Keep Calm and Carry Ohm

25/11/08 Day 12 - Ranakpur

We weren't due to leave Deogarh before 11am this morning so Julie was looking forward to a long lie-in.

Unfortunately her plans were scuppered when I stirred early and I mean early. I then spent the following hour thinking about getting up to watch the sunrise. At 6:15am I gave in to my urges and got dressed and to my total surprise Julie decided to join me.

We stepped up onto the roof and were just in time to see the sun peak over the hills behind the ruined fort.

It was a beautiful moment, standing there in each others arms watching the sky change colour with each minute that passed.

sunrise, Deogarh, Rajasthan
sunrise over Deogarh Mahal, Deogarh Below us we could see no one else awake in the whole Deogarh, we were even up before the larks as all was quiet, not even a chirp nor a tweet.

It was so tranquil and idyllic and we were half asleep that it all felt like a dream.

sunrise, Deogarh, Rajasthan
After having taken a dozen photographs of the sunrise my camera gave me a low battery warning and then shut down. I had used the last of my duracell batteries, all I had left now were those I bought in Pushkar yesterday.

When we returned to our room I replaced the batteries and was relieved when my camera whirred back into life.

Before breakfast I took four photos of old black and white photographs hanging in frames in our entrance hall.

Halfway through the processing the fourth picture it stopped and the camera shut down. I began to panic when it wouldn't switch back on again.

"Shit, my effing camera's effing broken" or so I thought.

It quickly became apparent that the AA SupaPower batteries I had just put in had already run out. I couldn't believe it. They only had enough energy to muster three and a half photographs!

Thankfully I had brought a back-up camera with me which had a rechargeable battery pack otherwise I would have been inconsolable to have been in India without a camera.

Once we had packed our suitcases we went down to the inner courtyard and had a lovely relaxing breakfast on a small open terrace.

The choices on offer were limited but the quality was superb. Our "Yes please" waiter was there serving us tea and coffee. Another waiter came to ask us if we wanted a refill but had just cleared his throat vigorously before asking. We politely declined. A cup of cold phlegm wasn't on our wish list of new culinary experiences.

Deogarh, Rajasthan With our very early start to the day it was now only 8:30am so we had over two hours before we were due to leave. We decided to explore Deogarh.

With my little camera in my pocket we walked down the narrow bazaars all the way to the main city gates.

Deogarh, Rajasthan

Outside the walls there was a small fruit & veg market but not much else so we returned through the gates and slowly worked our way back up.

The shops here were certainly more to service the local community rather than to pamper the tourist which made them fascinating in their own right.

Our first purchase were two bowls to serve dhal from Shri Nath Bartan's house of complete kitchen ware.

We took our shoes off when we entered and browsed his vast selection of steel accessories.

The bowl wasn't exactly the style I was looking for but it was better than nothing to take back home.

With hindsight we wished we had bought some tiffin tins also. I could imagine sitting at my desk at the office opening my multi-layered stainless steel lunchbox filled with dhal, some rice, and some roti. Mmmmm...yum.

We continued up the colourful street shaded from the sun by canopies of sacks strung together.

Some of the buildings along the main street were exceptionally beautiful, brightly coloured and intricately carved.

Every second of this walk was quite a thrill.

The locals certainly added to the buzz. They were genuinely friendly and welcoming. We weren't hassled once to "come see my shop" which was refreshingly different.

gentleman, Deogarh, Rajasthan

The older generation wearing the traditional clothing were really charismatic.

They were even more forthcoming with their smiles and greetings.

We continued with our stroll up the bazaar and stopped at this spice store.
shopkeeper, Deogarh, Rajasthan

Influenced by the Hairy Bikers, (a cooking programme on TV) we decided to buy some cardamom pods. They were visiting the Cardamom hills and they were enthusing about how green and pungent they were in comparison to the lacklustre old pods we get in the UK.

We only asked for a small amount which he ignored and shovelled in a few large scoops full. They weren't at all expensive so we allowed him his sale.

The smell was so intoxicating. We took it in turns to hold the bag to our noses and inhale deeply. "Wow, that's quite a hit." We were a right pair of spice sniffers as we passed the bag backwards and forwards.

The spice must have gone straight to our heads as we then bought a fabric covered with rows upon rows of elephants & camels, knowing full well we'd never find a use for it.

It felt good however to re-distribute wealth from out of our pockets and into theirs. (But only to the tune of a few hundred rupees though not anything silly like sixty thousand for a rug.)

Before returning to the hotel we stopped at a kite shop.

"Oh, I'd love to fly a kite" said Julie.

The variety available were quite entertaining.

We could have bought internationally recognised designs like a spiderman kite, or a Ninja cartoon kite. or more perhaps we would prefer a more Indian theme such as a kite with a picture of a heroic cricketer, or a bollywood actress flanked by two dancing admirers.

