Posts Tagged ‘Rajhastan’

Udaipur has been called India’s most romantic city. To me it’s Rajhastan’s equivalent to the Riviera. That may be a loose and tenuous association but Udaipur has that air of European charm and the heat to match. Surrounded by the ancient Aravelli hills and set around the beautiful Lake Pichola, the city formerly known as Mewar was founded in 1559 when Marahana Udai Singh II (he was my favourite Mewar by far, simply for his elaborate and ever so slightly camp tache) took off under the rampaging advances of the Mughal emperor Akbar. Udai and his band of merry men resisted the Muslim onslaught and gradually built the city that has a reputation for its patriotism and staunch independence. Oh and let’s not forget that tache.

Time to splash the cash

Because (yes I know its bad form to start a sentence with a conjunction but I’m of the Internet age) we had both suffered the infamous Delhi belly and felt a bit jaded from ill travels, I decided to up the game and book us a more plush hotel. After a few phone calls I opted for the Jaiwana Haveli on Lal Ghat, about 5mins walk from the lake shore according to my brief perusal of the map. Imagine my delight when we turned up and realised the hotel was no more than a stone’s throw from the water. Go on, imagine. We arrived late, just before 10pm, so headed straight to the rooftop cafe for some much need snackette action. The view that greeted us was the perfect tonic for sore eyes; the calm waters of Lake Pichola glimmered in the moonlight, tinged with orange by the fairytale lights on the nearby Lake Palace Hotel (a 5 star hotel resort that covers the entire island of Jagniwas in the middle of the lake, accessed only by chartered boat).

We gorged on the view until the weariness kicked in and retired to our spotless, for once, room. To be in a clean and quiet room, with marble floors, comfy beds and a clean tiled en-suite after so much noise was refreshing for the soul.

Obligatory walking tour of the city

No city visit would be the same without me dragging my jani half way around town until her legs can barely support her. After 1 full day of doing very little to give our stomachs chance to recover, during which I rediscovered my love for binge eating toasted cheese sandwiches, it was time to tread the tarmac.

We left Lal Ghat and escaped the hoardes of shop keepers trying to entice us in with cunning lines like “just look, look, no buy”. We headed up to the City Palace, an imposing and stunning edifice that dominates the skyline. It is Rajhastan’s largest and arguably finest palace, stretching some 244m and with towers and turrets over 30m high. That it sits alongside the lake merely adds to its allure.

Bearing in mind that we’ve seen a lot of cool buildings, visited a lot of forts, palaces, monuments, memorials museums etc, I was completely blown away by the majesty and intricacy of this place. It is rare for me to last more than 1hr in an historical place before boredom kicks in and I have to take rude pictures using ancient artifacts as my muses. However, at this palace I lost track of time and loved every passage (insert gag here), nook and cranny. The Mewar artwork on display was interesting though hardly beautiful but what impressed the most was the detail of the decoration. Just inside the entrance you will find 7 arches which commemorate the 7 times that the maharajas were weighed here and then distributed their weight in gold and silver to lucky locals. I can’t remember the British royal family doing that.

Inside the beauty of the rooms was incredible. From the relaxing garden of Bari Mahal, through the ornate mirror work of Moti Mahal to the intricate ornamental tiles of Chini Mahal, each part of the palace housed a different surprise. Crowds of people gathered to marvel at the visual overload. We left amazed at how much we had enjoyed a peek into history and in awe of the creative vision of the artists of that period. Never underestimate the man with the camp tache.

Sunset point and the singing fountain

The next day we opted for a morning march and chilled afternoon. We walked south, past the flowing open sewage and stench of death, towards the cable way that connects ground level with the hilltops where the old city walls can still be seen. For a bargain R66 each we enjoyed a sedentary cable ride up to Sunset Point, which turned out to be a hugely disappointing cafe rooftop surrounded by rubbish. However, the walk along to the walls of the old fort was enjoyable and afforded spectacular views of Udaipur from its elevation. It was enjoyable to gaze at the old city walls and imagine life as Udai Singh. We went to find the singing fountain but it doesn’t live up to its name or the romantic image it conjured in my mind. It is in fact a decrepit old water pump, now with its very own red plastic bucket to catch the leaks. Quality.

Enjoying local music by night

We spent 2 of our evenings listening to local music. The first night we went to the Jagdish Temple, an Indo-Aryan temple built in 1651 that enshrines an image of Lord Vishnu. It was full moon and we had heard that there would be a ceremony taking place. The ceremony consisted of hypnotic chanting by a Hindu crowd, with some rather odd dancing from crazed old women who stopped only to ask for baksheesh. Begone old crone. Despite the solicitations for money, the temple was worth seeing. It is beautiful and the detail of the carvings quite something. Udaipur has a lot of intricate stone work to dazzle the eye.

