Road to Jodphur: India Day 9

(See below for my previous India posts. It's been a while since I last posted for our trip.)

On the move, always on the move. After an enjoyable couple of days in Udaipur, we had another 6-hour drive, which made me wonder if the trip to Udaipur was worth it.

That said, if we hadn't done the driver-to-Udaipur thing, we wouldn't have gotten to visit Ranakpur, which was well worth the time. Ranakpur is home to the largest (or second largest) Jain temple in the country. AMAZING.

We got there over an hour before it was due to open to the public (those Jains are strict!), so we piled into a nearby roadside restaurant, where we figured we'd have a couple of masala chais and listen to Ramesh make fun of us in Hindi some more. But Ramesh also called over a very interesting guy, a gentleman whose name escapes me, with slicked back hair and a goatee and a red dot, who told us a great deal about the temples to pass the time to opening, and even bought us a chai.

He was a local who, as we found that English speaking Indian locals are wont to do, told us about his friends abroad and how they love to visit him here. His beard also reminded me a little of my pal Butch Schuman, so that charmed me as well. We sat and chatted until it was close to the time for the temple to open. Which is when he offered, as had most of the people we met through Ramesh, to do a service that would relieve us of some money.

Being Hindi, our man could not work as a guide in the Jain temple. BUT, he could "by chance, meet us" in the temple, give us info and background on the temple as a guide would, and maybe we could help him out with a few rupees on the way out. As Ramesh-related schemes went, it was a tame one, so we took him up on it.

Ranakpur is home to two temples, a small one and a big one. The small temple was lovely, and we were actually allowed to take photos in it. We looked around the top and bottom floors in it, and even received sandalwood color dots on our foreheads. Outside, there were carvings of apsaras in a variety of positions, including a number of sexual ones. Gotta love that. There were a few monks walking in & out of the temple, and normal Indian folks going in to make offerings and receive blessings, though they pretty much ignored us.

Soon enough, we did “run into”: our goateed friend, and, friendly sort that he was for a stranger, he told us more about the myths and legends of the Jain religion, and how that was to inform the things we would see in the main temple. We thanked him, told him we were glad to meet him, and went on our way. Were we supposed to give him money surreptitiously right there & then? I couldn’t remember. I don’t think so.

Both lovely but the big one is something special. INCREDIBLY detailed sculpture and ceramics work from floor to ceiling. There were something like 133 pillars in the place, all straight as a line except for the 133rd one, which was intentionally made crooked as a reminder that only god is perfect.

We also saw a carving that looked like our friend Steve.

One of the holy men at the temple was taking sandalwood to make it into paint, and offered to let me take his photo. I did gladly, after which he pointed decisively to his donation bowl. How pious. Guess the holy man shtick doesn’t pay as well as one thinks.

The jain temples we encountered tend to be made of white or grey marble, and spotlessly clean. Very different from, say, the hindu temple we visited in Delhi, which seemed to be spotted with every type of animal shit known to man. Hindu temples are crowded, colorful, cluttered affairs, whereas the Jain temples were anything but.

After spending a blissful hour or so mesmerized by the intricacy and beauty of the place, we left. On the way off of the grounds, I took a group photo for a clean-cut young family making pilgrimage to this place. They were so appreciative that they asked me if I’d take a photo with them. Sure, why not?

some special species of birdThen, on to Jodhpur. On the way, we stopped at another of Ramesh’s tourist trap restaurants…huge places in the middle of nowhere, that all looked alike: dozens of tableclothed tables, exorbitant prices, western candies and chips for sale at the cashier, and a huge attached gift shop. It was like visiting an Indian Stuckey’s.

On our way in to the Stuckeys, Ramesh pointed out a couple of men with headdresses, waiting by a nearby intersection. Ramesh indicated that they were not only Muslims, but Mafia; that they would follow unsuspecting Hindus to the nearby temple and sell them something, I didn’t quite get what. Flowers, maybe? Ramesh must have been making some of this shit up.

We arrived in Jodhpur several hours later, tired and cranky. We visited a couple of guest houses that looked okay but were too expensive. We were pretty sure that they’d spotted the car, and automatically jacked up the prices on us. Because we clearly had money? Because they knew they’d have to pay the driver commission? We weren’t sure. Ramesh criticized our choices, and after we couldn’t find a place we liked, suggested one that he insisted was much better. Again, wiped out as we were, we decided what the hell, let’s see it. It turned out to be a hotel with dozens of rooms, but we found one that we managed to negotiate down to a reasonable rate (provided we didn’t’ turn on the AC), and ate dinner at the hotel rest. outside our guesthouse room We met a swiss couple who looked fairly tired, and were in fact on a car & driver tour as well. Turns out they didn’t realize just how big rajastan was, and by booking a 7-day trip, they were being driven maybe 10 hours a day to each destination, seeing it for a minimum of time, then on to the next planned stop with barely the time to look around. They made our trip look like luxury.

