Oxen driven irrigation system outside Ranakpur
Kalu picked us up this morning (apparently Nandu is meeting us tomorrow in Ranakpur and swapping jobs with Kalu) and we drove out of Udaipur heading into the Aravali Hills that stretch across Rajasthan. Unlike other parts of Rajasthan, Udaipur and the surrounding areas are green and riddled with lakes and desert trees and cactus. Elegant sari-clad women delicately walk down the roads balancing large, heavy looking bowls, baskets or packages on their head. Nicely built stacked stone walls cover the landscape marking individual farms.
It is a really pretty, desert landscape and Kalu was telling us how he bought some farmland and was going to grow Mangoes and Guavas and built a weekend home here. Busses packed with construction workers both inside and on the roof headed back towards Udaipur and Kalu told us that the workers make 50 Rupees a day (just over $1) but that they are smart because “they do two day’s work in 4 days!”
Old Man outside Ranakpur
The road turned into a windy, one point something lane road, snaking up towards Ranakpur in the hills. At one point, a pile of rocks delineated “road work” and we had to detour off onto some very bumpy, dirt roads skirting around the construction. We really liked the ingenious irrigation system shown in the picture of the water wheel.
Basically they dig a deep well (the water looked really clear and inviting) and then built a water wheel with “cups” on it that dump water into brick channels directed towards the fields. A large cog drives the water wheel with two oxen walking in circles. The old man in the picture was hanging out at the water wheel (when I showed him his picture, he laughed and we don’t think he was happy with the shot…)
We first stopped at the huge, fifteenth century Kumbalgarh Fort strategically positioned between Udaipur and Jodhpur and virtually immune to attack. The Mughal’s attempted to attack for so long that rumor has it, one of their generals “Ate ate a mango and then planted a tree from the seed” and was still around when the tree was grown and producing fruit ten years later.
The walls of the fort are over 36 kilometers long and massive, tall and wide - supposedly wide enough for 6 horses to ride abreast. Within the fort are a King’s palace and a Queen’s palace named “The Palace of the Winds” where indeed, the delicately carved marble windows provide an almost air-conditioned effect with the wind whipping through them and cooling the darkened, high-ceiling rooms. Within the confines of the fort are many, many temples and a game reserve. We stopped by a couple of the closer temples including the Vedi Temple and another with an interesting statue of a carved black lingham.
More windy, spectacular driving to get to Ranakpur and check in at our quaint little hotel, the Ranakpur Hill Resort with nice, impeccably clean (for India) rooms and a refreshing and spotless pool.
After a bit of a rest, we went to the amazing and intricate Jain Temples. Jainism is a relatively small religion only practiced in India from roughly 600 B.C. (that would be before Christ, not “Before Cindy”…) just around the time of the start of Buddhism. Jainism holds five major vows that the lay people and ascetics follow:
Black Lingham in temple at Kumbalgarh
1. Not to harm any living creature - Jainism practices strict vegetarianism as killing of animals or anything with a soul is not permissible.
2. Always speak the truth.
3. Never steal.
4. Complete chastity - sort of sounds like the opposite of Mormonism and seems it would make it difficult for the religion to grow.
5. Give up all possessions (and for one sect, this includes clothes!)
There was a bit of consternation entering the temple.
We had paid both the entrance and the camera fee, intending to use only my camera but a less than pleasant woman searched Cindy’s bag and told her she had to leave her camera at the ticket gate (not exactly secure). Cindy was somewhat pissed - maybe she thought all non-Jain’s lie…Anyways, once inside, the temple is incredible with a reported 1,444 intricately carved marble columns, each completely unique. In the center is a raised platform with a central building housing a four-headed marble statue. Around the perimiter of the temple are 66 “mini-temples” each with a carved deity inside and a domed roof. Even the ceilings are amazingly and intricately carved.
Ranakpur Jain Temples
We went to take a walk to a local Lake before sunset but weren’t sure of the way so decided to walk back to the hotel, regroup over a beer and ask for directions (it’s ok, we aren’t in America so I can ask here J).
