Breakfast of idli and marsala chai on the lawn sounds, and was, rather idyllic, despite the reality of one’s chairs sinking into the grassy mire. Then, bidding farewell to our all-too-brief home, we set off for Udaipur.
Road tripping in India is a truly strange experience, and not just because you can’t get meat pies at the gas station. The roads are microcosm of the wider Indian existence.
Diesel trucks bedecked with fake flowers and tasselled pulls (to ward off the evil eye) and decorated with all manner of painted relief, belch fumes as they trundle on at a fixed and constant 40km/p/h. Occupying no particular lane, they each hold their charted course, serving as anchor points, or islands, in the sea of traffic that surrounds them.
Tractors and camels each pull their load in the left hand lane, which is often complicated by vehicles driving the wrong way down the highway (sometimes for several kilometres) in what appears to be an accepted – but absolutely bonkers – practice.
Motorbikes and scooters swerve amongst these obstacles, often stacked 3-4 persons deep, saris streaming gaily behind. Cars, too, swerve and swap lanes with unindicated abandon (the rule, as I divine it, being simply that whatever vehicle is most in front, by even the smallest of margins, is the ultimate victor and is therefore entitled to be in whatever lane they choose, even if already occupied). It is thus the responsibility of those not-in-pole-position to signal their presence through sustained honking, and to accommodate any lane infraction that occurs. Indeed lane infraction is a slight misnomer as, although there are lanes drawn on the road, no one pays them even the slightest heed.
Three lanes marked? That’s four driving lanes no worries and five or maybe six (in a pinch) at any point of potential bottleneck (rail crossing, traffic lane, one of the many million of toll plazas each collecting their 80cents’-worth).
In amongst this colourful and fantastical nightmare appear entire herds of wandering beasts - cows, goats, dogs and even sheep. Before coming here I had often heard the cows mentioned in conversation with the familiar refrain that yes of course the traffic was mad because how could it not be, with cows sacred and on the road?
And while it must be admitted that wandering cloven-hoofed herds on the roadway is unlikely to aid traffic flow, it seems unfair to scapegoat (all jokes fully intended) these imperturbable herbivores. Madder still than the cows, to me, are the people walking not only walking along the freeways (!) but sitting and starting actual fires along the median strip, with little apparent care for congestion, constitution or even, indeed, survival.
All this colour and insanity washes past us at the rather sedate pace of 50km/p/h, which is the general top speed of highway traffic in India. For this reason, distances which we brash 110km/p/h Australians assumed would take two or three hours end up stretching to five or six. And so it is with our drive to Udaipur, short on Google, long in actuality.
Of course it doesn’t shorten the day (though it does add interest) that we stop at the Janakpur Jain Temple, a fairly glorious (but also gloriously popular) marble temple complex from the 15th century. I don’t fully (read: at all) understand what Jainism is about as a religion other than its flag has the misfortunate of looking a lot like the Nazi Swastika.
It’s a lovely spot, though, notwithstanding the loud French tourists insistent on trying to take photos devoid of people (what is with that by the way? The experience is a peopled one, why must we misrepresent it in our constructed remembrance?) Also loving it is the marmoset community who appear to have bred frequently and now spend the days swinging from mini-van roof racks and enticing tourists to share their food.
Our hotel in Udaipur is a tall skinny-whitewashed roof-terraced building at the nether end of a cobbled street so narrow and treacherously steep that our driver refuses to proceed. While in Europe this would equate to you hauling your luggage for three blocks and rueing that large suitcase without wheels, in India it means your driver calls your hotel and they send a host of beautiful young lads in oriental collars to heft your luggage on your behalf.
For a tip of course but some financial recognition seems most deserving.
Traipsing after said pretty bag-hauling lads up several flights of stairs, we pause at our room (and bid tip-ful farewell to our aides) before continuing up one more windy flight to the restaurant. From there we survey the entirety of Udaipur, spread out and sparkling, the lake city turned all shades of crimson and butter gold by the sun. It is breathtaking. One of the helpful waistcoated hotel chaps gestures to a further, narrower, windier stair and, reluctant as we are to drag our selves from the visage, we totter up it, reaching the rooftop terrace.
Firmly becoming one of my favourite Indian institutions, the rooftop terrace is uniformly guarded by low walls (that would not meet Australian Building Codes) and is furnished by a smattering of stumpy-legged tables around which lie sumptuous jewel toned cushions perfect for reclining with a Kingfisher beer (a brand I had never previously encountered but have found everywhere since). Which was exactly what we did that night… and, I now add, each subsequent night.
The next morning, rested in our quirky apartment of a triple wide bed and a matching array of double-hung lakeside windows (all bedecked in the same floral tones), we set off to explore the City Palace. It is, once again, a curious experience of a beautiful building somewhat ruined through either decay or restoration. The latter is the culprit in this instance and we marvel at the strange thought processes that led conservators to install primary hued glass in many of the windows (apparently from Belgium, said in unaccountably reverent tones). Still the internal garden courtyard with its array of alcoves and (one imagines, for they are always empty) plunge-pools is pretty close to the divine.
Our driver meets us after lunch and tries to take us to several more fort / palace hybrids but we beg off, feigning over stimulation of the historical sensibilities (really, who wants to spend endless days traversing the same artificially laid pathways with a bunch of ‘my-camera-is-bigger-than-yours’ sightseers?) and somehow end up being dropped at a hillside fort (the begging off business either being only partly successful or something crucial getting lost in translation) to watch the sunset at 3pm.
Being somewhere we don’t wish to be, for something we didn’t really want to see, while being somewhat inundated with selfie requests from all genders and age groups is somewhat typical of our Indian experience to date. Nothing for it but to laugh. And then pose. Selfie time!
We stayed at Mewar Haveli in Udaipur and would thoroughly recommend them - great location, brilliant staff and, most importantly, and unsurpassed rooftop for sunset beers!