Udaipur…what can I say about the almost magical beauty and yet still jolting realities of this place?
Imagine, if you can, being in a medieval world, where royalty holds sway in palaces (both real and metaphorical) and the common folk struggle to survive in narrow streets teaming with animals and refuse, where open sewage gutters flow in front of luxury restaurants.
Imagine the sounds of dogs, donkeys, cows and common folk echoing off plaster walls competing with motorbike engines and auto horns. Imagine muezzin’s prayer calls resounding from mosques throughout the day and Hindu chanting emanating from lakefront temples, competing with modern Bollywood music blaring from rooftop boom boxes and the sounds of construction.
Streets meander past fabulously painted and ornately carved doors and windows and intricate building facades. Shop fronts overflow with richly colored saris and pashminas, traditional antique silver and semi-precious stone jewelry, hand-tooled leather journals, and statues of various Hindu gods in all sizes, old and new. Fruit and vegetable sellers ply their goods between cyber cafes and mobile phone shops.
From the rooftops, especially at dawn and sunset/dusk, the city seems to float above Lake Pichola, as if emerging from or sinking into a dream. Five hundred year old palace ramparts rise on one side, ghats lined with shops and temples on the other, and in the shimmering lake, the mirage-like Jag Mandir and gleaming white Lake Palace complete the scene.
The incongruities of India continue to astound me, sometimes with laughter, sometimes with fears and tears. You never know what will happen next, here.
Currently I am suffering a deep chest cough (despite two types of medicine “prescribed” by a local chemist).
I have decided, for health reasons mostly, although it is also cheaper, to go vegetarian for the duration of my travels, unless one of my hosts treats me to dinner at an upscale establishment. Food handling standards are iffy and refrigeration often non-existent, so meats are questionable at best. Coincidence or not, my “Delhi belly” has gone away since switching off meats the past two days!
I’ve done way too much shopping here, worn down by the continual haggling of vendors. I am able to bargain, and usually able to walk away, but have become newly addicted to paisley pashminas and printed clothing/fabrics. I bought a bed sheet yesterday, for heavens sake! I’ve managed to avoid the jewelry, with one exception, but it has not been easy, as all my favorite styles and stones are available here at relatively (compared to US) low prices. Still, they are far above my daily budget, and I have another 4 months to survive.
Today is a day of rest, lounging in my cool, marble-floored budget room, happy to have found a local WiFi connection. I am also trying to avoid the guesthouse manager, as he has said some things which have made me uncomfortable regarding purchasing gifts for me….I am uncertain how to express that I am in NO way interested in having anything more than a business transaction and that to accept a gift would be totally inappropriate.
My couch surfing host from Jaipur, the next city on my itinerary, is a tour guide and will be in town here tomorrow. He has offered to take me to dinner then so we can plan my stay in his hometown.
I will have more access to internet after 19 November, and will try to update on twitter and face book daily from there, as well as add new pics to my Udaipur folder on flickr.
Please continue to hold me in your thoughts and prayers. I am especially in need of prayers for good health, good spirits and continued safety!
As I have decided to use my travel experiences in a future non-fiction manuscript, I regret I cannot wax more eloquently or more at length, to avoid not being able to sell the appropriate rights when the time comes. I am sure you will understand...and hope you will look for the book somewhere down the road!