Thursday, 19 January 2012


4th - 11th Jan 2012

Day 2. Sawai Madhopur National Park and Chittor.
Some of our morning starts were rather ( too ) early. Day 2 and reveille was at 0530hrs for a 0615hrs depart to the National Park area near Sawai Madhopur. It is one of the 'Tiger Watching' parks. We were bused to the park entrance, then further split up onto 'safari' type wagons. Even at 0700hrs in the cold semi-dark there were gangs of hawkers ( I'm trying to think of a suitable collective noun for an irritating pack of persistent touts and hawkers ) at the entrance selling warm clothing, gloves and hats and things with tiger motifs. We were advised that there are probably only two to three tigers in the whole park! Also, due to the previous overnight rain and murky, damp conditions, any sensible tiger would still be in bed.

Left: Our wagon-load of part of Green Group ( GG ). As you can see, some looked as if they were suffering conditions less than tropical. We set off for what seemed like an eternity over bumpy, pot-holed, muddy tracks. As somewhat expected there was neither sight nor sound of a tiger. We had to console ourselves, at the insistence of a most enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide, with sightings of spotted deer ( these are the type I found wandering around at Trincomalee ) and they are as common and uninteresting as rabbits, some other deer, monkeys, peacocks and birds of various type. It was, for me anyway, all a bit boring and I won't bother to show you further photos. I've seen more interesting wildlife on Clapham Common. Some of GG, I learnt on return to the train for a hearty breakfast, had been as sensible as the tigers and stayed in bed. I was subsequently shown some excellent close up photos of a tigress and her cubs walking alongside one of the wagons taken on a previous trip. So they do exist and are not at all nervous of mankind. Trouble is they don't appear very often. I suggested they stick some 'stuffed' models, with tails that waggle, in the bushes and everyone would go home happy. I'm not sure if this was well received.

Right: These were my co-residents in the 'Jodhpur' saloon carriage. We got to know each other and got on remarkably well. They were a charming, interesting, and well travelled bunch. It was, inevitably, a bit of a 'team building' exercise living in such close proximity for over a week. Left to right: Bob ( retired dermatologist from Portland, Oregon ) and Meredith, Amit ( cardiologist from Los Angeles ) and Rebecca, John ( retired electrical engineer and economist from New Jersey ) and Barrie. So I was in good company if my spots, heart, electric toothbrush or finances needed attention.

We had lunch on board as we proceeded to Chittor, to visit it's massive fort, Chittorgarh. This fort is about 5 miles in length, situated like a vast rock island above the town and is the biggest in Rajasthan. Left: Looking west along some of the fort walls ( note rainwater filled reservoir; one of several ). It is now home to a community of about 5000 inhabitants. It was besieged, invaded and retaken on three occasions between 1303 and 1568 by Mughal attackers. The defending Rajputs committed 'Jauhar' when defeat was inevitable. This involved the men dressing in saffron robes, charging out of the fort and flinging themselves upon their opponents to certain death, while the women, to avoid capture and dishonour, flung themselves and their children onto massive pyres within the fort and were self-immolated. A lot of flinging is involved in 'Jauhar' and not recommended nowadays, whatever the odds.

Right: Another of our excellent and informative guides telling the stories of Chittorgarh. They were many and convoluted. If you are that interested I'm sure they are all described in painful detail on the internet.

Left: A photo of the summerhouse on the lake within the fort where a beautiful wife of the ruler of the day was, according to one of the stories, viewed by means of a mirror by an infatuated invading Mughal sultan. A long story and it ended in treachery when the sultan, escorted by the resident king out of the fort, captured said king and ultimately invaded the fort ( another 'Jauhar' inevitably followed and aforementioned beautiful wife became Mrs Barbecue ).