For our 20R we bought a much more stylish kite, coloured silver with purple and blue spots.

We decided to go up to the hotel's rooftops to go fly a kite.

As we turned up towards the Deogarh Mahal a group of young kids came running towards us. They were all laughing and smiling as they skipped past us.

Then one of them spotted the kite and reached out for it.

Julie tried to pull it out of his reach but the young boy managed to grab onto one corner. A brief tug-o-war ensued with Julie ending up on the loosing side.

In a fllash the cheeky brat darted inside a nearby building. I tried to catch him, following him inside into a courtyard but he had disappeared. Just as I was about to give up he then appeared on the rooftops teasing me by waving the kite and laughing.

"You little shit!" I shouted at him but I couldn't help but find the whole thing amusing.

Especially when his mother (I assume) shouted at him and he ducked down behind the wall, re-appearing seconds later to taunt me.

Back on the street a kiteless Julie was waiting for me. Still determined to fly a kite we returned to the shop to buy another kite. We decided to buy two, one extra just in case we got mugged again. We didn't honestly think that lightning would strike twice, but it was "just in case".

When we turned the same corner as before it happened again. A herd of bounding children came hurtling towards us but this time we were prepared. I waited until the last moment then hoisted the kites well above my head. They tried their best to grab the kites, jumping up as high as they could but they soon realised that they well out of their reach. This time they weren't going to win and they all ran away.

I was overcome with a smugness over out-smarting a bunch of seven year olds!

We continued up the hill to our hotel. Our shopping spree wasn't over as near to the entrance of our hotel were further shops.

The first was selling miniature prints, for which Deogarh is renowned. We chatted for a while to the artist who was busy painting another mini-masterpiece and ended up buying a small tiger print for Rory and an elephant for Tyler. They were exceptionally pretty.

Finally we browsed Navratan Jewellers & Antique Silver Shop. It had great character, filled to the rafters with a jumble of silver and gold costume jewellery , brass medals, old photographs and even a gloriously old gramophone.

The owner had even more character. As a salesman he was absolutely charming.

We had a brief look around when Julie was drawn to a small plastic box overflowing with jewellery. We had a good rummage around and stumbled across this stunning silver bracelet.

"How much is this?" we asked.

He took if off us and placed it on an antique weighing scales. He added several counter balances then prodded his calculator and scratched his bald head. He took a sharp intake of breath and delivered his "best price".

"1500 rupees" he said.

We took a faux-sharp intake of breath and asked if that was really his "best price".

He came down to 1300 rupees but because he was such a nice man we felt guilty. To compensate we picked up a small "ohm" symbol and paid his full asking price for it.

Back on the rooftops Julie had a go at sending her kite soaring up to the Rajasthani blue skies but she didn't get off to a flying start. Her silver kite fluttered about a bit, loop-de-loop before nose diving to the ground.


Her second attempt was better as it reached the dizzying heights of a few feet above her head, before nose diving to the ground.

"Give it here, I'll have a go" I said, taking control sending the kite into a nose diving with even greater aplomb.

We weren't exactly up to the Kite Runner standards but it was great fun.

We couldn't delay it any longer. It was finally time to leave Deogarh. It was quite a sad moment walking through the gates towards our van. We vowed to return one day.

Whilst we waited for Rob and Carol we had some time chatting with Sanjey.

He was a father of three. He told us that after two sons he and his wife decided to try for a girl but a third son was born. He then said to his wife "No more. Now closed"

He'd been a driver for Kuoni for many years, earning a good wage which paid for his children to go to a better school.

He asked us if pregnancies were the same where we were from. "Yes, they last the nine months" we said, which he found very funny. I think perhaps his question was lost in translation somewhere.

He was such a gentleman. We offered him a sandalwood Ganesh for his van but he politely turned it down. He said that we should keep it and place it in our window at home. That's where he places his marble statue of Ganesh in his own home.

With Rob & Carol onboard we set off on our journey to Ranakpur.

In comparison to the long distances we had covered on this trip Ranakpur was a short 100km drive away. It still took us over 2 hours however.

An hour into the journey, after turning off the main N8 expressway and driving through the hills, between the villages of Garbor and Desun, we came across this man lying face down in the road. It was midday and baking hot. We couldn't tell if he was alive or dead. We slowed down but only to drive carefully around him. "We should stop" said Julie.

I suppose Sanjey had his reasons not to stop. I'm sure he was thinking of our safety above all else. It could even have been a set up. He may also have seen in the distance someone walking on ahead. Sanjey stopped to ask the pedestrian something. He replied by giving the hand signals for either "he's had too much to drink" or "he's as delirious as a masturbating monkey" .

masturbating monkey By some strange coincidence that's exactly what we saw a little further up. In a shaded area by the side of the road we caught this cheeky minky nonchalantly wanking. He was just sitting there repeatedly stretching out his chipolata.

