New Video - Actually outside of Udaipur en-route to Ranakpur we stopped at the Khumbulghar Fort with a short video attached at the bottom of the photo section here...
We had a leisurely dinner and then Raju came to pick us up for the noisy ride to the train station. Actually there was an ongoing dilemma with our tickets. First, my ticket was mistakenly issued with an “F” in the Sex field. We are not sure why this is important (I can’t imagine the train berth cares) but to the documentation obsessed Indian’s, this was a major problem and thus the ticket had to be re-issued.
Second, the travel agent mysteriously requested an additional 600 Rupees for our tickets, telling us that the “Taktal agent” (a guy who you essentially pay to move you up the waitlist to get a seat) was at home when he “estimated” the fare. Miraculously, when I brought my laptop down to his office with the Indian Railways Website up showing the fare, he hemmed and hawwed and gave us our money back after a call to the agent. Finally, our births were not together but he assured us that all we had to do was “ask for TT and he will fix!” We think that TT is the affectionate moniker for the “Ticket Taker” who did indeed convince a large, disgruntled Indian man to switch berths so that Cindy would not be all alone with three Indian guys.
The Udaipur Lake Palace Hotel from the Monsoon Palace
We bid our farewells to Raju and headed into the station, finding our car on our own and plopping down to wait for TT. After we moved to the end of the car where we had a “honeymoon” berth with an upper and a lower on the side of the car (a bit skinnier and shorter than the main berths but more private) we met another traveling couple.
It ends up that Ashu who is Indian and a trekking guide in Manali where we hope to be in June and his new bride (whose name we actually never got) from Ottawa Canada were traveling through Rajasthan on their honeymoon. I asked him how he liked it and he said “It is way to hot here!” We may try to hook up with him in June and go trekking - they met on one of his treks and were very exuberant about how great the trekking up there is (Cindy is not sold on 20+ days of tents and peeing outdoors…)
Cindy and Leopard Friend at Monsoon Palace
The train ride itself was not bad (we did indeed upgrade from Third AC to Second Class AC based on the Agra train - look how happy Cindy looks in the pic in her upgraded surroundings!) and we felt safe and relatively cool.
I did wake up to pandemonium late in the night. We were pulled over at some small station and, ironically, one of the guys from Cindy’s original berth had a teenager by the scruff of the neck and was yelling furiously with a huge crowd of onlookers all voicing their opinion and one beret wearing cop with a large bamboo pole. We assume he caught the kid trying to nick stuff from their compartment. We woke up with about an hour to go to Udaipur and talked with Ashu and his wife.
Udaipur City Palace at night across the lake
After exiting the madness of the train station (for some reason there was a guy at the very crowded exit examining tickets but he ignored us) we walked to the pre-paid tuk-tuk booth to avoid having to negotiate with the touts or suffer through another handicrafts visit (“No buying! Just looking!”) and met Kalu, our driver. Kalu was a nice guy with a pleasant demeanor and a nice smile and a tricked out tuk-tuk with newly upholstered, white leather interior.
Sweet! We wound through the relatively small and calm city towards our final luxury stay at the Hilton and, after explaining to Kalu that “I work with the Hilton so we stay for free” lest he get the wrong idea that we are wealthy, we discussed the possibility of a sunset ride up to the Monsoon Palace and perhaps a tour of the city the next day. He also started the pre-sales/value proposition process of selling us on hiring a car and driver for the rest of our Rajasthan visit (which we actually like doing and will consider if the price isn’t exorbitant).
Udaipur City Palace across the lake
After being greeted by the third, large, hugely mustached Rajasthani doorman, we went to check-in where I was told that, being a Hhonors Diamond, my room had been upgraded to a “Pool View” room. When I asked about breakfast, I was once again informed that “you may only have one upgrade as per the upgradation policy” - we opted for the included breakfast and ended up with a nice “Garden View” room that actually was nicer than the pool rooms if a bit far.
Someone needs to tell the Hilton Management here that, as a Diamond member, they are supposed to kiss my ass like I am used to! J
Jag Mandir Island in Lake Pichola
Udaipur seems to be a much nicer town than Jaipur, Agra or Delhi with less traffic, less horns, less pollution and craziness and Cindy is starting to feel more settled. Udaipur is known as the White City and also the City of Lakes and is a lot cooler, higher and lusher than most of the rest of Rajasthan.
We decided to walk into town (always a bad idea according to the hotel management who, as mentioned before, think we can’t walk for 20 minutes) and find some lunch and ended up stumbling into a cute little place called “Savage Garden” which actually had pretty good food and pretty cold beer.
