Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Udaipur, day 1

After a lazy morning at the Leela, we left Goa to fly to Udaipur, via Mumbai. Jet Airways is really impressive; our flights have gone perfectly, the flight attendants are great, and we've had no problems at all. So we landed in Udaipur Sunday night around 7pm, and we were supposed to have a driver from the hotel waiting for us. Since no one was there, we decided to hire a pre-paid taxi from inside the airport. We've read enough on various travel boards and in travel books to know that we needed to emphasize and re-emphasize the price issue. We chose a cab driver, an old guy, and Marc told him the price, and asked him to verify that there were no extra charges. The guy laughed and shooed us towards his cab. Marc stopped him and asked him again and again, and finally the guy said no extra charges.

This was the biggest "adventure" we've had so far. The cab driver was nuts. He was ok on the highway heading toward Udaipur, but as we got into town things turned from bad to worse. He turned down a very narrow road into oncoming traffic, and when I say very narrow road I really mean a kind of alley that is a good fit for one vehicle. So all the traffic is coming towards us, and we're going upstream. And the cab driver is yelling and screaming. He says to us that everyone is crazy and that people are bastards, and that everyone else is wrong. As Marc and I sat in the back seat of the taxi, I looked at the people crammed in next to us in the alley and several of them gave me the kind of smile that means "poor you, you're stuck with a crazy cab driver." We weren't sure if we'd make it to the hotel, or if we'd just be out on the street for one reason or another.

He turned onto a bridge and nearly ran right into a young father holding a child by the hand and one in his arms. He just turned the car off because he wasn't going to move for that young father, not an inch. The man came to the window and talked to the cab driver, who kept yelling. It was really appalling.

But we finally got to the hotel, and it's beautiful:

Our room is right in the middle, on the front side, on the top floor of rooms.

This is a corner of our room, which has a huge window seat.

Me uploading photos from my camera

One of the great things about our hotel is the rooftop restaurant; people on the travel boards kept recommending it and it was in the travel books, too. So after we settled ourselves a little, we went on the roof for dinner. There was live Indian music (note: this is the first time in the entire trip that we've heard Indian music) and the food was really good too. Our appetites have been nonexistent from the malaria medicine, but we enjoyed our dinner. Pictures of the restaurant to come.

This morning we set out on foot to find the markets. We found them, we got lost and wandered (which is the right thing to do), we bought a few little things, and we took an autorickshaw back to the hotel around noon. While we were wandering through the market, an old guy on a motorcycle came up behind us -- last night's crazy cab driver. He said "I know you don't want to talk to me, but I'm the fellow who took you to your hotel last night." He was right, we didn't want to talk to him, and we didn't.


The main market street, coming down from City Palace. Shiny.

People selling vegetables along the side of the market street

Then we had lunch at Ambrai Restaurant, right on the water overlooking Lake Pichola and the Octopussy hotel, and people bathing and washing their clothes:

The food was great, even better than the rooftop restaurant last night, but not very photogenic.

Our plan was to wander through the markets again after dusk, when it's a little cooler -- do a little more shopping, see more streets and people, and then go to a different restaurant for dinner. As we crossed the bridge into the congested area, we saw dense crowds of people gathering for some kind of event. Most of the men were coated in a dark pink powder, and everyone seemed to be there for a celebration. I wish I'd had my video camera, because it was a multisensory business. Loudspeakers with music, guys with drums, people laughing and talking, some kind of statue in a big wagon. A chorus of women sat under a nearby covered archway:

And as we were standing there on the ghat, children crowded around us asking us to take their pictures. In other parts of India, this was always followed up by a request for money, but these kids really just wanted us to take their pictures. The little girl in green in the lower left side of the photo was the main instigator, and at the last minute the little boy dashed into the frame.

Groups of women were dancing together, with a young tourist in their midst, and everyone seemed to be having a great time. This was just a bigger version of the same thing we'd seen before -- a parade of people meandering through the alleyways with drums and singing and a statue in a wagon, usually accompanied by someone carrying a small pot of fire.

So we felt lucky to be there at the time of this celebration. We learned it was a very important festival celebrating Ram's destruction of evil -- and it was big and loud and crowded with smiling people.

We stayed on the ghat for awhile and then set out for our walk, but people started firing loud explosive fireworks in the alleys and I couldn't take the noise so we went back to our side of the lake. The crowd (or some part of it) came to our side of the lake and seemed to camp in front of our hotel for a very lengthy speech by some unseen (by us) man.

Our hotel has no Internet access at all, so we're stuck with the Internet cafe across the street, which means we're posting a little less. Udaipur is wonderful, and we're both really enjoying it so far. It's the best place we've been, with the friendliest people. Today we finish exploring Udaipur and very early tomorrow we fly to Jaipur for a couple of days. We're staying in a Hilton there, which is more likely to have Internet access in the hotel (and hot water, but that's a different story).

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