Posts/October, 2008/

Horrible Bus, Not Horrible Udaipur, India

Friday, October 10th, 2008

It was an 8 hour bus ride south between Jodhpur and Udaipur, all of it uncomfortable. Our private bus was in okay condition, but cramped and without AC. With the windows down, dust and bugs and other unsavory things would fly in. Twice, I was misted by the tobacco and fennel scented spit of the driver. The man two seats in front got the worst of it. The route went along basically single lane country roads and involved a lot of bumps and dangerous passing maneuvers. While tailgating trucks, the bus would peek out to the right. Oncoming buses and trucks and cars were often not of concern as the driver pulled around the slow vehicle with seconds to spare before head-on fun.

I was lucky enough to be sitting behind a woman who needed to vomit out the window for most of the ride. When her young kids first saw her do this, they wailed and shrieked in terror and confusion. I put on my headphones and closed my eyes. No looking out the window for me. The woman’s stomach seemed to calm in the final stretch. I enjoyed the scenery for a bit until I saw bits of food and gastric juices sliding down the window. Another person had gotten sick in the bunk above us. Of all the odds…

The scenery I saw between the vomit was beautiful: rocky hills, dry river beds, small towns, granite and marble quarries and factories, black-faced grey monkeys, forest, vistas.

We pulled into Udaipur in the early afternoon. After some searching via auto rickshaw, we found a decent place to stay for 300Rs($6.50) a night in Hanuman Ghat.

Udaipur is a beautiful, old town built around largely man-made lakes. Green hills surround it, and the people are friendly and casual. Outside of India, it is most known for the Lake Palace on Jagniwas Island in the middle of Lake Pichola. This former royal residence built in 1754 was used in the James Bond movie Octopussy. It’s now a very expensive hotel.


When we first arrived, we headed to lunch in the rooftop restaurant of our guest house. Good aloo palak curry and views of Lake Pichola.

The pedestrian footbridge connecting Hanuman and Gangaur Ghats. It always seemed to be blocked by cows.

The lake was low, exposing a lot of bank in the narrow area on the northern edge. It was being used by old men as a card playing area.

Steps leading to the algae filled water.

Looking south from Gangaur Ghat.

A boy watches the birds as Lake Palace looms behind him.

In the early evening, we were caught in the middle of colorful and loud parades leading to the water. The already crowded streets were now swarming with people, music, floats, booming firework bazookas, lights, fire twirlers, dancing, bands, and traffic. It was madness. We followed the flow of the first group.

The first batch of ladies weren’t looking too happy.

The Hindu god on the float was brought to the water to be submerged. Along the way, much colored powder was thrown into the air.

Powdering the ladies pink.

The first group danced before carrying the idol into the water. The steps of the ghats were lined with both Indian and foreign spectators. The energy was wild.

The police kept the peace.

This old lady was pounding closes with a bat for the entire ceremony. She could have cared less; she had clothes to wash.

A man swimming in a particularly dirt part of the lake.

Offering a lamp for blessing.

More bored ladies.

Fire breather.

The streets were lined with silver garlands and lights.

Ladies watching the parades from the safety of an altar.

Sun sets on a magical day.

The next day, J. and I woke early and searched for a recommended coffee shop: Cafe Edelweiss. It served decent coffee and pastries, though not enough to justify it’s popularity and Lonely Planet mention.

Atrium with corn, cows, and paintings.

Stairs leading to the Hindu Jagdish Temple.

Detail.

Large woks on the sidewalk.

After breakfast, we did what I’ve been wanting to do for years: GO PADDLE BOATING! We rented a two seater for two hours for 400Rs. We had a delayed start, as the vendors had to dry dock the boat to untangle a large amount of water plants from the paddle. The lake was full of weed and gunk along its edge, making it an obstacle course to get through without tangling.

Yay! Paddle boat!

The City Palace along the banks.

Jag Mandir Island.

Yay!

On the western side of the lake was marsh with plenty of birds and water buffalo. Here’s a sharp little green bird perched on a twig.

This entire family was bathing in the lake. The kids waved and yelled hello long after we passed.

Lotus in bloom. Looks fake even in real life.

We docked the boat on what I call “Cow Island” so I could pee. This cow paid no mind.

After boating, we tried out another rooftop restaurant for lunch: Dream Heaven Guesthouse. Silly name, but awesome ambience, view, and scrummy food.

We ate lunch in a shaded lounge area overlooking the lake.

My meal was a cheese and pea curry with chapatis. 60Rs($1.30)

After lunch, we walked to the City Palace and paid the rather useless admission of 25Rs each to wander the grounds. We scoped out the fancy hotel. It was fancy.

This section of the City Palace was now a museum.

This sign isn’t working very well.

In the park of the Palace by the river were about 10 large monkeys. They were running around and leaping over bushes, into trees, play fighting, and crashing around. Not only were they big, but they also popped out of nowhere to freak effect. We’d be walking on a path when three would come tearing around the corning and sliding to a halt when seeing us. These monkeys could move too. They were like a team of acrobats run amok.

Running monkeys.

View across Lake Pichola. From foreground to background: Lake Palace, a fancy hotel, and the hilltop Monsoon Palace.

It was a good first two days in Udairpur. We booked sleeper bus tickets to Mumbai for Sunday, leaving just two more days of lakeside adventure.

Sunset over Udaipur.

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