The White City
28.02.2012 - 01.03.2012 30 °C
We awoke from our second sleeper train and our longest journey so far to the dusty hills of Rajasthan. Our destination was Udaipur, called the white city by some because of its white washed buildings, a city newly built by the Maharaja of Mewar, Udai Singh, in the middle of the 17th century. The city mostly sits on the eastern edge of lake Pichola, though is now expanding outwards from the water. We took a rickshaw from the station to our hotel, which we were pleased to find was comfortable, spacious and had a rooftop restaurant overlooking the lake.
After breakfast and a bit of wander to get our bearings, we visited the large Jagdish temple. This had impressively intricate stone carvings and when we went inside we found a group of women singing songs to the god in his shrine. That afternoon we went to Udaipur's main attraction, the city palace. To call it a city palace is slightly misleading as the building is in fact a series of palaces, each added to by successive maharajas, each trying to outdo the last. The combined effect is imposingly large, towering over the lake and the parts of the city nearby. We entered by the main north gate and after surrendering our cameras (after a very thorough bag and person search) we made our way through the various palaces, passing large paintings of battle triumphs, plaques attesting to the greatness of valour and generosity by the rulers, and rooms decorated with coloured glass, tiles and textiles. At one of the highest points was a rooftop garden with a line of trees, remarkable as the area is over 30m above the courtyards below. That evening we decided to go to the Rajasthani dance and culture show hosted by museum down the street from our hotel. We were wary of how 'put on' a cultural experience this would be, but the displays of traditional music, dance and puppetry were entertaining and, for the most part, believably realistic. The show's finale was a dance by a large lady which she started with 2 water collection pots on hear head. After asking a blessing from a small shrine at the back of the performance area she showed her skill and flexibility by kneeling on the floor and doing a small dance, still with the pots on her head. She then went to the side of the stage and a helper put another pot on her head. She repeated the blessing, kneeling and dancing before returning for a fourth, fifth, sixth and even seventh water pot. It seemed an amazing achievement and the crowd congratulated her with lots of clapping and cheering.
The following day we decided to try our hand at some of the workshops on offer, starting with music at the shop across the street. Patrick spent an hour shredding his fingers on sitar scales while Ffion got to grips with the different noises and tabla can make. Our friendly teacher got through a good amount of technical instruction with us over the course of the 1 hour lesson, although we both felt that maybe learning some type of musical tune or piece would have been a welcome addition. After lunch we got out on the water on a boat tour around the lake, visiting the Jag Mandir on its own small island. Apparently one of the buildings in this palace gave Shah Jahan some inspiration for the Taj Mahal when he was sheltering on the island, though we couldn't really see any close resemblance. Maybe it will all become clear when we visit the Taj later in the trip! Later in the afternoon we had our second lesson of the day, taking one of the painting classes run by the art shop attached to the hotel. We selected our painting templates (you'll have to wait until we get home to see which we chose!) and under the close eye of the teacher we set about copying them onto our own silk pieces. The process was time consuming and quite fiddly at times, using a variety of thin brushes and paints made from the colours of local rocks, but we were both proud of our efforts when we completed them 3 hours later. Ffion had a chat with the teacher about the techniques involved in her own silk painting (www.sidansilks.blogspot.com) and he was amazed to hear how many rupees a hand painted silk tie could sell for back home. That evening we ticked off another one of Udaipur's 'attractions', watching the James Bond film 'Octopussy' which heavily features Udaipur's local scenery. It seems every hotel and restaurant shows the film everyday, and while initially wondering how there is the constant demand for it, we participated in what seems to be as necessary a part of a visit as a boat trip of palace tour!
We were sad to move on from Udaipur the following day, as it is a beautiful and relaxing place to spend a few days, especially after some of our experiences in Gujerat, but leave we did, setting out on our next bus trip to Jodphur.