Royal Tombs in Udaipur
We headed up to the Monsoon Palace, up a hill a bit outside of town and overlooking the lake to watch sunset with Jamil, Kalu’s “brother” who we think is actually either his cousin or nephew, everyone here seems to be “brothers”. The Maharana of Udaipur built several palaces here including the City Palace, the Lake Palace which is indeed in the middle of Lake Pichola which thankfully is filled with water again after five years of drought and the Monsoon Palace up on the hill.
The views were really nice and the fake leopards in front of the museum were a crack up. Afterwards, Jamil took us to his friend’s guesthouse The Lakeside Hotel and Café du Lac right on the lake overlooking the Palace and started pressing on the car service angle. Still waiting to hear about our Bhutan trip, we told him we probably wouldn’t decide until Monday. We had a beer and politely declined the offer to watch “Octopussy” which is a Roger Moore era James Bond flick that was partially filmed in Udaipur which has resulted in every guest house advertising nightly showings. The owner and Jamil got involved in a heated game of caroms, each proudly claiming that they were the “guru” and teaching the other. Fun to watch.
Maharana Temple Idol that I liked in Udaipur
OK someone has to teach the cooks at the Hilton that raw bacon is not good for you and that scrambled eggs aren‘t supposed to look like mushy curds! The breakfast buffet is somewhat less than stellar but edible (and with our “downgrade“ in room, at least included).
After breakfast, Jamil picked us up in our spiffy white leather tuk-tuk and we cruised around Udaipur, first stopping at Sunset Park Garden for views of the lake. There were some impressive fountains but unfortunately they were not running due to the recent drought. We also made a brief stop just outside of town at Ahar which are some Jain royal cremation grounds with lots of ornately carved tombs on top of large pedestals. We thought the pottery hanging from ropes in the middle of some of the tombs was an offering or had some meaning but it ends up that it is just water for the omnipresent pigeons…
Elephant in pond at the Ladies Gardens
Moti Magri Park is a nice enough garden park overlooking the lake (which was actually man made in the late 1600’s by damming up the valley). The statue in the picture is Maharana Jai Singh on his favorite horse Chetak who supposedly performed incredible battle feats against the Mughals including wearing a fake elephant mask to confuse attacking elephants and jumping across a giant abyss to save Jai Singh’s live, even though Chetak was mortally wounded in battle.
As we were driving up the hill to the park, Jamil asked if we knew what the English called speed bumps (of which there were many on the way up). We said “No” and he informed us that, in England, a speed bump is a “Sleeping Policeman”.
Cool old Ambassador Taxi
We stopped at one of the handicraft outlets and were shown how a variety of textiles and Rajasthani miniature paintings are made. We ended up buying a tablecloth for the backyard that is supposedly hand-stamped with camel bone carved blocks after bargaining to get the “special morning price”. Too funny. The paintings are really pretty cool but we opted to get those direct from an artist later and bypass the middleman.
We tuk-tuked (is that a verb?) over to Sahelion ki Bari aka the “Garden of the Maids of Honour” and wandered around the pretty gardens and (smelly) fountain, all naturally fed from the ground and pulsating high in the air.
In the back was a pretty Lotus Pond with some large carved Elephants. After the garden, we saw a procession of local villagers dressed in their native garb. Jamil asked if we could take their pictures of the incredible jewelry and costumes and got their village addresses so we can send him some copies. Afterwards, we walked through a small local vegetable and spice market which was nice but it was kind of hazy. Then we met a local family, there must have been at least a dozen of them, who were really nice and asked if we would take their photos and then send them some. Hey Frank - maybe you could make a go of it here! We stopped for a glass of fresh Mango juice, first asking Jamil if there was any water in the juice (wanting to avoid another Cindy Cusco Juice Incident - see the blog on Peru from last summer. When Jamil said “No water, only ice!“ Cindy's eyes bugged out and I think she almost spit out her juice.
Sugar Seller in Udaipur Spice Market
I am pretty sure it is purified ice that they buy, we shall see… Anyway it tasted fantastic.
Fruit Market in Udaipur
We finished the day relaxing at the pool where we ended up meeing Jigneetha, a very exuberant English/Indian girl who was visiting her boyfriend who is from Jaipur. She proceeded to tell us her life story and asked over and over if she should marry him and move back to India. We must look like shrinks or something - we told her she should do what her heart says (and that, while living in India might be tough, it also has its benefits). We made Vodka & Tonic’s in our room with some locally purchased “Magic Moments” Vodka, pretending like we were British Aristocracy and then walked into the old part of town for a rooftop dinner at the Udai Kothi hotel and restaurant (good food, marginal service).