We sat down in the restaurant and struck up a conversation with a Canadian couple, Arieh and Val who are on a year long, round the world type trip. They too are doing the car thing and offered to take us to the lake with their driver which we gladly accepted. We drove (only another few hundred yards past where we walked) and then scrambled up the dusty hill to a dam and a very pretty and secluded lake, complete with gigantic crocodile basking on the sun drenched shores across the lake. We hung out for sunset (Cindy snapping a pic of me talking to Brooke back home on my cell phone to send to Paul and Jason who were there on Mt. Vesuvius on our 10th anniversary when I couldn’t get a damn cell signal - she has the same shot from Machu Picchu and is apparently starting a collection…)
Jain Temple Ceilings
We had a really nice dinner on the lawn by the pool at the resort and ended up talking with Arieh and Val as well as there new found friends Toshar (I am sure that is spelled wrong) and his wife Charmi (spelled wrong too) who are Indian but now live in Dubai.
Tomorrow we head off to the supposedly cool and charming Mount Abu, Rajasthan’s one hill station.
Jain Temple Columns
Mount Abu - 04/19/07
Well it is a scenic but very slow and serpentine drive from the valley up the hills into Mount Abu. Nandu our driver cautiously wound his way up the hill as we climbed higher. At one point, there had been an accident and a large group of people were tying a man up to the barrier and lowering him down into the chasm (several hundred feet), presumably to retrieve something or someone. It didn’t look good. I later asked Nandu if he had heard what happened and he said “No, but many accidents.
” Then he smiled and jokingly (hopefully) said “Shortcut!”
Jain Temple Tower and Flag
We pulled into Mount Abu and I have to say, we weren’t impressed. We drove through the small, dirty city and eventually made our way over to Nikki Lake where our suggested hotel, the Lake Palace Hotel was situated. Well there was a lake but the hotel was anything but palatial, actually it was a total dump, dingy, dark and grimy and Cindy said no way after looking at three rooms. Their laconic manager shrugged as if he didn’t give a damn anyway and we hopped back in the car, asking Nandu if there was another place. We had marked one in our book and asked him about that, but he said “No good. Many Indians from Gujarat coming to drink”.
Apparently, Gujarat, the state just south of Mount Abu, is a dry state so the locals all bus there way up to the cooler heights of Mount Abu to tie one on. Strike two. We had read about a place called the Cha Cha hotel, affectionately described as quirky and glitzy by our guide so we thought we would give that a shot.
Jain Temple Columns and Elephant
The young guy at the front desk of the Cha Cha hotel, Dev, was a really nice, smiling kid and convinced us that the Cha Cha is the place to stay, albeit for one night since a large group from AirTel was coming the next day. We picked a “quirky” and marginally clean room on the second floor, happy that we would only be in Mount Abu for the night and headed out with Nandu to see the sights.
The big site to see in Mount Abu is the Dilwar Jain temples where, once again, you are not allowed to take pictures.
All the guidebooks say that these are the best examples of the intricate and ornately carved, mutli-column Jain temples in the area. Upon first glance, the first temple is not so impressive. We found out later that it was actually built by the mason’s building the main temples as a tribute to themselves utilizing leftovers, chipped columns, poor color marble, etc. Inside, there are a couple of amazing temples, very similar to the ones we saw in Ranakpur with many, many huge marble columns, each uniquely carved, ceiling reliefs with incredible carving and, of course, the occasional begging monk. It was nice but, having seen and liked the little village of Ranakpur which is much easier to get to and way more laid back, we could have taken a pass on this one.
Apsara at Jain Temple
Afterwards, we hiked up to the Adhar Devi CaveTemple, 220 hot steps up into the hills where a bizarre complex of brightly painted cave temples, some sky blue, some green, some orange is situated.
Again, no pictures allowed so you will have to imagine creeping through crevices and peering under low hanging boulders to see a Sadhu (holy man) sitting in an incense filled cave with lots of little idols, paintings and other finery.
Workers at Jain Temples in Ranakpur
We walked around a park at Nikki Lake, filled with Indian tourists and looked at the decaying swan shaped paddle boats (not exactly Suladan) and had an ice cream before walking around and looking at some of the shops. Nandu suggested that we go to Sunset Point and climb up to a temple on the hill to watch the sunset which never really materialized. The highlight of that hour squatting on a rock was having local, teenage boys try to sell me “Shilajeet” which is some weird resin thing that you mix into a tonic to cure everything from PMS to “lack of sexual appetite”. When we refused to buy that, they tried saffron instead, all to no avail.
We had dinner at the Cha Cha in the garden where there were musicians, magicians and the most annoying puppeteer blowing some damned bird whistle thing.
Dinner was actually good and a nice break from the not-so-nice little city of Mount Abu. Tomorrow we are off for Jodhpur and then the desert.
Lake at Ranakpur