Venice in India? Who knew?! After a long and bumpy ride through dusty villages, then through monkey laden windy roads that took us over green hills, the geography of our surroundings had suddenly changed. We arrived at our final destination in Rajasthan ... aptly named "the most romantic city in India". The city of Udaipur, founded in 1598.
For those of you who may be James Bond fans, you may be familar with these surroundings from the movie Octopussy. There is a brilliantly white, world famous palace smack dead in the middle of this man made lake. It was built originally by a king, as a royal summer palace, a playground of sorts, a place to entertain and hosts guests. Talk about the have and have nots. Today, apparently 5000 people in India control 80 percent of its wealth. A recent comment from a fellow traveller spoke of how "convenient" hinduism is, in that the majority of the population here are poor, and believe that this is because of their karma - debts they may be paying off from another life. So they remain under the poverty line, not expecting nor demanding a "better life". My traveller friend thinks that this is very convenient for those small percentage of upper class citizens. The extremely wealthy. (And there is extreme wealth in this country). And an easy way keep to population in line and not revolting. These are his thoughts, not mine. I am not even close to understanding the contrast in this country. (But it is so obvious that the children pick it up all the time. They cannot understand how they can be walking through disgustingly opulant palaces, laiden in gold and solid silver one minute and then walk outside its gates and see the broken down shacks that so many call their home. Many interesting conversations have followed, with altruistic tones). I do know that Hinduism is years old and and precedes recorded history. It is rooted so deeply into the culture here. And besides, his wife mockingly said that "... here we go ... Mr Negative, Mr Cynical talks again". Interesting all the same to hear people opinions.
Anyway, I digress! The Lake Palace Hotel is an incredible sight and $500 US a night will buy you a room there. But we are happy with our home here, less than a tenth of that. And with breakfast served on the rooftop, with sweeping views over the city, the lake and the Palace Hotel... who wants to leave? This "Venice in India" is georgeous. We see purple ridges of the wooded hills stretching in every direction. Lonely Planet describes it best: " ... countless, narrow, crooked, colourful streets add the human counterpoint to the cities natural charms... ". It is peaceful here (not a word I have thought to use yet, to describe this country). The city meets the lake literally. Its buildings, Havelis, and its Palaces are in the water. Reminds me alot of Venice ... minus the canals and the gondolas. It does have coloured glass however, loads of it. Beautiful, intricate glass work built into windows and door frames, where the light catches and dances onto white washed walls.
Part of Bens grade 7 Geography curriculum is the study of Place and Location. We are living what the textbooks are teaching. The change of human and physical characteristics fit perfectly into our morning lessons... and into our days. Our final days in Rajasthan have been incredible. This is the hardcore India, the India that the mind conjures up when the country is mentioned. At least it has been for me. Before arriving in Udaipur, we came through a bustling fort town called Jodhpur. The fort here is the largest and best kept in India. Truly incredible to visit. The streets are manic, but now not such a shock to move about in seach of what we needed. We have met very few western travellers as this is quiet season. I am thankful for this beause it has enriched our time here. The boys have felt like celebrities and we have had our photo taken sneakly many times. ( I have incredible peripheral vision!) But mostly, people are interested in where we are from, what we are doing in India, about the boys school etc. For the most part, the people of Rajasthan have been incredibly gracious, welcoming and kind. I just wish they could bring the smile from their eyes into their mouths sometimes, so as to read them a little clearer! I truly hope that I have been able to convey the magic, the beauty and the feel of this very special place. If you ever have the chance, I strongly encourage you to visit, so as to awaken senses you may not have realised you even have !
Next post: The Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab.