Monday, October 18, 2010

Oct 13 -15 Udaipur, Mt. Abu

Oct 13 -15 Udaipur, Mt. Abu


Getting to Udaipur was a long journey. After leaving Pushkar on a mountain road we decended into Ajmer. A relatively large city, it was filled with lakes, parks, and lively markets. It had a large temple which we whizzed by on our way to Udaipur. The good roads disappeared for several hours. We used single lane highways as major roads as we tried to get back to NH8. When we finally made it, it was a two land highway with large construction works. They were changing it from a two lane highway to 6 lanes. Near noon we pulled over to eat. Nice restaurant and we had our normal fare: vegetable curry mix with rice and flat bread.

An hour or so later we left the main road on our way to Kumbhalgarh a large mountain fort well back from the main highway. We stopped briefly in a small village to visit a temple to Shiva. The marble flooring was so hot we could barely walk across it in the hot sun. After this temple it was an hour long drive through “dry forest areas”, extremely small villages as we wound around the mountains. It was clear there had been a concerted effort over the years to build a large number of water catchment areas….small dams. Rajasthan has suffered major droughts every 20 or so years and this is an adaptation to try and mitigate the issues. We are always aware of “water”.

Finally we reached the summit (3,000 ft) and were confronted with Kumbhalgarh Fort . It has very thick walls, high ramparts and gates, and the circular wall is 36 km long. From above it follows the ridge lines as far as you can see. Inside the walls are a small village and several hundred Hindu and Jain temples. We had a guide from the fort who spoke minimal English….however he guided us to the top of the fort. We saw the water supply systems, the canon emplacements, the communal kitchens, the women’s quarters, the King’s quarters, the horse barns, and the elephant barns. Murals on rice paper drawn with single hair brushes showed hunting scenes in the nearby scrub forest. Leopards, panthers, and wild boar were the prime targets. The same animals still inhabit the surrounding forests and if we had enough time we could take off road jungle treks. Of note: we visited a very small temple to Cali within the fort. When I gave a token contribution to the priestess after we had been anointed with small red dots on our forehead, she said “foreign currency”.

From Krumbhalgarh we backtracked some 20 km and struck off to Udaipur. We reached the city near 6 pm after 10 hours of hard travel. The driver looked tired, and we welcomed the Hilltop Palace Hotel. Situated high on a hill overlooking Lake Pichola (one of three major artificial lakes in Udaipur) was brimming with water.
We were told that water was in very short supply last year and the full lake had been nothing but a large mud flat. Such is life in the desert. We had dinner on the lawn, drinking gin tonics and eating our standard fare of vegetable curry, rice, and bread.

The next morning we were met by our guide for an informative visit to the Jagdish Mandir temple. This temple sits high above the street.
At least five representations of gods are found at this temple. We encountered the Indian version of Garuda (the transport of the Hindu gods). In Indonesia, the airline is named Garuda.
We also encountered the working of the temple. It feeds hundreds of homeless and poor people. Contributions to the temple fund this outreach. The kitchen is staffed by volunteers from the surrounding community. Our guide said, if you came to the temple in the morning and had an extra 30 minutes, you could help with the cooking. He also commented that the older women in the temple worshiping were able to do so because their daughter-in-laws were at home making the chapattis.

From Jagdish Mandir it was a quick walk to the City Palace, once the seat of government and home of the Mewar Dynasty.
It had an unbroken reign stretching back 8 or 9 centuries, exceeded in length only by the family of the Emperor of Japan. Although the King no longer has any political power he is an economic power, controlling a chain of 17 luxury class hotels, including two on the grounds of the City Palace.

One of the sights within the palace grounds is the elephant fighting wall. The wall divided the two elephants who then locked trunks. The first elephant to touch the wall loses. (Elephant fighting is no longer done. eos) The rest of the city was interesting. We toured a ladies’ garden area with cooling water features. The puppet museum was interesting and included a short puppet show. We followed that with a short visit to a craft shop. We always puzzle the owners/shopkeepers when we tell them we are “homeless”. Our final stop was a contemporary art gallery. It was magnificent with interesting with statuary, photography, painting, and a fantastic holography work. If we only had 5 figures (US) to spend on a work of art. I think we will return to Udaipur, but probably travel by air or overnight train.

The next morning we were off to Mt. Abu, a colonial hill resort. We had our first taste of desert, or should I say, arid areas. It was a mountainous area as we passed over and through mountains. We finally reached the take off point at Abu Road, a small village at the bottom of the mountains. We noted a large modern hospital and eye clinic in Abu Road. It took approximately 1 hour to ascend the mountain road (approximately 1000 meters about the arid plain).

Our first experience at Mt. Abu was the traffic jam at the toll booth.
The car needed to be parked, the driver needed to note the plate number of the car, and we waited about 10-15 minutes…all for a 20 rupee (about $0.50) toll. With that accomplished we got to Jaipur House, our hotel literally on top of a mountain overlooking the lake below. Several hours later we met with our guide and proceeded to visit an exquisite Jain museum. As with previous guides, we got an interesting religious introduction…this time Jainism. (No pictures were allowed at this temple). Once back at the hotel we ate “tea” on a veranda overlooking the city (Kingfisher beer, and chili cheese toast). The cheese toast brought back memories from a similar dish in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia (35 years ago).

The hotel was the summer residence for the Raj of Jaipur….an escape from the heat of the plains below. Needless to say, we did not stay in the Raj’s old quarters, but a small room off to the side. A pleasant escape from the turmoil and heat of the cities.

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