Sunday, 16 October 2011

A Change of Plans

Those of you who knew I as traveling to India probably had a rough idea of where I intended to go. As I told you, I planned on arriving in Mumbai and heading south to Goa, Karnataka and Kerala. I feel it's necessary to update you about my 'slight' change of plans with regards to direction.

When I arrived in Mumbai I set about finding out the best way to get to Goa. In my search for clarity I ended up being informed that now is a terrible time to go to Goa, you silly tourist, you... Monsoon has just ended and the tides are all funky. This basically translates to: "If you're going for the beaches you'll be surprised to find that there aren't any."

After a quick rethink with the help of a friendly guy who asked to be referred to as Ali (after Ali G) I changed my plans and booked tickets to go north. I arranged to meet a driver who would take me on a whirlwind tour of Rajasthan before depositing me in Agra to catch a train to Varanasi, but more on that later.

As you can imagine I was quite nervous about booking this whole trip, but I put my faith in Ali and went ahead with it anyway. Yesterday afternoon I caught a taxi to the bus station, ready to jump on the bus to Udaipur, only to be told the bus had been cancelled. Oh fuck!
Not to worry, Ali rescued the situation. He pointed me towards a bus and said that that bus would be going to Udaipur, but I couldn't stay on it the whole way. He told me ride the bus as far as Boribuli and then get off and wait for another bus which would be going to Udaipur. The darkest hours of my trip followed. I got off the bus at Boribuli and waited... and waited... and waited...

I was stuck in a tiny travel office for nearly 3 hours waiting for a bus to take me to Udaipur. The bus kept getting delayed and I worried that I was going to be stuck in that damn travel office for the rest of my stay in India. For the first time ever, I harboured thoughts of going home - leaving it all behind and giving up. I arrived in India with such arrogance and I have been quickly humbled by this giant of a country. Travel here is not going to be easy.

The bus arrived. My journey to Udaipur began in earnest. After 21 hours on the road, or on the side of it (hour-long breaks seemed to happen every hour or two) I arrived in Udaipur. I was greeted by the head-wobbling Kaushik, my driver for the next couple of weeks.

Ahhh... Curry...
After a long journey with very little food my stomach was not just grumbling, but shouting at me. I beat a track to the nearest curry joint and wolfed down a fantastic chicken masala with butter naan. The food here is fantastic - curries, biryanis, dhals - all exploding with flavour. It's a spice-lovers paradise. Hmmmm... food...

It's a pity you don't see how long it takes to write these blog posts, because I was daydreaming about curries for a solid ten minutes just now.

But I digress, after being picked up by Kaushik I headed to the City Palace; a stately building which was built over a few centuries by many different kings. The result is a strange amalgamation of rooms and nooks and crannies that all differ slightly from the room or nook or cranny adjacent to them. There are random staircases that first wind down then spiral up for no apparent reason. From the highest point, however, is a remarkable view over cramped and crowded Udaipur. Houses seem to lean on each other and jostle for space that isn't there. I'm detecting a trend with Indian cities...

The City Palace - as viewed from a rooftop restaurant 
The palace was an intriguing  structure, but not what I had wanted to see most of all. That honour was reserved for Ahar - a collection of 250 tombs of the old kings of the Rajput laid out on a wide field. I wasn't disappointed. The white tombs with their domed roofs are quite remarkable. Although nothing compared to the likes of Angkor Wat or Bayon they are still striking in their own way. In typical Indian fashion they are surrounded by litter and seemingly forgotten, but this suited me just fine as it gave me freedom to wander around them at a steady pace and just take them in. Hassle free. Just what I needed.

On the way back to my hotel I stopped off at the Princess Garden which is thoroughly overrated, and an art school where local artists practice the fine Rajasthani painting so iconic of this region of India. That, too, was a bit of a letdown as none of the artists where actually painting anything at the time and it was clear that all they wanted me to do was buy as much of their art as I could carry.

I just read through my blog, got stuck at the food part, and now... curry.

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