But our day didn’t stop there, oh no. having eaten, rested, washed, and even done a bit of laundry, we set out into the old town’s open market. It was dusty, packed, busy, noisy, and wonderful. Fruit stands abounded, stands selling new and used clothing, meats, fabrics, snacks, spices, even fruit juices. I tried to haggle for fruit and was soundly rebuffed, leading me to wonder if, hey, maybe they are giving me the actual price for this stuff. That was our first sign that this market was not here for the tourists, but was in fact, real. The crowds of Indians should have tipped us off, but still.

All it took was a glimpse of fabric and sari stalls for Natacha to lead us on a merry chase for saris and, what we soon discovered were sumbwa suits—a sort of three-piece sari-like pants suit that caught natacha’s eye. We ventured deep, DEEP into the market labyrinth, checking what seemed like dozens of fabric and clothing shops, looking for just the right ones. I believe that’s the night I bought my new sarongs. They were actually a three-piece sumbwa suit that, like all of them, were just the fabric. For the actual suit, one has to go to a tailor to get it fitted. We did find Natacha a long top or two that she liked and wore for the rest of our trip.

On the way back, something happened that made us love Jodhpur even more

We were doing out best to find the clock tower (the central point of the market), and failing, getting caught in foot traffic, people traffic, and that uniquely Indian combination of both.

A man with a very young child asked us where we were going. Backpackers will know this question as the ubiquitous question asked all travelers, sometimes to start a sales pitch, sometimes as entre to practice their English, rarely out of actual concern. Except in this case. We told him where we wanted to go, he told us, and kept walking. To us, this was so far unheard of. He ACTUALLY gave us directions!

Not only that, but once he noticed we werer getting off track (we were all in shoulder-to-shoulder foot traffic), he came back over and pointed out the proper direction. Thus making Jodhpur the only city thus far where we were actually treated like people and not wallets with legs.


India Day 1: Good God, We’re Here

Day Two/Delhi: In Which We Punt

India Day 3: Boo-yah

India at 80 KPH

A few thoughts while natacha’s off using skype

India Day 4: Musical Guesthouses

India Day 5: Jaipur, Fort, Shopping

India Day 6: Huckster Ghats and Hippie Ghettos

(UPDATE: Many) Indians are short

India Day 7: Guilt and Papayas

India Day 8: City Palace, yes. Lake Palace…?

India Day 8: City Palace, yes. Lake Palace...?

I write this from one of India's many internet cafes (roughly 80 cents an hour!), and there is another one right next door...or rather, there was. Their servers were down all day today, and this evening they place seemed to be gutted, and there are construction noises coming through the wall as I write this.

So. Udaipur Day Two started off in a very india-style fashion, with Natacha and I waiting on the roof of our guest house for the yoga instructor who supposedly gives classes there every morning. He arrived 45 minutes late, saying he was sorry, he was out late as his office party was last night. We later found out that he's a government employee who is a friend of the guesthouse owner. Most likely he just does this so he can get a practice in every morning and juice the guests for donations. Which he did. He led us through a practice that was fine for him but too advanced for us, with no instruction but "change" (positions) We have yet to understand why India is the yoga captial of the world, and not, say, Marin County.

After that was breakfast at the guesthouse's rooftop resto, some chatting with the other diners, and off to Udaipur's City Palace. This is the one in the middle of the Old City; we decided to hold off on seeing the lake palaces until the end of day, so we could take a boat around them at sunset.

The Udaipur City Palace was impressive, more so than Jaipur's. plus we had a tour guide giving us the lowdown. Like the courtyard is so big the entertainment there was elephant tug-of-wars. And there is a huge centuries-old tree that seems to be rooted on the fourth floor of the palace. Think about that for a moment. (HInt: the palace is built on a hill).

I know, we've seen a couple of palaces already, and we'll see more before we're done, but Udaipur's was nothing less than sensational. Tiles from Holland. Ornaments from Russia. Gold this, gold that. Humongous courtyards, inside and out. Magnificent views of the city. Complex rope-and-pulley systems that allow the servants to operate (read: pull) the fan that keeps the prince cool in his room round-the-clock. But I guess when you can afford a pair of palaces on the lake and one in the city, a decorating budget is easy to scare up.

Turns out the latest Maharaja of Udaipur is a young man at Uni in Australia. And I understand he's single, ladies.

After that, there was a long lunch at another rooftop restaurant, this one with an insane view of a huge Jain temple smack dab in the middle of the city. And a long conversation with a lovely British couple (he a biologist, she a nurse) on the cusp of finishing a year of traveling. And just in time, as she was pregnant. Planned but sooner than planned. So long lunches were par for them at this point.

(We've met a number of couples travelling for a year or more, mostly european, and while they've all been great to talk to (my faves being Marie and Greg), I'm jealous as hell of them. Compared to them, our three months looks wimpish. I have to remind myself that they are europeans, and as such get tons of vacation time, they get to have "career breaks," etc. Considering we suckers in the USA get barely a third of the vacation time that they do), our three months is comprable--and to Americans, it's HUGE. So there, Ken. Okay, that's my one paragraph of whingeing I'm allowed.)

