Browsing Tag


Asia, Destinations

Jaipur to Udaipur

November 30, 2012 • By

In short, Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan, one of India’s most modern and functioning states. It is known as the Pink City because its outer walls and gates are painted pink in honor of a visit from England’s Prince Albert in 1876. The Maharaja at the time –Sawai Ram Singh II wanted to impress the Prince so he ordered the entire city painted. It was a way for the Maharaja to form stronger ties with the British. This is one of the top destinations for most tourists and I contend because it’s actually a “walkable and shopable” destination and the quality of the goods warrant a look and purchase.

We left Jaipur and headed on an eight-hour journey to Udaipur. Still weakened from my bout with Delhi Belly, I didn’t eat much in preparation for the voyage. I’ve decided in this country safe is definitely the way to go. We planned a stop in Pushkar for the annual Camel Fair that brings out hundreds of thousands of Indians and tourists for the five-day event. The Camel Fair is one of the world’s largest and involves livestock trading as well but I could hardly see anything with the 10 deep crowds of people on the walkways. We caught the last day and missed most of the camels but let me tell you this we did not miss the masses of humanity. It was 80+ degrees, bodies everywhere of all different socio-economic backgrounds, sand, dirty pools of water on the ground, animal dung, and a massive amount of merchandise selling. There were tourists gathered around the tight rope performers and gymnasts, more flies on fruit than bees on honey and smells of varying degrees.

It’s like we were asking for trouble. I couldn’t even use their version of the toilet. I walked in the “bathroom” and a heavy scent of human feces greeted by nose and feet and I started dry heaving. Sometimes doing as the locals do (men that is) and utilizing the outdoors makes a whole lot of sense. I am glad we attended the fair but it was an overwhelming experience. Our driver Jayveer who has been our protector for the last six days pushed us through the madness to make sure we met the Camel Fair winner donned in brightly colored harness. We snapped some photos, bought some bangles to prove we were there, elbowed with more of humanity than is ever necessary and were back on the road to Udaipur.

Udaipur is known as the City of Lakes and often considered the Venice of the East. It lives up to its reputation. The Aravalli Mountain range, the longest in India, hugs the city and within their natural landscape rests seven connecting lakes giving Udaipur a sparkle like no other city we have visited thus far. Former Royal Palaces now converted into five star hotels line the waterfront and narrow streets give way to the Old City, merchant shops and bargaining tourists. Udaipur is one of the smaller “big” cities with a population of 500,000. It was founded in 1559 and is the third capital of the Mawar Dynasty, the longest serving dynasty in the world. The Royal Family still resides in Udaipur, while their power shifted to that of ceremonial they still yield some influence in the city.

We had a lovely guide Umeed who showed us the City Palace – part living quarters for the Royal Family and part museum. When Indira Ghandi served as the prime minister, she stripped India’s Royal families of their government payments. Most were forced to sell their property, while other resourceful royals converted their residences into hotels, which is why so many of the families are managing massive hotel or hospitality groups in India.

Construction of the Palace began in 1559 by Maharana Udai Singh (the founder of the city) and 22 kings reigned from this palace for the next 300 years. The City Palace towers along the banks of Lake Pichola, as does one of the former residences resting like an island in the center of the lake. The lakes in the area depend greatly on the runoff from the mountains to keep them full. There are many years when the lakes are barren especially when Monsoon season provides little rain and it seems the city does its best to keep them clean.

A tour of the palace and boat ride on Lake Pichola are the highlights of a visit to Udaipur but I quite enjoyed the casual and very peaceful lunch we had looking out on Lake Fatesigir. Our guide Umeed joined us and I immediately grilled him on his marriage – my current topic of choice. His story differed from most as his family placed an advertisement with the marriage bureau. When potential brides responded (their families), he and his family would go to visit her and her family. When I asked how many women he met before finding his wife, he responded, “innumerable.” He did meet a few women he was interested in marrying but after seeing the Brahman(Hindu Priest) and participating in the reading of the horoscopes some were not considered not a good match. Astrology is very important to Hinduism and if the charts do not align then the marriage is doomed. It works well in their favor. You rarely hear of divorce in India (it’s prohibited in Hinduism). It strikes me as significant that families and astrological charts know better than the young but it works. Our belly’s full and our guide tongue tied we retreated to our favorite stomping grounds – the shops for more scarves, more tailored shirts and just plain more.

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Asia, Destinations

Excess everything

November 30, 2012 • By

This is the trip of excess and the irony has not escaped me. My mother asked me the other day if I was losing weight. How would one lose weight in a country with more caloric food than a burrito stuffed with refried beans and loaded with extra cheese? OH! I got it….one can get food poisoning and even it all out.

