Grant Muller

JTTE: The Most Romantic City in All of India

India-1822The road to Udaipur began after a quick caffeine fix. This would be our shortest driving length of the trip, but owing to the terrain would be our longest. Leaving Jodhpur we encountered some of the most poorly maintained tracts of asphalt I’ve seen this side of Costa Rica. Couple that with the fact that we were on the main road from Jodhpur to Mumbai, the Indian shipping capital, and we had created a very stressful start to the day for Mashtan. After a few hours we turned off this one lane superhighway onto the road to Udaipur, and things quickly improved.

The terrain changes dramatically between the encroaching western desert and the city of Udaipur. On the horizon mountains appear, and rocky outcroppings poke up out of the scrub like monuments in the sand. I can only describe is as looking like the countryside of Greece sounds. Within an hour we were in the midst of the stony mountain pass, with terraced farms, stacked walls and rock huts dotting the landscape as we zoomed by. Mashtan was visibly happier with this portion of the drive. "This is like Himalaya" he said to us, as the road hair-pinned around an embankment, "This is not boring drive". We agreed, and when the opportunity to have a tea at a hotel nestled in the hills presented itself, we lingered long.

India-1832Udaipur is like an oasis in the mountains. The city surrounds a lake, and the transition between algae covered waters and concrete structures is immediate. There are several spots where stairs have been built right into the water, and I’m certain that all of the classic shots of people collectively bathing and doing their laundry in India come from Udaipur. The city is also quite small. We planned to have Mashtan drop us off at our lodgings and just walk everywhere from there, which is more conducive to the way Cary and I travel anyway. It also gave Mashtan a much needed break.

Speaking of lodgings. In Udaipur we stayed at another "guest house", or haveli that has been converted into an inn. I don’t know how to describe these guest houses to Americans other than comparing them to a bed and breakfast, which isn’t quite the same. At a guest house, there are usually few rooms, four to ten in our experience. With such a limited number of guests staying in the haveli, the staff can better accommodate your needs than a traditional hotel. Indeed, we found that when we stayed at a guest house in India, we were much India-1840happier with our lodgings than when we stayed in a hotel. Here is an example: whenever we had an early pick up at a guest house, well before the kitchen opened, the staff would usually offer to make use something that we could pack for breakfast. Another example: internet costs money here in India. At every hotel we went to we had these goofy scratch off cards with a password to get on their internet, which was finicky to use and required constant re-authentication. At the guest houses internet was free, or they charged on a per hour basis simply asking you to report to them about how much you used. I am much more likely to overpay in the latter scenario, simply because the bond of trust between guest and host has been created by the host’s faith in my honesty. Bottom line: Pick the guest house over the hotel if one is available.

India-1870After a quick check-in later than we expected, we wandered around the city in an effort to catch the boat tour. We got a little lost, but a few rickshaw rides later caught our bearings. The boat ride would have to wait for the morning, but we did wander the streets, conversed with the locals and perused the shops. We met some of the most memorable characters we had encountered so far in India. The most avid Tata connoisseur on the planet who ran Tata’s first retail endeavor. Jony and Sony, two brothers who had set up shop as tailors of fine suits. We also ran into several other residents who had spent time in other cities and ended up back in Udaipur. I don’t blame the latter of these; we found Udaipur to be the finest city we had the privilege to visit in India, and agree with the most common assessment of the it: "Udaipur is the most romantic city in all of India".

Taking it easy for the evening, we had a leisurely dinner on the terrace of our haveli, which overlooked the lake, the lit palaces, and the city. Tomorrow we would set out on foot again to visit the tourist attractions and catch our train back to Delhi.

JTTE: A Respite in Jodhpur

India-1604After a leisurely breakfast Friday morning on the terrace of the Fifu Guest House, we began our journey out of the Thar and back towards central India. We had planned a stop on our way to Udaipur in the city of Jodhpur.

Founded in 1459, Jodhpur is the second largest in the state of Rajasthan, and sports  temples, palaces and forts that are similar in style to the other cities we’ve visited. We had planned to make Jodhpur a rest day of sorts, figuring we could roll into town sometime after lunch, see a few of the sites, then relax in the gardens of the hotel.

I expected the air to cool as we left the desert, but I was sorely mistake. As we stopped along the way we noticed that it was getting uncomfortably hot outside. In previous cities staying out in the sun was bearable, I began to think that the heat might cut our sightseeing short.

We arrived in Jodhpur around 1:00 and made a beeline for our lodgings. We were both unusually tired and Mashtan recommended we take a break for a few hours, then head to some of the sites in the afternoon. We agreed. When afternoon did come the heat had not subsided. We decided to venture out anyway and stopped first at Jaswant Thada.

India-1613Jaswant Thada is a shrine to the Maharaja’s of Jodhpur, originally built for Jaswant Singh in the late 1800’s. Jaswant, who brought technological innovations to Jodhpur such as irrigation is looked up to by the locals as a hero, and the cenotaph erected here is a place where the locals can pay homage to his legacy. It’s also a place where western tourists take photos. Inside the marble pillared cenotaph are portraits of the Jodhpur Maharajas all the way back to Rao Jodha, the founder of the city. As with most temples it is quiet inside save for the cooing of hundreds of pigeons.

India-1575Jaswant Thada and Mehrangarh Fort live right next to each other, so it only made sense to check out the fort next. This is when the heat began to give us trouble.To get inside the fort you have to muscle through a graded, shade deprived street. The climb alone was brutal, and by the time we reached the top we were both forced to sit down and take a break. After resting for a moment we continued onwards into the courtyard of the fort, at which point Cary succumbed to the heat. Forced to sit this one out, she reluctantly handed the camera over to me while I perused the museums and palaces.

India-1626Its walls carved directly from the rocks it stands on, Mehrangarh fort is a hodge-podge of architectural styles and influences. Construction began in in 1459 when Rao Jodha first moved his capital from Mandore to Jodhpur. The fort was modified and added to over generations of Raos and Maharaja, there is no one style or look that defines it; this quality is also what makes it one of the more interesting of the forts we’ve visited. In addition to the uniqueness of it’s construction, it’s also one of the more organized site we’ve visited. Museums displaying the arms, costumes, vehicles and textiles of Rajputs over the years are smartly displayed throughout the well planned out tour. I breezed through the fort, following the arrows to the major points of interest such as the Moti Mahal, Sheesh Mahal, and Phool Mahal. I’m not sure if I’m as head over heels in love with it as Rudyard Kipling, but it was certainly different than many of the forts we’ve seen along the way.

India-1669With a camera full of pictures for Cary’s perusal in hand, I picked her up in the courtyard and we headed for air conditioning. Cary needed a nap something awful, so I volunteered to walk about a kilometer from our hotel to the nearest ATM to get some cash while she slept off the heat.

I hadn’t had a chance to walk around an Indian neighborhood since I first arrived almost two weeks ago, but I was instantly reminded of what real Indian culture looks like. We had spent the last week moving from tourist destination to tourist destination, and it was beginning to give me the impression that all of India lives to hound any visitor who crosses their path out of a few rupees. I was reminded of my first forays into the neighborhoods of Noida, where passersby were pleasantly oblivious to the appearance of a giant white guy roaming their neighborhood. I received a few cordial "Namaste’s", on my walk and I actually had a normal conversation with a rickshaw driver:

Rickshaw Guy: Hey, you need a lift?
Me: Nah, just gonna walk.
Rickshaw Guy: I’ll be here if you change your mind.

That was it. No persistence. No hounding. Pleasant.

India-1711Cash in hand I headed back to the hotel, and read for a while in the garden, sipping on a local scotch (Blender’s Pride). Cary woke sometime later and we walked around the neighborhood for a while, then grabbed dinner and caught a cricket match at On the Rocks. We also had some kulfi on a stick from the “mall” (which is a story in and of itself). There was also a wedding going on at our hotel, which provided some additional entertainment and insight into India culture.

We planned on using Jodhpur as a rest day on our long journey, and though we caught a few sights, I think we used it appropriately. Tomorrow would begin the leisurely drive to Udaipur on one of the final legs of our journey.