By the time we get to the boat to the lake palaces, it was POURING rain. in the friggin' desert for frick's sake! So the boat to the palaces isn't going. But we are, out of Udaipur, to Jodphur, the next day. So no Octopussy moment for us.

And Udaipur? Not so romantic. and the heavy foot & rickshaw traffic kinda takes the shine off those narrow european type streets. If I had the choice again, I might just give it a miss.

Ah well. We had an amazing sunset the day before. And there is a lot of beauty here. Gotta appreciate what you've got. And there's dinner with the charming Marie and Greg, whom we first met & dined with in Pushkar and Natacha ran into here later in the eve. Travel, it giveth and it...well, it mostly giveth. Which is nice.

India Day 7: Guilt and Papayas

So. We get up at the f'n CRACK, throw on our clothes & packs, and stumble through the streets of Pushkar in efforts to meet Ramesh at the 6:30 am meeting time.

While stumbling, it occurred to us that, this early in the morning, we were less likely of being harrassed by priestouts at the ghats, and took a quick detour to visit one of the larger ghats. And so were 15 minutes late to meet Ramesh.

Which normally wouldn't have been a problem.

Turns out there were some seriously crossed wires going on. See, we told him that we'd call him if we wanted to get picked up later than 6:30. No call meant "6:30 A-OK!" We thought.

But HE thought that we were going to call to check in regardless. So he got there at 6 AM, and when we showed up, boy was he pissed.

Once we got on the road, he really let us have it. He told us all the cautionary tales about Pushkar, dangerous land of backpacker grifts.

There was the couple who went to a crooked guest house (run, in Ramesh's telling, by Muslims, of course) and got robbed, drugs planted on them, some such. Then there's the infamous "Bang Lassi" story, in which a hapless femalie is given a drugged yoghurt drink. Think "roofie." We later heard the story of a friend of a fellow traveler who did have one of those, but it was by choice (like an Amsterdam "space cake."). Then there was the guy who got dope planted on him by his guest house, so he had to pay off the cops (and the guest house got a piece).

Or there are the stories of Pushkar men who work in the shops & restaurants, who seduce & marry tourist women, go back to their country, then take all their money, go back to Pushkar, and start over. Beware, Ladies!

Were any of these stories true? Ramesh seemed to think so. But more important, he said that when a professional guide is in charge of tourists that go missing, the Guide gets arrested for losing track of them! And since cars weren't allowed in Pushkar, he couldn't check on us. So we felt bad. We apologized and in return got stonewalled by Ramesh. Which didn't suck.

Regardless, it was a long drive to our next stop, Udaipur.

If you've ever looked at Udaipur on a map, you know that it's out of the way on the standard Rajastan loop--5-7 hours south of Pushkar, 5-7 hours south of Jodphur. But the Lonely Planet said the lake palace was amazing, and other travelers told us that it was "romantic and european," so we put it on our itinerary.

Because of the length of the drive, it was late in the day when we asked Ramesh if we could stop for lunch. There weren't any of his beloved tourist trap commission places along the way, so we ended up at a little roadside stand just outside the hills surrounding Udaipur.

We sat down on woven flats to eat a couple of very spicy dishes with Parantha (bread), sitting with Ramesh as he told jokes about us in Hindi to the men at the stand. Everyone was laughing but N & I.

But as we ate, a bunch of girls gathered at the stairs leading behind the stand. They were the wives, mothers, and (mostly) daughters of the men who ran the place. They looked at us a giggled a while. Because, of course, we are white and foreign and therefore hilarious.

Finally one of them said something to one of the men, who said something to Ramesh, who passed it to us: Could they take Natacha to their home? It was right behind & just below the stand. Natacha agreed and went with these 7 or so females. 20 minutes later, she returned, carrying a huge green papaya. Turns out they'd shown her the kitchen, and were just generally mezmerized with her. We stayed a while longer to talk with them (via Ramesh) and take some photos.

Natacha, kind soul that she is, worried about not having any gifts to given them in return. So she dug into her pack and gave them hair chopsticks and cough drops. Hey, what would YOU have done?

Finally heading into Udaipur, Ramesh offered once again to find us a place to stay. Since we still felt guilty about the Pushkar thing, we let him lead the way. He took us to a place that the Lonely Planet did mention, a lovely hotel with a swimming pool that was roughly double what we'd dream of paying. Big "R" was in top form.

After getting lost a few times in the center of Udaipur old town, we located a place ourselves and sent him on his way so we could spend two Ramesh-less nights in Udaipur.

We spent that first afternoon walking through the narrow, crowded streets and sitting on the Ghat overlooking the lake. You can see the golden palace in the lake, an immense white structure immortalized in the film "Octopussy." We found a fancy hotel with a rooftop restaurant, ordered the cheap dishes, and watched the sun set over the lake, the twin palaces, a mosque, and a very busy day.