top of this incredible hill is a crumbling old ruin of a palace that is now mostly full of canoodling teenagers and cardboard cut outs of wild cats.  It’s an extremely strange place with one of the best views in northern India. 

On our last day I woke up decidedly ill.  Now if you’re going to spend a day on a bathroom floor in India, which decidedly you must, then this is the view you should have:


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