Village Women in classic dress
Today we did more Udaipur city touring with Jamil, first visiting the City Palace where we used the services of one of Raju’s other “brothers/friends” who is a guide at the Palace. The “Sun Dynasty” of the Maharana rulers of Udaipur (originally the Ranas of Mewar) is the second longest dynasty in the world next to the Japanese Emperors, dating back to the seventh century. Only Udaipur has a Maharana (a step up from Maharaja) and they were the only of the Rajasthani kingdoms not to be ruled by either Mughals or really the British, being fiercely independent and great warriors. The palace is the largest one in Rajasthan and is pretty incredible with inlay work, tile work, carvings, etc. - very lavish and big and divided into King’s sections and Queen’s sections.
It overlooks Lake Pichola and the Lake Palace and provides some nice views of the city, mottled with Blue Brahmin houses. The one photo of the windows were for the King’s sixteen wives (there are actually 17 windows “just in case..”). The mirrored room and the “Peacock Courtyard” were particularly impressive. For the low, low price of $250,000 you can celebrate your silver or golden anniversary here complete with party, food, lights in the tree’s, etc. I don’t think the Maharana shows up thought L
Village Boy in classical dress in Udaipur
Afternoon Bhutan update: My cell rang and it was Kencho at Snow White Tours.
Apparently the internet in the entire country of Bhutan has been down for three days so she has had no access to email and presumably the banks don’t have any access to wire transfers. The saga continues - I told her we would check email when we get back to the hotel, but that we hadn’t received any emergency calls from Soma or Andy.
Village Woman's Jewlery
We took a boat ride around Lake Pichola to look at the City Palace and buildings from the water and look at Jag Niwas (The Lake Palace Hotel - no stopping unless you are staying or dining there) and made a stop on Jag Mandir, another palace built by the Maharana. Our boat was not quite as nice as Paul and Jaon’s boat “Suladan” but it was nice, if a bit hot, to get out on the water for a bit. We cooled off with Beers at the Café du Lac again before heading back to the AC comfort of the hotel.
Udaipur Spice Market Family
After a rest, we walked into town dropping off a huge pile of laundry on the way and decided to try dinner at a small, recommended vegetarian restaurant in the old city called Queen Café. It is run by a little old woman and her family in their tiny house (2 little tables downstairs and an open, pillowed seating area upstairs) and the food was really good. The older lady in the picture with Cindy is the mom who runs the place, cooks and teaches cooking too.
Evening Bhutan Update: Well we checked email tonight and it appears that Kencho has finally received our wire transfer for the Bhutan trip. It will take her a week or so to secure the visa and the air tickets from Delhi to Paro but it looks like we are good to go J
Kalu suggested that we spend a morning with his AC car and proposed driver Nandu for our Rajasthan journey and drive out to some nearby temples at Eklingji and Nagda.
Nandu picked us up in the morning and seems to be a nice, smiling, quiet guy, very cautious at driving and, unlike our POS vehicle in Myanmar, the car seemed fine. We stopped first at Nagda after a pretty, 45 minute drive through the fields and foothills. We stopped at the Vaishnavite Sas-Bahu (“Mother-in-law/Daughter-in-Law”) temple complex in Nagda first with very beautiful, ornate carvings and then went to Eklingji where, unfortunately, you can’t take photos. The Eklingji temple has an amazingly beautiful, huge silver screen and door protecting a black statue of Shiva, the family deity of the Mewars. All in all, Nandu seems like a great guy, although very quiet and shy, and we think we will get to see a lot of interesting stuff in Rajasthan via car instead of train or bus so we booked the car rental and take of tomorrow for Ranakpur, Mount Abu, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Pushkar, Ajmer and then back to Delhi prior to Bhutan.
Udaipur girls in window
Should be fun!
Cindy and Larry at Udaipur City Palace - Dynasty of the Sun
We ended up running into Stephen from Philly at the pool this afternoon and hung there for a while. He and Bill ended up going from Udaipur to Jodhpur via a somewhat grueling six hour bus and spend the night there visiting the fort. Bill headed back to Delhi to head home and Stephen couldn’t get a flight out of Jodhpur to Goa so took the same bus back here to Udaipur where he is using his HHonors Diamond status for another great 10,000 point night at the hotel. We ended up walking into town with him and having a very tasty and picturesque dinner overlooking the Lake Palace Hotel at the pleasant Ambrai Restaurunt. Tomorrow starts the budget part of our Rajasthan Journey and we are looking forward to it!