Wandering in Udaipur

After the excitement of Chittorgarh yesterday, it was back to Udaipur. The morning was spent planning – booking planes, trains and automobiles.

Hunger then set in and I walked to the Queen Cafe, recommended by Lonely Planet. Looking at the dark exterior and no light coming out, I was about to turn away when someone opened the door. I walked in to be met by grandad, grandma and granddaughter, about ten, who had just come home from school. There was no one else inside. The grandad, who had the table by the door, motioned me to sit opposite him, which I did. He talked me through the menu and, at his suggestion, I chose pumpkin curry and rice. I added pineapple juice. The juice was fresh because I saw grandma pop out only to return a few minutes later with a pineapple.

Before the food arrived, the grandson and son-in-law arrived home. The grandson, about eight, spoke good English and we chatted for a bit. He disappeared and it was back to the awkward silence with grandad, who sat with a blanket around him since it was surprisingly cool inside given that it was 26c outside.

Whilst waiting, I looked around. There was a larger table below a few steps for a bigger group and doubling up for the family dinner. Upstairs I could see a bed, which was obviously someone’s bedroom.

Eventually the granddaughter brought out the food, which was good.

Even though I felt I was an intruder in someone’s home, they made me feel as welcome as possible. Despite that, something didn’t feel right. Maybe there was an air of desperation about the place.

With the hunger assuaged, I decided to stroll around the Old Town, gradually making my way to a bazaar.

Having been in the South, I’d forgotten what the North was like because, of course, before heading South, I’d experienced a Northern state when I was in Gujarat!

Like Gujarat, Udaipur is full of small – in some cases tiny – single owner shops. They’ve probably been in the family for generations. Each specialised in one thing, such as jewellery, shoes, leather, kitchen utensils, fruit and veg, samosas, and Indian sweets. Unlike Gujarat, because of tourism, the art, craft and coffee shops are appearing in Udaipur. And although you don’t want the world to look like your local high street, the amalgamation of a Western phenomenon in an Eastern setting was producing something unique.

The South has a greater literacy level (100% according to a few people) and, perhaps as result, greater wealth. That said, there are many successful entrepreneurs in the North and they are educating their children, as I witnessed in Gujarat. Good education requires private wealth in India.

After exhausting the bazaar, I walked to the green by the lake (where I saw the Angry Birds) to watch the world go by as the sun set. This was briefly complemented by an Indian band playing the bagpipes, quite naturally!

I decided to return via the City Palace. I saw an interesting building and decided to go in despite the No Entry sign. Very quickly a uniformed security guard came running after me, pointing alarmingly to the sign. With upward-facing palms, I looked at him with touristy incomprehension and uttered something in Gujarati, which he didn’t understand – why would he, we’re in Rajasthan?!

I continued to the entrance gate of the Palace complex. Another guard asked for my ticket. I said I was just walking through. He replied, “Ticket?”. No matter what I said, he said “Ticket?”, like a robot designed to say one word when seeing a human. I went to the ticket office and the guy said something about tickets for the show. I asked if a ticket was required to walk through the grounds and he looked apologetically at me and said, “No, of course not”. The robot had retreated by this stage. His programming had something about being silent if there was a conversation going on between the ticketless human and the amply ticketed ticket seller .

So I walked through. I heard music. I wondered where the sitar sound was coming from. There must be speakers secreted throughout the façade of the Palace. What’s more, there was a music and light show starting soon! So it was back to the ticket office! The robot said “Ticket?”. I ignored him. I bought a ticket for the show and on my way to the seats, showed my ticket to the robot, who tore off the stub and seemed happy – in a robotic way.

The light and music show was, in fact, a brief history of the Mewar dynasty, which apparently is the oldest dynasty in the world. The story was told by disembodied Indian actors speaking in very British accents, their prerecorded voices coming out of the speakers from various parts of the Palace. As different voices spoke different parts of the Palace lit up, so that each character in the history was represented by a voice, a speaker and lights in a particular location.

It was all quite entertaining, more so because I learnt Chittorgarh was once the home of the Mewars and, after being sacked three times, the Mewars created a new capital called Udaipur, the White City.

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