Falling in Love…AKA I (heart) Udaipur

 DSC_08672014-12-26 09.50.32

The haveli mansions of the Rajput families stand out from the stone and stucco buildings with their intricate latticework and gates, painted facades and romantic windows. If I wasn’t already, I think I fell in love with India in Udaipur. Times Square meets The Flintstones. Venice meets Bollywood. Palaces and henna and food and kingfishers (the beer; the birds we save for a later date)…oh, my!

This was a funny day… it started with bleating. A goat tried to get into the lobby of the hotel. He was thwarted of course, but the hooves and the bleating and the hotel manager’s yelling trying to get him out… And so I woke up laughing. Today we toured the fabulous palace on the lake. Meandered through the old town and appreciated its happy chaos. I bought a Rajasthani miniature painting, had a Ganesha painted on my fingernail by a miniature master and had my hand hennaed. Today was a good day.

2015-01-26 20.39.33Rajasthan in general, and Udaipur specifically, is famous for its miniature paintings. These artisans use meticulous skill to paint in minuscule detail on every square inch (centimeter) of the canvas, be it silk or antique paper, resulting in micro-masterworks accented in gold or silver, using cow urine and vegetable dyes as paint colouring. Their brushes are hand-made from squirrel fur (apparently, one must distract the squirrel with a nut or sweet in order to snip its tail hairs…this is a process in itself!). These paintings tell the stories of Mewar (Udaipur) royal families, of hunts and of love. Three symbols depict Rajasthan: the horse (for power), the elephant (for luck) and the camel (for love). Legend has it that if you can love (the smell of) a camel, you can love anyone! These spirits run deep in this area and you see paintings of these icons everywhere.

In this place where the moon lays on its back to ask for a belly rub, the sun sets on a palace and the city by the lake draws you in and grabs you by the heart chakra.

Dinner was the best food yet, eaten sitting on a balcony overlooking the lake; we stayed to drink Kingfisher beers and laughed for what seemed like hours. A tuk tuk is always an adventure. Riding with 3 new friends with a head full of beer is the best kind. The back roads of Old Town Udaipur are narrow. There are cows, motor bikes, more tuk tuks, dogs, goats and cars… Driving: the dodging and weaving, slowing and gunning it, is an artform here. Also the backing up and maneuvering around said road obstacles in order to get to our destination. Happy chaos.

Though (maybe because?) I have become more acclimated to this foreign land and more accustomed to the numbers – of people, cows, horns, dogs, all the stuff…the rhythms of each city and village we visit become more evident – the rhythms of everyday life thunder within, like absorbing the pulse or the heartbeat of this overwhelming yet enrapturing place. The absurdities of everyday life become tolerable. Even here where the absurd seems much more evident to the outsider, it becomes an important part of the pulse, like comic relief and even a necessity akin to the air we need to breathe. India is a place where you must pay attention. You must be present. You must allow. Chaos is going to happen whether you participate or not, whether you fight it or not. So amidst the the debris and noise and chaos, there is this pervasive sense of humility and OK-ness. This, I suppose, can be interpreted as peace. Like the lotus which thrives amidst and maybe even in spite of the debris on the surface, its roots reach down to find that grounded place to take hold.


*Note: I should address the swastika here. You see swastikas everywhere on entrances to buildings, temples, homes and havelis. In Sanskrit, the word svastika is a symbol of good fortune, luck, strength and is used as a talisman of good luck and well-being. That the Nazis maligned the sentiment is light years beyond an understatement.

Night Train to Jodhpur

We survive the overnight train ride with minimal hassle. Tired, kya? (are you tired?) Yes, but will get over it. I feel a glint of a short story brewing here…’Night Train to Jodhpur’… overtired, overstimulated brain working overtime and I can’t wait for whatever comes next.

December 23, Jodhpur: We were lucky to only be about an hour late arriving. Tis the nature of travel – maybe everything – in India. And nobody complains. It just is. So the train adventure was enjoyed to the maximum; bumps, stops, starts, a few cockroackes and dueling loudmouths at 3am make the story more interesting. Western toilets, maybe stinkier than the Indian ones. Chai wallah delivers a brilliant wake-up cup (and fills the travel mug upon request!!), ringing in the day on a perfectly acceptable note. The ride to the Haveli is through water-logged side streets, but the tuk tuks magically sprout rudders and sail us through the muck (no, actually, we get splashed and it is what it is).

I almost expect to see royal carriages in the car park and Maharajas or their attendants lounging in this old royal residence-cum-hotel… The Krishna Prakash Heritage Haveli is a renovated mansion of old, with the decor and architecture beckoning me back to a time and place long, long ago. The hotel sits in the shadow of the large-looming Merhangarh Fort, a palace to the Maharaja of Jodhpur.

View of Merhangarh Fort from KP Heritage Haveli


Merhangarh Fort…In this land of princely kingdoms, Maharajas and Maharanis, you can feel their presence in the air. Maybe it’s because I’m reading a novel set in and around one of these palaces. Maybe it’s because the 70-100′ high walls are imposing and awe-inspiring; the views breathtaking; and the intricate detail in every room and on every surface either a spectacular testament to a Royal’s ego or a manifestation of their impeccable attention to every last detail. Either way, the views of the Blue City from the top were jaw-dropping.

And to (Sadar Bazaar) market we go… there is the story of the fabric seller who weaves his own tales of fame and high fashion and fortune. The spice merchant who carries on her father’s legacy in the spice business. The samosa maker who should win the nobel prize for street food. Same goes for the lassi walla.

So we travel on into the proverbial pink/blue Jodhpur sunset…air resonating with the distant sounds of the adhan, the call to prayer, tuk tuk beeps, cats, drums and train horns. Genuine thali for dinner (need to check if free refills are included in thali back home!), and I have said at least 3 times today, “I can’t believe I’m really in India.”