Udaipur is our longest stop in one place, at four nights. We wonder if we’ve overdone it a bit and start to question our decision, and ponder what on earth we can fill four days with. One of our days we know we’re doing a cookery course in the morning, but other than that didn’t really know what Udaipur would have to offer.
So the first of our full days, we planned to explore, shop and visit the City Palace, where we hear you can get a boat trip on the lake. Steve has woken up with a stiff neck, which means he has to turn a full 180 degrees with his feet in order to see anything over his shoulder, but he’s soldiering on.
With four days in one place, we find we have time to work out things which seem complicated but are actually remarkably simple, like how to find a pencil sharpener (apparently you go to a tiny shop marked ‘stationary’ and even when it doesn’t look promising you ask a lady, who rummages under a counter, brings up a massive screw top jar of them, and you choose a colour for 5 rupees. Ditto pencil); where to get trousers mended (the shop with a sewing machine outside, obviously. All kinds of old shirts lined up and mended inside. Much cheaper than the ‘proper’ tailors shop), and where to buy an English book (find a place with cold drinks in the window, and little to indicate it’s a book shop, except the name above the door ‘Star Books’, and then find piles and piles of books inside, some plastic wrapped, and most covered in dust). The friendly owner is keen to sell us as much as he can, but is OK about knocking a bit off the price. Ella chooses the Da Vinci Code for 400 INR (down from 500).
Shopping-wise I’m getting really good at buying skirts now… Every few paces I see another one I like. I understand that Udaipur is particularly set up for tourists, and it is noticeable that the hassle is a lot less. In the first shop I stop at, I try on and buy a skirt for 350 rupees, and Ella buys some trousers for around 300 rupees. As we are there the electricity goes off for a while which adds a certain atmospheric something to what was already a look of utter dejection from Jack, sitting on a stool in the corner. Later I find a tailor which has another skirt I like the look of for 800 rupees. He’s loath to decrease the price, but we settle on 650 in the end.
The great thing about these skirts is that they fit all sizes, either with a wrap around or draw string waist, so it means a: Ella can wear them too, as she’s short of suitable clothing and they’re v long, and b: because they expand, I can wear them however much I’ve eaten. They feel fabulous and airy and swooshy to wear too… Or at least they do for a minute. The slight disadvantage is that, with them being so long and my legs less so, on me they’re nearly floor length. Combine this with the unidentifiable wet stuff on the streets (best case scenario – fresh water from where the shopkeepers have washed their storefronts, worst case scenario raw sewage and things cows have left behind). The result is I have spent the last few days with slightly damp fabric flapping around my ankles, and occasionally clinging.
Other purchases include a new bag, which I had modelled on my old one, which I’ve had for years. It seemed a good idea to have one made, as of course tailors in India are known for being able to make something within a few hours or a day for cheap. Unfortunately the materials I liked were not deemed suitable, so I ended up with a greenish wool fabric, which wouldn’t have been my first choice.
I start regretting it straight away and try not to think about it too much – it’ll be ready at 2pm the next day.We find lots of miniature painters around Udaipur. There were plenty in Jodphur too. I was confused by them, as I’ve heard about miniature paintings, but assumed (rather than that the painters themselves would be tiny) that the work would be. It turns out, though, that the paintings can be any size, but there tends to be tiny detail within the paintings. Certain topics re-occur also – we’d seen some amazing huge ‘miniature’ paintings at Jodphur fort, showing whole scenes with gods, maharajahs, elephants, camels. I read at the time that a certain amount of scroll work and a heavily lidded eye is typical of the genre.
Several of the walls around the town also feature the work, in an unassuming, posh graffiti, kind of a way.
We have a look in at one of the shop/studios and the artist quickly shows us how he creates a face, with a tiny squirrel hair brush. Looking through the paintings available, we find that they cost anywhere between 50 rupees and 2200 for a framed one
We buy a couple of 50 rupee ones, and a couple of ‘nicer’ ones, and of course get the obligatory bit of money off. One of them (Ganesha) has a bit of a worn-off patch, and the chap fills it back in for us. Steve is unreasonably pleased.
We also notice that he, (the painter, not Steve), does art classes at 400 rupees (£4) for a four hour stint.
We were meant to be heading off to the City Palace. We had read up and can see that you can get into the grounds for 30 Rupees, or can look at a load of museum bits for 500+… Given how many city palaces we’ve already seen, the ‘grounds’ option seemed a good one. Plus there’s a boat trip, which we’ve heard is cheaper before 2pm and a little extortionate after.
