Day 119: Chittorgarh, India. The weather this morning was even worse than yesterday. When we peered out the window first thing, the rain was beating down relentlessly.
Lil, the ever optimistic weather forecaster, predicted it might clear in an hour or so, so we headed downstairs for another large buffet breakfast, while we waited for the change to come.
After breakfast the rain had got even heavier. Big dark clouds were rolling overhead with occasional thunder and lightning thrown into the mix. It was 9.30am, so we agreed that whatever the weather at 10am, we were going to order transport and head to Chittorgarh Fort regardless.
A lovely guy called Papu picked us up in his loud rumbling tuk tuk – we climbed in and sped out of the car park towards the fort. At one point Papu took a short cut and turned into oncoming traffic (it seems to be a thing here). After making our way to the correct side of the road, we followed a motorbike for a bit, which appeared to be transporting an entire tree.
The rain got heavier and heavier as we drove along. Cars and motorbikes – and our tuk tuk – had to steer around the large lakes of water that were rapidly forming. We had visions of friends and family watching reports of Indian floods on TV and going “Oh look, there’s Lil and Jim floating past in a tuk tuk”.
We arrived safely but soggy at the fort entrance – open sided tuk tuks don’t offer much in the way of rain protection. Jim bought two foreigner tickets for the fort, and then we were on our way to start exploring.
The fort complex is huge – it’s like an entire village within the old fort walls. Thankfully Papu drove us from place to place unprompted, or we would likely have spent half the day staring at maps working out where to go.
We started at the the Kumbha Palace, originally built in 784 and much renovated over the centuries, though now in complete ruin. It’s thought to be the birthplace of Udai Singh, the founder of Udaipur, which we’re traveling to tomorrow.
Next, and the highlight of our visit, was climbing Vijay Stambh – a nine storey tower rising to a height of 37 metres. The tower was built by the Rana Kumbha in the mid 15th century to mark his triumph over the forces of Malwa and Gujarat.
We had to take our shoes off at the entrance, which made climbing the narrow steep slippery steps even more precarious. There were lots of bats hanging from the ceilings, flapping and squeaking loudly. As we wound our way to the top, we found ourselves squelching through bat, pigeon and monkey poo – as Jim so eloquently put it “it’s a whole spectrum of poo”.
As we climbed the steps, monkeys peered in the windows and a couple started to make their way inside. We flapped our arms at them, and despite one of them baring his teeth at us in return, we managed to shoo them away.
Despite the poo and monkey dramas, the tower was absolutely magnificent, with incredible intricate carvings in the marble all the way up the inside, and the views from the top (at least what we could see through the mist) were spectacular too.
We also visited the Jain Swethamber Temple, a collection of five incredibly decorated cell shrines built around 1450, surrounded by 27 smaller cells each with an idol inside. Women’s menstrual blood is considered to be impure in several significant Jain texts, and a sign outside requested that ladies in their menstrual cycle refrain from entering the temple.
At the Ratan Singh Palace, built between 1528 and 1531 as a winter abode for the royal family, a group of women were bathing and washing clothes in the lake. Given the colour of the water, we’re not sure they’d be any cleaner afterwards than when they went in.
We visited a number of other temples and palaces during our visit, some in good conditions, others in a sad state of disrepair, but all fabulous regardless.
When we’d finished, Papu dropped us off in Chittorgarh town, amongst chaos and cows and mud. We said goodbye and thanks, and he gave us his number in case we fancied another bone-shaking ride in his tuk tuk later.
We were starving, so stopped for late lunch and coffee at a restaurant and bakery in the town. There was a guy making nan bread at the front, which was fun to watch – however our entertainment was short lived as the waiter waved us into the air conditioned area at the back. We ordered stuffed dosa with paneer and masala and coffee, which was pretty good.
While we were waiting for the food to arrive, Lil asked where the bathroom was. A waiter took her up a flight of stairs and pointed to a hotel room with an open door, where there was a small bathroom with a squat toilet. There was a guy in there having a wee with the door wide open, so Lil had to hover in the corridor until he’d finished. All a little odd and she was glad to get back to the table.
After lunch we darted through the traffic to Arun’s Sports shop across the street, to see if by any chance they might have ping pong palls (given we’d put an end to the hotel’s only ball yesterday). The open-fronted shop is fabulous – it’s like someone has piled an entire Rebel Sport store into their living room and roughly rearranged the goods on shelves. We pointed to a picture of ping ping balls on Lil’s phone and after a bit of rummaging, the guy proudly held up a box of balls.
A few doors down, a cow had walked up some steps and into a restaurant for a spot of lunch. We watched amused while one of the waiters grabbed a handful of chapatis and lured the cow out and down the street. When the cow had finished scoffing the bread (it looked pretty content with its lunch), the waiter touched the cow on the forehead, then blessed himself. The unique relationship between people and cows here continues to fascinate us.
We walked to a hotel bar a couple of hundred metres down the street (our first beer in days, as our own hotel doesn’t serve alcohol). At the hotel, a guy at reception waved us into the restaurant area, which doubles as a bar. There was a large room at the end of the bar, with frosted glass doors. The waiter pointed and said something – Lil couldn’t understand, but Jim thought he said “Indian wedding”.
We could hear lots of cheering and clapping, and Lil kept straining her head to try and see what was going on through a small clear patch on the door. The waiter spotted her, and waved her through the door and into an empty seat inside. But there was no sign of any wedding celebrations. Instead, Lil found herself sitting with 50 guys in some sort of business coaching session conducted in Hindi. She waited ten minutes (to be polite), staring at endless powerpoint slides in Hindi, then made her escape back to Jim, who was laughing his head off. While she was in there, the waiter had pointed to the door and this time Jim heard him say “business meeting”.
We finished our beer, and caught a tuk tuk back to our hotel. As Lil climbed out of the tuk tuk, she stepped straight into a large cow pat. Thankfully the hotel had an outdoor tap, and thankfully Jim was happy to clean her shoe (he’s a lot less squeamish than Lil) – all while one of the hotel staff stood by supervising Jim’s efforts and chattering away, telling us he has a friend in Sydney and he’d left us some extra mineral water in our room.
We had another six games of table tennis with the new ping pong balls, then headed down to the restaurant for dinner, to top off another big day.
Tomorrow we pack up again to head to Udaipur, a two and a half hour train trip south west of Chittorgarh. The train we’re travelling on has no seats, only sleepers, which will doubtless be a whole new experience.