Friday, June 22nd, 2012. Udaipur, Rajasthan, India.
Distance driven: 1,931 KM / 1207 miles.
Because of all the marble used in local construction, Udaipur is also known as the White City, which coincidentally is also an area in London. “I’ll take random facts for two hundred rupees, Alex.”
Last night Sury arranged for a guide to meet us this morning and help show us around. Fareed arrived at our hotel around 9am and we drove into the old city, which involved negotiating narrow, winding lanes. When a car is coming the other way, one party has to stop and back up to find a place where the two cars can pass.
Near the fort, our first stop was the Jagdish Manir temple to Vishnu, built in 1651. Fareed explained some of the Hindu mythology and worship practices. One of the reasons for all the detailed friezes is that much of the population was (and unfortunately, still is) Illiterate, so these friezes were teaching aids to explain the mythology and laws of Hindu practice. Much like the decorated high crosses in Ireland which were carved with bible stories.
Whereas the other kings in Rajasthan are called Maharajas, literally “great kings”, the Mewars are called Maharanas, which translates to something like “great warrior kings”, which I found a bit confusing. FYI, Maharani, with an I, is the name for a royal queen.
The City Palace is a large sprawling royal complex build over time between the 16th century and the 20th century. Part of this is still the residence of the current Maharana, and of course there is a part that is yet another super exclusive luxury hotel. The entry cost to the Palace and museums is only RP75 per person (US $1.50), but my camera cost RP200 to bring in. Luckily it stays for free in hotels and doesn’t eat much.
The main entrance to the palace is via a long ramp, which could have oil poured on it to make it slippery for enemy elephants if thet tried to scale it. At the top areates studded with spikes to prevent enemy elephants from ramming them.
Just inside the gates, off the side is a low wall. This was used for elephant “tug of war” where two elephants locked trunks and the one that touched the wall first lost.
There is a story about how the Maharana’s horses defeated his enemies’ elephants. They dressed the horses like elephants – see the photo above. By the time the enemy realized they weren’t actually elephants, it was too late as the horses were able to jump up on the elephants and defeat their riders.
Although the palace has lots of intricate carving and some sumptuous (or gaudy depending on your opinion) rooms, I think we were spoiled by the Mehrangarh fort in Jodhpur which we all felt was even more impressive.
Overall the shape of the palace looks like a cruise ship from above. Since much of it looks out over a manmade lake, this is perhaps appropriate. Inside the lake itself is the summer palace, which can only be reached by boat. Now it is a very exclusive hotel and only guests are allowed to visit.
A third palace, called the Monsoon Palace, is also visible at the top of one of the surrounding hills. Additionally, there is a fourth palace, used only rarely, called the Pleasure Palace and this was a favorite honeymoon spot for the royals.
After the palace we drove to the Sahelion ki Bari or Garden of the Maids of Honour, which is a pretty green spot with lots of fountains powered by the water pressure of the lakes. This was a pleasure spot of the Maharanas and we were told it was the quarters of his Muslim concubines. At the time, Muslims came by ship to trade, but only had their camels and women to offer. In return they received gold and spices. Kind of like the old joke about a personal column ad: “Wanted, wife with camel. If interested, send picture of camel.”
Speaking of pictures, post lunch we went to the Elephanta Gallery, an art school run by the descendants of the royal artists whose work is to be found in the palace we visited in the morning (or so we are led to believe!) They had some beautiful work and in the end we bought a few pieces, which are currently being framed and should be delivered to us this evening.
I am always a little nervous about shelling out a large amount on quality craftwork. It is difficult to compare quality and workmanship and we have little comparative data, so I had them hold a few pieces while we visited another showroom in town. Looking at comparable work, it was clear that the Elephanta Gallery had better prices on similar high quality work, so that’s where we ended up lightening my wallet.
Later we also did some shopping in town and got some nice pieces for a fraction of the price.
Also looking around the bazaar we got to see some intricate ancient locks that interested Aaron. These were pretty amazing. They incorporated secret switches such that just getting to the point where you could put the key in was an accomplishment. As genuine antiques these were very expensive pieces, but they were fun to play with.
For dinner we went to a nice restaurant with outside tables that had a great view of the lake, which was quite romantic. The food was nice and they served the largest portions we’ve seen in India so far. For dessert Kelly and I shared some cardamom infused kheer (rice pudding) with dark chocolate and pear. Yum.
Right on schedule both our vendors showed up with our pictures, which look great. Framing here is a fraction of the cost it would be at home. Had I known, I might have brought a bunch of things from the US to get framed! The cost is probably 1/10th or less of US custom framing prices. Now we just have to get them all back in one piece.