Sunday, April 6, 2014

Poverty and palaces

Pumping water while a friend washes his face
After the quiet solitude of the camel safari we were thrust back in to the hustle and bustle of larger and busier towns and cities. Using a variety of travel mechanisms including trains, buses, jeeps, walking and autocycle rickshaws (little 3 wheeled contraptions), we made our way south and east from Jaisalmer, which was next to the Pakistan border. We found ourselves preferring autocycle rickshaw travel in the cities, even over walking, as they could zip in and out of traffic with relative ease and had no problem with going the wrong way when necessary or even taking the footpath.

There are the cows, more than I thought existed on Earth. Once while walking past a herd of cows one turned its head brushing my ass with its horn. Memories of those funny 'running with the bulls' videos flashed into my mind; they did not seem so funny all of a sudden. I give them a much wider berth now. Then there are the people, the women always looking very colourful in their saris. On bikes, motorcycles, being pulled by camels or horses on a cart, in cars, autocycle rickshaws, selling, begging, struggling.
A room in the palace

I find it difficult to reconcile the length and breadth of their history, the sheer past grandeur and opulence of the many palaces and forts with the reality of India as it is today. How did they get from there to the scale of the poverty that currently exists? Many theories are put forward in the many discussions that are had. Elections are currently being held and I wonder why anybody would want the job; the likelihood of even making a dent in the problem seems unattainable. The place is fascinating and so different though and your tourist dollar goes a long, long way. Where else could you buy a 600ml Coke, a banana and an icecream for less than a dollar Australian?

Mehrangarh fort

Let's try and shake off my melancholy mood and get back to the trip. Next up was Jodhpur, the blue city on account of the many houses in the old section that are painted blue. Also home of the fabulous Mehrangarh fort, which looked amazing from our hotel room, was amazing inside and had amazing views. A tour of this fort does not disappoint; very well organised it included demonstrations of rolling on your turban, psychic readings and live traditional meditation music.

The blue city it is
View from the hotel of the fort

Elizabeth  ziplining

The other thing you can do at this fort is zipline it. This consists of six separate lines of cable that you hook on to and slide, flying fox style, your way around the fort. I was unsure about this particular activity but at $30 Aust Elizabeth said, 'Where else in the world can you zoom around a fort for $30?' Well, I could not fault that kind of logic so zoom we did. It was a blast and the views were brilliant. Not scary at all once you got going. I did a video I will share below so you can get a sense of the experience. Stick with it, as initially I had to start it going and then put my gloves on and hook up to the cable. so you cannot see much. Then you get to see what I see for a bit, until a point near the end where I run out of slide too early. Apparently you need to be more streamlined than I was (I was more focussed on the video) so I had to spin around and hand over hand pull myself up the last bit, lol.

Next stop was Udaipur, the city of lakes. We stayed at a hotel run by a family of artists, and first point of order was to paint our thumbnails with a very tiny portrait. I got a maharaja (king of course) and Elizabeth got a peacock and one of our group got something from the Kama Sutra but I better not elaborate. Walking distance from the City Palace and with wonderful views from the restaurant at the rooftop, our time here was very comfortable. That night we went to see a traditional dance performance at a local temple. The dancing was very entertaining, complete with a puppet master dancing his puppets and finishing with a lady dancing with pots on her head and they kept adding more pots. This is a bit like watching car racing, you keep expecting the pots to fall off; luckily though she kept her balance perfectly.

City Palace
Our time here was spent visiting the City Palace, wandering through the streets, the markets, across the bridge to one of several nicely located restaurants along the lake and visiting the Lake Palace, which you can get to by boat and you can stay at for a surprisingly reasonable $450 per night. Some of the scenes from the James Bond film Octopussy were filmed here.

The Lake Palace
On the way back from the Lake Palace

Amer Fort
Next city on our journey was Jaipur, otherwise known as 'the pink city' (do I sense a theme here?), the largest in this district with over three million people. The highlights for me were the Amer (Amber) fort and the Jantar Mantar archaeological site of astronomical instruments. The fort was the best I had seen and even the journey was worthy of mention. On the way to the fort we passed many beautiful sites including the lake palace, and came across quite a few elephants on their way home for lunch. At the fort itself there were the usual animals including water buffalo. There is a long walk up to the fort with increasingly stunning views of the countryside and town, enclosed by a wall 40 km long that snakes across the surrounding hills.

That is one big clock!

Jantar Mantar displays the incredible scientific and engineeering ingenuity of man when put to good use. The instruments were used to measure the time, predict eclipses and track the stars. It starts off with some small ones (about 3m) that were not accurate enough so a huge one (27m) with stairs was built that has an accuracy of two seconds. Built in the early 1700's there are also individual ones for every star sign that are still used today for predicting the best time for weddings.

Honourable mention activity was a trip to the Raj Mandir cinema to see a Bollywood movie. This was a lucky dip as we went to see whatever movie was on at the time. Well, the movie was called MMS 2 and was a cross between The Exorcist and Grease. Every now and again they would break into dance but most of the movie was a murdering possession story of the beautiful Bollywood star. Unlike Western cinemas, the crowd was very animated, clapping and whooping during the dance scenes or just continuing to talk and answer phones during the rest. Not quite what we expected but an interesting experience.

So, as we leave the pink city behind us, next stop the Taj Mahal.

Udaipur City Palace from a restaurant across a bridge

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