Let’s talk food: Vegetarian and Non Vegetarian

  • The Tikkas, the Thali, the Tandooris and the Curry’s
  • Chana and Dal – chickpeas and lentils
  • Paneer – a cottage cheese type of dish with different types of delicious sauces. I prefer the tomato and creamed Spinach
  • Chicken and mutton (type of lamb – the crap part). On the bone or off the bone? Spicy or dull?
  • Potatoes, cauliflower, peas (lots of peas)
  • No cow here. It’s sacred.
  • Steamed Rice consumed more than absolutely necessary
  • Naan – a type of pita bread. I prefer cheese. Jill likes garlic. You need Naan to scoop the piles of beans, vegetables, chicken, mutton or anything else on your plate into your mouth. The dishes are mostly in a thick flavorful sauce and the spices light up your mouth like a can of horseradish and red-hot chili peppers.
  • Pappardum – a thin, crispy wafer with hints of black pepper. I am sure they have some purpose but because they bring them before the meal I crack it apart and nibble it like bread.
  • Tea or Masala Chai – no coffee here unless you like instant or can find the Starbucks like chain Cafe Coffee Day, which is like a personal yet failed mission of mine.
  • Lassi “cocktail” – In a country where alcohol is hard to find, I pretend I am sipping a fine wine by slurping on my new favorite beverage, a mix of yogurt and banana (think smoothie). This was highly recommended to me when I got sick and now I am fully hooked.
  • Yogurt, mint, cinnamon, pepper and more (if I cooked I could list the spices and condiments but trust me they are plentiful)

Hindu women eat vegetarian in and out of the home where men eat meat outside of the home but rarely inside the home. The men are excused from abstaining from meat since it’s soooo difficult to find vegetarian on the streets (likely story). Most the men we met eat meat and even a few complained that their wives could not cook it well. Women learn to cook from their mothers at age 13 and if meat isn’t in the home, then that makes sense they are not learning to cook it. It seems men will need to fend for themselves. I like that idea.

Festivals and the gods
Indians are big into big. Whether it’s a wedding celebration, festival or religious ceremony, it’s over the top. In Udaipur, we witnessed five weddings on the streets just today and the louder, the brighter, the better. There are festivals for a full moon, the stars, the monsoon, the Ganga, the cow and the bathroom (making sure you are paying attention). The most famous is Diwali, the festival of lamps that occurs from October – November and is celebrated all over India. During this festival, lamps are lit all over the house in the belief that wealth will not enter a dark house.

There are festivals in celebration and in respect of the Hindu gods (taken from an Introduction to Hinduism by Dharam Vir Singh):

  • Shiva (3rd god) represents destruction, austerity and the more malignant forces of life
  • Ganesha (son of Shiva) The elephant headed god of obstacles
  • Krishna (8th incarnation of Vishnu) The god of love and affection (he was a true player known for having 16,000 girlfriends – George Clooney has nothing on Krishna). He is the most important of the ten incarnations in Hinduism
  • Vishnu the great preserver; symbolizes authority and the power of knowledge as the essence of life
  • Lakshmi the consort of Vishnu and the goddess of wealth and good fortune
  • Brahma (four hands, four directions) The whole universe evolves out of water, therefore Brahma carries water in the water-pot

I’ve decided I need a little bit of Ganesha and a whole lot of Krishna in my life maybe a little Lakshmi thrown in for good will. When I asked Jill if Ganesha was blue since my shopping habits scream, “buy blue.” She replied, Kelly, he can be blue if you want him to be blue.” Time to revert to the budget.

As our driver Jayveer indicated one day, “we are like one family with many children” and I thought that was a great way to describe the blend of religions in India. They are all believers and we can either pay attention or get out of the way. Religion is embedded into every aspect of Indian life and I cannot help but embrace it. The people have Ganesha on a car dashboard, Vishnu on a statue in a park, Krishna monuments, and temples abound with these gods and many others.

The shopping
The jewelry (the ring), the scarves (last count 7), the bangles and the tailored shirts have now very surprisingly increased our luggage to an excess of 8 kilos combined. Let’s discuss that we may or may not have already shipped home TWO boxes to the states. In the land of excess where everything is on sensory overload, we really did visit another shop (to pick up our goods from yesterday) a mere four hours before our departure for Mumbai as if this was our last day on earth. Negotiating for more scarves, telling the shop owner they were gifts and pushing him for a better price seems absurd yet, it happened. When we returned to the car, I looked at Jill (who the shop owners have taken to calling “BOSS” and ignoring me) and said we are ridiculous and we erupted into giggles. And that there explains why we are staying in 3 and 4 star hotels instead of 5 star hotels. The difference in India is huge.

A few of my favorites
“As you like”
“Five or ten minutes” – the answer to timing on everything
“You go to tourist shop. Have a look around. Then we go to my shop with better prices” – Everyone has a shop.
“She is naughty” – Naughty is used to describe a baby’s crying or bad sleeping behavior. It’s enduring.

Southern India awaits and Visa has reported there is nothing more available for purchase. I always thought myself more Mike(dad) than Joyce(mom) but maybe spinsterhood has turned me into a shopper.

We arrived safely at the Holiday Inn in Mumbai. I love American standards. The Holiday Inn is heaven–fresh sheets, clean, spacious, a glorious bathroom, CNN, LIGHTS, I could go on….I brushed my teeth in a sink with water and I may go crazy and shave my legs in this very luxurious shower. Alas, I can say oohlala!!!!

(a Day wedding on the narrow streets of Udaipur)

(a Day wedding on the narrow streets of Udaipur)

Our Guide Jayveer

Our Guide Jayveer