India Holiday – Day 12: Udaipur

With traffic being so chaotic, I made the mistake of looking up accident statistics for India this morning, and almost wish I hadn’t. India accounts for something like 16% of all road deaths in the world, yet accounts for just 1% of the world’s cars. As that number doubles every decade, it can only get worse before it gets better: 20 years ago, there were 15 million cars, today it’s 65 million – and in 20 years it will be 450 million. Yikes!

Of course, just after leaving for Udhaipur we saw the aftermath of an accident: Two lorries crashed head on, with one overturned. Lots of glass everywhere, and enough onlookers that we just hurried past.

In many ways, India has evolved hugely, but it’s also very backwards in many ways. For example, we again saw lots of women carrying water on their heads, often many kilometres, just like we saw groups of women washing clothes in ponds far from their houses. At the same time, we saw bike dealerships and other signs of modern life; it really is a country of huge contrast.

The road is now very bad in places, and has narrowed to a single uneven lane with a bit of uneven gravel on each side, and we have slowed down accordingly, although we’re still not driving in “Western” style like a couple we met yesterday: They are German/Swiss, and their driver is under strict instructions to drive according to the rules, with no “undertaking”, risky overtaking, using of horn, etc – I’m frankly not sure how they ever get anywhere that way, but it’s their choice.

I didn’t know that wearing a Sari in India is a married woman’s prerogative: Once married, custom even makes it mandatory. This explains why some women wear jeans and ride “normally” on motorbikes, whereas some wear a Sari and ride “side saddle”. It does not look comfortable and I can’t begin to imagine how an accident unfolds if it involves a family of mum, dad and kids, none of them wearing a helmet, and mum sitting sideways in her Sari. Yikes!

The “Mecca” of the Jain religion is a huge temple complex in Ranakpur, about halfway to Udaipur, and it is very beautiful. It is in 3 stories, built entirely out of intricately engraved marble, and is even larger than the Taj Mahal! Jain have to visit the temple once in their life, but it looks more busy with tourists than with Jain 🙂

The temple is 600 years old, and the level of detail and effort gone into it is just staggering. Of its 4 domes, 3 are shaped like a mosque rather than as a Hindu temple to confuse and deter an invading Muslim force as they have a tendency to destroy anything non-muslim. Thankfully the ploy seems to have worked, and we spend a couple of hours here before moving on, thoroughly impressed.

We had lunch at a small outdoor buffet place called Harmony Restaurant, shortly after the temple. I hope we don’t come to regret that.

The city of Udaipur is very busy; the buildings are lower but otherwise it reminds me more of Delhi than of Jodhpur. Traffic is all snarled up, and in order to get to the pier leading to our hotel, we have to go through several checkpoints manned by royal staff – it’s owned by the Raj.

The hotel is called the Taj Lake Palace, and it is situated in the middle of a sizeable lake inside Udaipur itself, which is why we have to go to the pier first – there is an 8-minute boat ride to get to the hotel itself.

The hotel is simply pure magic, both in appearance and in the level of service and attention they give us; I have never experienced anything like it. The people at the pier all know our names as we get out of the car, and have welcome drinks ready. They accompany us to the pier, give us fresh wet towels, then stay with us in the boat as we (and our luggage on a separate boat) are ushered to the hotel. Once there, we are met by a rain of rose petals, more individual welcome cocktails, – I think you get the picture. Astonishing.

Even better, they have a no-tipping system, where we really just tip at the end. And they have the first heated pool (with Jacuzzi!) we’ve come across, and Iain too is in heaven as we take the opportunity to splash about for a while 🙂

The Palace is owned by the local Raj, or Maharan, and used to be the Summer palace for his family. From our Palace Room, we have a direct view of his current palace (which used to be the Winter Palace) and from the other wise we can see the mountain resort that is his Monsoon Palace. The life as Raj sure sounds hard; so much moving involved!

Mamta and I want to go to their high-end Indian restaurant, so we get in-room dining or Iain, and he says it’s the best food he’s ever had. I think he’s impressed – and the Thali that Mamta and I have is very good too, just too large for our appetite!

What a day. We tip into our large, luxurious beds and sleep soundly, pretending to be royalty for a day…