Our presence didn't deter him.

The rest of the troop were engrossed by us.

We stopped to take a few photos and within a minute we had one rascal jumping onto the van for a closer look. Before it started stripping the rubber from the windows or stealing the hub caps we shooed it away and moved on.

We drove through Sadri, a much larger town, before finally arriving at the small village of Ranakpur. A short distance from these humble shacks were the most incredible temple complex.

Waiting for us was a young lad called Hrithik, our guide for the main Jain temple, the Adinath temple.

He was exceptionally gently spoken and mild mannered to the point distraction.

He waxed lyrically about the Jain faith, about its inception millions of years ago by the supreme beautiful Tirthankara (the title given to a holy Jain enlightened being) Adinatha. At this point in the sentence he paused, placed his hands togther, closed his eyes and made a brief humming noise, before resuming the rest of what he had to say.

He did this regularly during his conversation. Whenever he mentioned by name the "beautiful Adinatha" he would stop to pay his respect before continuing.

It was like a triggered response induced through hypnosis. It was very curious to watch.

Adinath temple was quite striking with its densely aligned spires, its multi-layered pagoda-style entrance and its serene setting amongst the green Aravalli hills.

As we followed Hrithik he continued to explain his ancient and beautiful Jain religion.

Since the beautiful Adinatha (pause - "ohm" - carry on) there have been a further 23 tirthankaras culminating in the last called Mahavir during the 6th century B.C. It was quite fascinating to hear about Jain concept of the ages of time and that we were about to enter a new age sometime soon, an age which will herald the arrival of the 25th tirthankara.
no leather allowed Before entering the temple everyone not only had to remove their shoes but any items made of leather.

"I'm glad I'm not wearing my leather thong today" I joked. Fortunately only Julie heard me.

A row of belts (all with fancy buckles may I add) were laid down near the steps. There weren't any thongs.

Ranakpur, Rajasthan

We followed Hrithik up the steps and entered an astonishing wonderland of carved white marble. Every available surface area was intensely carved, it was the most exquisite interior we had ever seen. Just breathtaking.

After I took a photo of the faithful gathering in the central sanctum Hrithik explained that whilst it was ok to photograph inside the temple we should refrain from photographing the four images of the beautiful Adinatha (pause - "ohm" - carry on) who sat in the central sanctum facing north, south, east and west.

He also politely asked that I didn't take any photos whilst he was showing us around.

"You will have plenty of time afterwards" he smiled.

Ranakpur, , Rajasthan

For once I did put my camera away. We followed him around for a good ten minutes as he continued to talk about Jainism. It was strange how my ears weren't listening, I was blown away by the carvings and my eyes alone held my attention.

On the south wall there was a two meter disc of insanely carved interlocking weave with its centre filled with the hypnotic image of Parshvanath, the 23rd tirthankar.

"Look into my eyes, 3-2-1"

Hrithik eventually shut up and gave us plenty of time to wander about the temple and talk photographs to our heart's content.

On the East side we stood beneath a large dome and I almost fell to my knees at the staggering beauty of the carvings.

Ranakpur, , Rajasthan

It was overwhelming; added also to the fact that looking vertically upwards for too long was enough to make anyone feel dizzy.

The detail was miraculous. It was incredible to think that this stunning work of art was created in the 15th century.

We walked around from one impressive hall to another through a plethora of pillars.

Apparently there are 1444 pillars in total, each one completely and utterly covered in delicate ornate carvings.

After a while Julie decided to sit down and observe whilst I continued to wander around this phenomenal temple.

Just when I thought I had seen it all the sun streamed in bringing a new perspective on the carvings, a warmer tone to the marble.

I set off again on a clockwise circumnavigation ending up back at the central sanctum staring at the north face of Adinath (pause - "ohm" - carry on)

I joined Julie and sat observing the faithful walking up the steps and go directly to the west facing deity. Some read from prayer books, some prostrated themselves on the floor, whilst others simply stood with hands together in their own meditation. Witnessing this peaceful freeform worshipping filled the temple with reverence and godliness. It no longer was just an architectural marvel.

Hrithik collected us. We had spent an hour in the temple but it was now sadly time to leave.

It was 2:30pm and breakfast at Deogarh Mahal seemed a distant memory.

A memory that was going to have to sustain us a little longer because we didn't like the look of where we were taken to for lunch.

It wasn't that it was dirty, in fact it looked very clean. It was just the way they turned on the burners to keep the food warm as we sat down. The thought of this food being re-heated and cooled over and over again throughout the day was enough to put us off. "Perfect breeding ground for Bacteria" we thought.