Right: The Victory Tower at Chittorgarh. In front of which is posed a most amusing family from Bali ( part of GG ). Nattalia ( yes, two 'tt's ), originally from Cork, Ireland, her husband Kadek, a builder of smart houses in Bali, and their children Putu and Lili who were on holiday from school at Geelong Grammar, Victoria, Australia. It was they that re-christened Bombur Singh, our frazzled group manager, 'Mr Mouse'. They thought, with some added whiskers and existing ears, he looked just rather mouse-like. So Mr Mouse he became. Self, Putu and an Australian GG member climbed the tower. It was dark inside with rather precipitous steps but a good view from the top.
I also went on a short ride on a local horse here. Extraordinary coloured creature with funny curved pointy ears that met at the tips. It was not exactly Arkle, but managed to carry me quite swiftly around a street or two once I managed to escape from the poor chasing Indian 'handler'. I think he thought I had 'done a runner' on it. I returned the brute unscathed much to Mr Singh's relief. I presume that was his name because everyone here is called Singh unless otherwise stated, as per the now re-named Mr Mouse.

We were treated to a 'Son et Lumiere' show after dusk which featured much story telling to atmospheric stereophonic music plus sound effects of such things as horses galloping up to the fort, a few screams and lights going on and off around the walls. I must admit to having a bit of a kip through most of it so not sure exactly what went on. It had been a long and tiring day.
Left: Prior to the Son et Lumiere show.
Back to the train afterwards for dinner and an early night.

Day 3. Udaipur. The White City.
A more civilised start time today, and we set off after Mr Mouse had given his normal unintelligible morning greeting on the bus which involves introducing us to our guide for the day and mentioning that "tea, caffee, biscuits and cookies" will occur at some point or other.

The first stop was some 'royal' gardens ( right ) which, frankly, were nothing to write home about. They were from olden times and featured gravity powered fountains and some delicately carved marble elephants that squirted water out of their trunks.

We were then subjected to a visit to an 'art school' which specialised in old-fashioned traditional miniature paintings. These were rather exquisite and featured stylised and very intricately painted pictures of Maharajas and their women and courts. We were given a lecture and display by the man in charge who was called, as far as I could understand, Mr Teapot. The paints used were from crushed semi-precious minerals and even gold. This was just a forerunner to a visit to their large shop behind ( another shopping opportunity ) where everyone was set upon by over-eager salesmen trying to flog the paintings. Incidently, as we discovered later, very similar 'exquisite' paintings were on sale elsewhere for half the price. At this point I escaped. Unfortunately there was nothing within reach to escape to.

The best of the sights in the local area featured this place ( left ), the Global Institute of Sexual Medicines.  Not the sort of place you want your friends to see you enter, or leave for that matter. OK, for those who are not fluent in Hindi, if you 'click on' to enlarge, no pun intended, you will see the translation at the bottom, I mean underneath.

...and also the inevitable bloody cows ( right ) which seem to thrive on plastic bags and garbage. These, along with touts and hawkers, infest most of the towns here. The cows are an eyesore, stand in the middle of the road, and are a filthy nuisance but seem not to bother the locals, as indeed are the pestilential touts and hawkers who swarm like flies around tourists in all the touristy areas that don't strictly forbid them ( fortunately there are a few tout-free areas i.e. inside the buildings ), and even ambush us around the door of our bus. These people need to make money, I admit, but they possibly don't realise how irritated and thick-skinned tourists become due to their persistent pleading, grabbing salesmanship.

We then went off to more glamorous venues. The kings who ruled this state, previously known as Mewar, after the final fall of Chittorgarh were, of course, Singhs by family name but the ruling title was that of Maharana. This is one up on a Maharaja. The present day Marharana of Udaipur ( unofficial but still respected title ) still lives in grand style in the private part of the enormous City Palace, the largest palace in Rajasthan.  Left: The private residence.
Part of this palace is now an expensive hotel. The rest is a walk through museum and most impressive with lots of intricately carved stonework and beautifully restored elaborately decorated rooms.

Right: One of the gates to the palace. This shows some of the pointy metal prongs ( many removed here for 'elf 'n' safety reasons to avoid having to unpick careless tourists ) embedded in the gate, common to most forts and palaces in the region. They acted as an 'anti-elephant' defence and protected the gates from the tactic of breaking them down by often drug-fuelled charging pachyderms. Elephants around here were reputedly trained by a renowned local warlord, Janshir Chipperfield-Singh and his wife, the double-jointed contortionist Betsy Boo Argh Mefootstuk. They were in popular demand.

