Day 121: Udaipur, India. We woke to the first clear morning in days, and climbed the steps to the rooftop restaurant for breakfast in the sun.
We ordered a couple of dishes we hadn’t come across before – poha, made from rice that has been parboiled, rolled flattened and dried into flakes, and upma, a thick porridge made from dried roasted semolina. Both delicious, filling breakfast dishes – and they made a nice change from chapatis and cornflakes.
We left the hotel around lunchtime to walk into Udaipur town – a two kilometre walk along busy but interesting roads. A bunch of cows was having a lazy Sunday afternoon snooze in the sun, and then several packs of donkeys went running past us. No idea where the donkeys were off to, but they looked very intent on getting there.
When we reached the city, we stopped at a tiny hole-in-the-wall cafe for another caffeine hit. Again the coffee came served in clay cups, and again we were told to chuck the cups in the bin when we’d finished – we’re still baffled by the wastage. The man at the cafe said “cups – one use only” – he didn’t explain why though. Still a mystery to be solved.
We had a few items on our sightseeing list today. The first was a visit to Jagdish temple, an impressive building which was built by Maharana Jagat Singh in 1651, and dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The three-storied temple is 79 feet high, and beautifully adorned with sculptures of demons, elephants, dancers, musicians, deities and other animals. Jim particularly likes the cat demons on the bottom layer of the carvings, which are there to warn off evil spirits – very useful. The temple holds five services each day and the sermons, which are songs for the gods, are sung by the priest, sitting on the floor of the temple with a drum, with participants gathered around.
Then we walked down to the lakeside at Gangaur Ghat, where a guy was playing a homemade musical instrument, which sounded pretty good.
This is the spot where James Bond steps off a boat to meet his CIA contact in the movie Octopussy, which has a number of scenes shot here in 1983. The movie is screened free every evening at a number of restaurants and bars around town to attract tourists. A local guy, under the guise of welcoming us to Udaipur, and pretending to be interested in where we’ve been and what we’ve liked most so far, tried to lure us into a tour of the famous Octopussy locations. No thanks.
Next we walked through town to the entrance to Udaipur Palace, a majestic complex built on top of a hill overlooking Lake Pichola. Construction of the palace started in 1553 and was completed over a period of nearly 400 years. We spent a couple of hours walking around the main palace, and all the extensions built over the centuries by various rulers. The palace is a fusion of Rajasthani and Mughal architectural styles, and is pretty amazing.
The palace has been well preserved and offers great views over the east of the city. Some of the doorways are a bit small for Jim though.
And a little unexpectedly, the glasses that Ben Kingsley wore in the 1982 movie Gandhi are now on display in the Palace museum. Lord Richard Attenborough donated them to the museum in appreciation of the warm welcome he received by Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar, the custodian of Udaipur, when he visited Udaipur to shoot a sequence for the movie.
Then we went for a wander through the lane ways of the old town. There are lots of fabulous old buildings, many of which are adorned with hand painted scenes of royal ladies and men on horses. A little kid on his bike asked us where were from, and on hearing Australia said “Canberra is the capital of Australia. I know because a chapter in my school book is about Australia.” Good to hear.
There are lots of interesting shops and businesses dotting the side streets around the city. It looks like the local optician does an intriguing side line in used dentures, with a glass case full of old false teeth to choose from. The mind boggles.
After a long hot afternoon of sightseeing, it was time for a beer. An Australian girl, who was sitting on a step with some Indian friends, suggested we go to the a bar along the street, which has a sensational rooftop with views across the place, lake and city and the hills beyond.
We had icy cold beers, while some irritating huge wasps buzzed around (one had a quick swim in Jim’s beer), then had a great dinner while the sun set and the lights came on across the city. Out of the corner of our eyes we could see dozens of monkeys scurrying across the rooftops – thankfully they didn’t come near us.
As we left the restaurant, the waiter asked us to take two slips of paper from a basket which had hand written motivational sayings. He also gave us two cute little heart shaped cookies. (Jim scoffed his cookie in two seconds flat, so the photo only shows one).
On the way home, we popped into a local wine shop to check out their selection of wines. Wine shops are a catch-all phrase for liquor shops here (the sale of alcohol is tightly regulated). We bought a bottle of Indian red wine, which was toasty warm on the shelf – perhaps not the best storage conditions.
When we got back to the hotel, we slung our packs into our room, then headed up to the rooftop to enjoy a couple of glasses of the warm red wine, along with some music from our phone playlists.
And then to bed. Tomorrow we’re planning to visit another museum and take a walk around our local area. And perhaps we’ll watch a rerun of Octopussy, so we can spot some famous locations.