Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Udaipur, day 2

One thing I really wanted to do while we're in India is to get mehndi on my hand. I didn't know how to find someone, although I read in one of our books that the best place is to approach the women who do it sitting on a curb. I couldn't see any women doing mehndi sitting on a curb, so I was starting to think I'd have to give up on it. We learned last night that the place to get mehndi is in beauty shops, which are easy to find. So this morning we set out to find a place that was recommended by the manager of the hotel. The door of the shop said "No Men Allowed" and the owner of the shop insisted, so Marc left and I sat down to get my right hand done.

The shop owner sent for her daughter, who arrived 20 minutes later. She was young, maybe 14 or 15, and shy. I sat on a table while she held my hand and painted the henna on my right hand, both sides. It was an extraordinary experience for me. Two other women came into the shop, so the three grown women sat in chairs kind of watching and talking to each other and me, now and then. One brought in a new sari and they all admired it and laughed. At one point in the hand painting, I began to feel like a decorated cake. Marc had been told that the whole thing would take 20 minutes, so he came back and hung out and had his own cool moment (more on that in a sec). About an hour into it, he came to the shop and they allowed him to come in, and they served him snacks and offered us tea.

I was very touched by the experience, for reasons I can't quite explain. There was something about that young girl holding my hand for so long, paying so much attention to decorating me, and being part of that group of women.

Here's the finished product, front and back, with the thick dark paste still on my hand:

So the whole thing took an hour and a half, and we were charged 100 rupees. ~44 rupees = $1. We tried to pay a bit more, but the shop owner was insistent and would not take it.

While Marc was waiting, he sat on the curb opposite the beauty shop and watched all the activity. We were immediately next to the bridge that crosses the lake, so he watched people and cows and goats going back and forth. And then there was an elephant.

No one blinked or paid the slightest bit of attention, as if elephants walk around all the time, across the bridge. I wish I'd seen it, but luckily Marc took pictures. In the bottom picture, the elephant had raised his trunk and you can see his tusks. We think the elephantwallah was trying to sell Marc a ride, but we're not sure.

Once it cooled down a bit, we decided to take an autorickshaw to the City Palace and wander through the markets once more, and then head to this restaurant we'd heard such good things about. Every time we left our hotel today, this one autorickshawallah approached us and tried to take us where we wanted to go -- we said no to him all day long, so when we left for our shopping and dinner, we decided to go with him. It was a little unsettling when we got in and he was working on the engine; it looked like he was just building the autorickshaw, maybe from scratch. It sputtered and struggled to start, it didn't have anything at all like a muffler, and it didn't always seem certain that it would make it. Maybe it was just a lawnmower motor. The rickshawallah's teeth were red, stained with betel, and his hair was dyed with henna, with lots of roots showing (hey, who am I to talk, my roots are showing a lot!), and he was very enthusiastic about taking us.

Marc made some really great deals bargaining with the shop owners, for shirts and earrings. One reason we are enjoying Udaipur so much is that people will ask you to come to their shops, but they don't grab us and they don't chase us. I don't mind being asked insistently once, so that didn't bother me at all.

And now for dinner. We read about this place on the travel boards, and in Lonely Planet, so we were looking forward to it. After lots of twists and turns and finding ourselves back where we started several times, we finally found it...we thought, it was certainly uninviting and didn't seem like a public entrance, at all. A little door, a dark hallway, only a small sign by the door, but we ventured in. It didn't get better. We crossed a dim courtyard, climbed three flights of stairs, and found ourselves on a rooftop overlooking the lake. That sounds charming, but this place was anything but charming. It was hot and dark, they brought a small candle to the table, and that was all the light we had. And the food was awful, the chicken pakora wasn't as good as McDonald's Chicken McNuggets. We think the dal was just a watery can of beans -- but of course we couldn't be sure because we couldn't see. I think we should count our blessings that we couldn't see. We left after choking down a little of it, and even though it was 205 rupees total ($4.70), that was too much.

One thing that has continually surprised us is the blandness of the real Indian food. We've had some really lovely meals -- the place we ate lunch at both days here in Udaipur was wonderful, kind and sweet waiters, tasty food, beautiful setting. But it's never spicy, even when we ask for spicy. Weird.

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