Left: This is part of the ornate exterior to the old part of the palace. The last 'elephant fight' took place in the arena below here in 1951. It involved two elephants pulling each other towards a central wall. The one which ended up pulled over, or against the wall was the loser. Apparently each contest went on for hours with lots of 'trumpeting'. It must have been rather a dull event. Then the entrepreneurial Chipperfield-Singh got the idea to make then stand on big drums, dance on their hind legs, take buns from the audience and the rest is history.

Right: A view of the 'white city' from an upper window in the palace. It's a big place Udaipur and, by Indian standards, relatively clean even outside the polished and manicured tourist sites, despite the crapping cows.
I should mention that the first Maharana here ( in 1568 ) was called Udai Singh, hence Udaipur.
I might also mention that any city with 'pur' at the end is originally Hindu, and any place with 'bad' at the end is originally Muslim. You probably knew that already.

Left: An example, of many, of the over-the-top glass and shiny decoration that features in the old rooms.
There is also a large four sided gallery which features an extraordinary and enormous collection of crystal-ware from the long defunct British firm F&C Ostler. Maharana Sajjan Singh ordered tons of stuff in 1877, but he died before it could be delivered. It remained in packing crates for 110 years. It is now all on display and features extravagant ( and rather tasteless ) items such as crystal chairs, sofas, tables and even beds. The crystal beds looked remarkably uncomfortable. These Maharanas had some weird tastes in decor. And as for the gargantuan crystal chandeliers hanging in the Grand Durbar Hall, the lavish royal reception room, it is difficult to describe adequately their vast size and complexity. I don't think we were allowed to photograph in here. Much of these 'royal' interior designs and furnishings are seriously lavish to a point well beyond tasteless. Gold taps and ivory loo-roll holders, pah!, would go unnoticed. Even 'Del Boy' Trotter and Arfur Daly would consider the style a little 'de trop'.

.....and ( right ) an example of the extremely elaborate carving of the sandstone frontage in the many courtyards. Without too much TV, electronic distractions or even pubs to go to, these old-time plasterers and decorators were willing to put in a lot of man-hours to produce, with no effort spared over a long period, magnificent results. Impossible to even think it could be done today.  

The old Marharanas built three big rain filled reservoirs ( glamorously re-christened lakes )  around the city. They were, maybe still are, their vital water source in a land where water is often in short supply. The biggest, and it has been known to dry up in bad years, is the Pichola Lake, which is home to the 'floating' Taj Lake Palace. It is an exclusive and ridiculously expensive hotel. It apparently featured in the 'Bond' film Octopussy which, sad though it may seem, I have not watched.

Around the outside of the 'lake' are more traditional Indian activities such as the washing of clothes ( right ). Wherever you go in India there is always the stark contrast between the supremely rich tiny minority and the vast majority of slum dwelling poor. There is, however, no overt indication of bitterness or jealousy. Life, they consider, is one of fate and 'caste' and one's accepted place in the order of things. I think the Hindu religion maintains the hope of the poor, that if they do all the correct 'religious' things, slap enough cowshit on their foreheads, pray fervently to the relevant Gods, and don't cause any trouble, they will be reincarnated as a higher life-form, or caste. I may be wrong, but it all seems to me a bit of a confidence trick.

Left: On the far western side of the 'lake' is another vast, elaborate and even more exclusive and monumentally expensive hotel, the Udaivilas Hotel where, to give you an idea, a suite costs up to $5000 per night!
The hilltop building in the background is a monastery.
There are many other artificial islands of ancient glamour on the lakes housing 'chatris', old summerhouses, for the Maharanas and their entourages to relax or entertain in. There was plenty of mention of music and dancing girls involved. After a sumptuous lunch in a smart hotel in the palace grounds ( no dancing girls ), we were taken on a serene boat trip around these, and had to wear life-jackets would you believe. Mr Mouse would hate to have any of us drown. On reaching shore we were entertained to more 'Tea, caffee, biscuits and cookies'.

We made it safely back to the Palace on Wheels which was now referred to as the 'PoW' and nobody appeared to have gone missing. Off we roll to see more Rajasthan highlights. Lots of things to see and photograph on this trip and I wish to keep a record, so you'll have to bear with me, if you want to that is.

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