The following night we went to the evening Rajhastani dance performance at Bagore Ki Haveli, the 18th century museum that Muneeza found out about. It was excellent. We were treated to 1hr of dance and song by a variety of local men and women, wearing traditional costumes. It culminated with an old lady balancing up to 9 earthenware pots on her head whilst whirling around like a dervish. The other notable sight was that of what I can only describe as 3 badly shaved trannies sitting on the floor, slapping their legs with little bells and grinning maniacally at the crowd. It was disconcerting but strangely erotic….

Do you dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?

We spent the last evening at the rooftop cafe watching the sunset over Lake Pichola. It was a peaceful and rather romantic backdrop as the sky changed colours from blue to orange to red to black. We hit the hay chilled and ready, if not willing, for our flight to Mumbai and 3 days in India’s busiest city.

love jamer & muneeza x

ps if you ever find yourself in Udaipur, book room 21 at Jaiwana Haveli for amazing lake views and a touch of wonderful service and efficiency

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I’d been looking forward to hitting Rajhastan ever since we arrived in India following Muneeza’s glowing endorsement of the land of Kings. Rajhastan is home to the Rajputs, warrior clans who claim to come from the sun, moon and fire. The Rajputs have a history of infighting which led to them becoming loosly controlled by the enduring Mughal empire from the 16th Century onwards. There are parallels between this warrior clan and other cultures led by a strict code of honour, such as in Japan. Rajput warriors would fight against any odds and, when all hope had dissolved, would carry out jauhar (ritual mass suicide). During the reign of the British Raj, the Rajputs allied with the British. However, the British profligancy and indulgence was contagious and many of the maharajas took to travelling the world, dining out on their titles. Following Independence India’s ruling Congress Party forged a deal with them, furnishing them with titles, property and handsome allowances. However, when Indira Ghandi rose to prominence in the 1970s she abolished the hereditary rights. Amen!

Walking tour of Jaipur

Jaipur, the City of Victory, is the capital of Rajhastan. Founded by the great warrior-astronomer Maharaja Jai Singh II, you can still see the old city walls amidst the sprawling modern town.  We arrived Monday 17th in the morning and checked into the ever so friendly Karni Niwas close to the station. Suitably refreshed we hit the roads to soak up the sights. As Muneeza had been to Jaipur before, it was a time to test her memory.

We entered the old city via Ajmer Gate. The old gates have retained their majesty and are imposing pink sandstone structures that loom over the modern market streets. Around the gate there is a constant bustle and heady din of competing noises.

From the gate we headed north on Kishanpol Bazaar towards Iswari Minar Swarag Sal, a towering minaret erected by Jai Singh’s son. The views of the city from the top are awesome and afford unrivaled vistas of the hilltop fort of Nahargarh. We were given a guided tour/commentary by the sweetest old man who insisted on giving us his very own David Bailey tourist photo session. With a breath of fresh air he didn’t ask for any tip but of course we happily gave him one (and the tip!).

From the Iswari we walked eat towards the picture postcard facade of the Hawa Mahal, Jaipur’s most distinctive landmark. It is a 5 story honeycombed pink sandstone building constructed in 1799 to allow the ladies of the court to watch life and processions from its myriad of windows. The architecture is wonderful and it’s a great place to pass time on a lazy sunny afternoon.

We next wandered gently through the bazaars to the Jantar Mantar, an observatory begun by Jai Singh in 1728. Alas we arrived after it had closed for the day, so I came back on my own the next morning as my jani rested in bed with a still troubled belly. As described by the Lonely Planet, it indeed looks like a bizarre collection of sculptures but on closer inspection in contains an incredible array of sophisticated recording and measuring instruments, way ahead of their time. The centrepiece, a huge sun dial, is still allegedly accurate to within 2 seconds. The explanations of the instruments left me cold as I’m no prize winning astronomer (“say it isn’t so”, I hear you cry) but the experience was enjoyable.

We’d heard from other tourist peeps that Jaipur wasn’t a nice place, too dirty, noisy and hectic. However, I’d have to say my experience was the opposite. I really liked it. Yes it is noisy and crowded but this is India, home to the world’s fastest growing population that is due to overtake China by 2030. Jaipur is the capital of one of the main states, what else should you expect? Despite the crowding, the town is steeped in history and fascinating buildings and has a very friendly ambience.

And on to the next stop – Udaipur bound

Our sejourn in Jaipur was a short one and we booked tickets for the afternoon train to Udaipur on Tuesday 18th. Much to our joy and surprise, the train once more left on time and we waved farwell to Jaipur.

love jamer & muneeza x