But somehow (erm, can’t think why, and it certainly can’t have been the shopping), we’re running late and haven’t a hope of arriving before 2pm. By chance, on the way there, we see a homemade sign saying ‘boat jetty’ and make a snap decision to take a quick motor boat around the lake. A driver is duly shouted for, and within minutes we’re life-jacketed and ready to go…
It’s an unfortunate turn of events for Steve and his stiff neck, as we take an anticlockwise turn around the lake, looking first at the fancy hotels and then the mountains behind. I’m describing what I can see to Steve at this point, and confident he might get to see it when the boat turns around. We drive past the lake palace, where a wedding is setting up (Steve still has his back to it)… The driver takes a few calls as he motors along which is mildly disconcerting. When we draw to a halt by the City Palace it becomes abundantly clear that unless Steve sits at the other side of the boat he really is only going to see the middle of the lake, so I decide to take pity and switch seats. (Hence there are pics of the City Palace, but not so much of the other side of the lake!)
After our impromptu boat trip, we head up to the City Palace. The kids are very much feeling they’ve done enough by this point, but we’re determined to get our 30 rupees worth (a total of about £1.50 for the four of us). We amble about getting a bit lost and not seeing a lot of any interest, although Ella finds a small book shop inside the grounds. It’s clear, also, that preparations are underway for a very nice wedding.
On our way back, and the wedding party is starting to gather. We try to politely move to one side and find ourselves completely stuck, hemmed in behind two horses and a carriage, a load of footmen, and with the band starting to form around us. Essentially there was a long line-up getting ready for some potentially impressive and symbolic moment, and we were inadvertently part of it All very awkward, and surprisingly difficult to extricate ourselves. Blushing, we do manage to dodge out in a gap between oncoming vehicles.
When we arrive back at the hotel, there is a parcel addressed to me, containing the errant dress from Jaipur. Also news that a driver had been to the hotel with the shoes, but wanted to make sure we received them in person so had taken them away again. We were to call him…
In the 5 minutes dawdling in reception chatting and waiting for the driver’s phone number, like a minor miracle the very man appeared, clutching the very welcome parcel of Kindle and shoes. He did genuinely look like it was delivering the parcel directly that was important, rather than his tip (he rings the hotel, and I speak to them to confirm that I am now in receipt). Of course we are most grateful and tip him anyway, but in England this kind of courier service would cost a fortune. In many respects India seems a little behind the times, but this is well above and beyond anything I’d expect from the UK. We end the day with all our belongings intact.
We decide we’re going to brave Octopussy as we’re all feeling weary. We are nearly late, so as we run up the five flights of stairs, Ella finds a low ceiling we’ve not noticed before. Sadly she finds it with her head, and announces it with a thud and an exclamation. I’m immediately very proud she doesn’t swear, as there are a lot of English/Australian tourists around, and the staff have good English too. By the time I get there it’s clear she’s in some pain, and as Octopussy wears on, she develops a neat egg in the middle of her head.
I dislike James Bond for lots of reasons, and as time goes on it’s clear this is a long one. There are some great sights from around Udaipur, which we recognise, and some that we don’t. We’re all gutted when Bond’s lovely sidekick ‘Vijay’ is killed as his smiley presence was, for me at least, the only saving grace of the film. Steve tells us he’s a famous Indian tennis player, Vijay Amritrage, which makes sense, as there were an unfeasible number of tennis puns early on.
It is an excrutiating 2 hours 11 minutes long (I looked it up less than half way through), and the second half of the film is largely set in East Germany, which made me still more conscious that I was spending some of my precious time in India watching a James Bond film, which at home, I would carefully avoid.
Still, it ended. All of us left a bit befuddled by various aspects of the plot… Why is it set in India at all? It seems to be a story about the Russians trying to conquer the world by placing a bomb on an Army base in East Germany. What was going on with the jewellery smuggling? Why Faberge eggs? What possible relevance did this have to the nuclear bomb? Why place the bomb at a Circus? Was it just so they could feature a dying clown and some scantily clad gymnasts? And the biggest problem, particularly for Ella, was why was that baddy character not Indian? (And for me, why did he look so much like Roger Moore that I kept thinking he was him?) We looked up who he was and he turned out to be a French actor playing an Afghan prince. Anyway, long story short 4 out of 4 would not recommend.