Udaipur - August 4th
Our next stop was Udaipur, high up in the hills of southern Rajasthan which made it a little cooler which was welcome. Udaipur has been described as India's most romantic city. Its main claim to fame today however, is that the Lake Palace, which seems to float in the middle of Lake Pichola, was the central location for "Octopussy" & her bevy of dolly birds in the James Bond movie. It featured Roger Moore chasing around the city’s landmarks in speedboats & auto-rickshaws. Several of the restaurants show the film ad nauseum while you eat (what fun ?).
We toured the City Palace, the largest royal palace in Rajasthan. It is actually eleven palaces built over 300 years by successive Maharajas each trying to outdo his predecessor. The courtyards & rooms are connected via narrow passages which were designed to thwart surprise attacks – the layout is so confusing that you could get lost for days without the helpful direction arrows. The palaces are the usual arrangement of courtyards with rooms leading off. They have restored some of the royal living quarters with period furniture & clothing giving a feel of what it was like to live like royalty then. I liked the royal marble squat loo.
Our driver, Happy Singh, took us to Shilpgram village, a cultural centre set up by Rajiv Gandhi to promote & preserve the music, architecture & crafts of the people of western India. The original concept was good but it is not well supported & looks a bit sad today. Most of the stalls which should have had weavers & potters toiling away were empty but there were musicians, dancers & puppeteers giving their all at the closing show.
The Sahelion-Ki-Bari Gardens (gardens of the maids of honour) was the summer retreat for the ladies of the royal household. The entrance path is flanked by two rows of fountains which would go on & off magically when the tour guide clapped his hands. What you couldn’t see was a little old man crouched behind a tree turning the water valve. A large pool dominates the central courtyard with formal gardens surround it.
The roads leading to Udaipur are lined with yards selling beautiful slabs of cut & carved marble & the roads are choked with lorries overloaded with massive blocks of marble. There must have been thousands of tonnes of the stuff.