The restaurant only had the buffet available so we chose starvation over diarrhoea.

Back in the mini-bus we broke into the emergency rations of the Strawberry and White Chocolate bar we had bought in Heathrow.

Oh my God, it was like solid nectar, the sort you could eat until your sick and then some more.

We left Ranakpur rising up through the Aravalli hills. Looking back down the valley we could see the Adinath temple in the distance glistening like a mirage.

The road kept on winding its way up and up around hair-raising hairpin bends until we eventually peaked and we gradually came down the other side.

ox drawn well,  near Ajmer, Rajasthan

The land now appeared fertile and well farmed.

We came across an ox powered irrigation system and pulled over to photograph it.

It was quite fascinating to watch how the ox, harnessed to a spoke that turned a central cog wheel, then turned a pulley system comprising of two wheels, an upper and a lower one, with a belt of buckets attached.

The well was quite deep but this system efficiently lifted up the water and poured it into the irrigation channels.

Julie had stayed in the bus but she soon became the focus of attention when a grown man and his brigade of children knocked on the window and began to beg.

She rummaged in the bag for something to give them and could only find a plastic comb and a sachet of shampoo we had picked up from the Mughal Sheraton in Agra.

The children's eyes lit up however when Carol handed over a packet of Percy Pigs jelly sweets. It was swiped from her hands in a flash by the tallest boy.

We also found two pens which were grabbed by the father and slipped straight into his top pocket of his shirt.

Once fleeced of all non-essential items in our bags we continued on our way to Udaipur.

The landscape constantly changed, none more dramatic than when we drove through a freshly hewed passage through the middle of a mountain. The entire terrain was covered in dust giving it the strange of appearance of Mars.

We carefully drove through the valley of dust safely returned to a proper tarmac road.

Before long we came to an abrupt halt.

There was a truck parked in the middle of the road.

"What the hell are they doing?" asked an agitated Julie "Can't we just drive around them?" She could smell the whiff of disaster in the air.

There weren't any signs or any indication of what was going on; even Sanjey was unsure what to do as he slowly edged nearer the truck.

All of a sudden there was an almighty explosion.

The truck drove off leaving the road open for us to continue. We carefully drove around the corner where we were greeted by a thick cloud of dust. They had obviously been blasting through the rock.

We had to laugh though because it was like a scene from a western, the one where the hapless bank robber used too much dynamite! The detonator, the traditional t-bar plunger model, was laying on its side on the tarmac. and standing in the middle of this downpour rocks that littered the ground was this guy brushing himself down, his hair, face and clothes white with dust!

Two and a half hours after leaving Ranakpur we arrived at the outskirts of Udaipur. Tired and a little miserable after a long journey the glorious sight of the sun setting over Fateh Sagar lake was better than any pick-me-up.

  Fateh Sagar Lake, Udaipur

I felt rejuvenated and so excited about arriving in Udaipur, especially as Julie and I were going off the itinerary tonight and staying in the famous Lake Palace Hotel in the middle of Lake Pichola.

I had waited twenty three years to bring Julie here. We honeymooned in a caravan in Nairn, Scotland which was great fun but my first choice was to come to Udaipur and stay in the most romantic hotel in the world. We were so looking forward to tonight's experience. The perfect climax to our Indian Panorama journey.

But first we needed to check in to our scheduled hotel, the Trident.

We were met by our man in Udaipur who arranged our check-in. He then asked us for our e-ticket for our flight to Delhi on Friday. I looked everywhere but just couldn't find it. I looked again, increasingly getting more frantic with my rummaging. I don't know if he was getting some perverse pleasure in watching me disintegrate but he waited until I was about tip my rucksack out onto the floor before saying "Oh, don't worry, I can get the office in Delhi to fax a copy over."

After making me suffer he made me suffer a little bit more by denying any knowledge that Julie and I were going "off-tour" tonight. He acted completely confused. All along we had told everyone involved with Kuoni that we were not going to stay in the scheduled hotel and that we would be staying at the Taj Lake Palace. We asked him if he could arrange a taxi for us to take us to the jetty near the City Palace.

He came up trumps however, once he understood, and phoned on ahead to the Lake Palace to announce our imminent arrival and then he arranged for Sanjey to drive us there with another Kuoni rep to accompany us all the way down to the handover to the Taj hotel staff. It may have been wrapping us in cotton wool but we were more than happy to allow it to happen.

Before we left we arranged to meet up with Rob & Carol half way through tomorrow's guided tour. We wanted to make the most of our time at the Lake Palace hotel and not rush out in the morning.

We got back on the bus with Sanjey and made our way across Udaipur. We were actually quite glad we had someone with us as there was a checkpoint we had to negotiate before arriving at the launch. The Kuoni rep smoothed the way for us.

Lake Palace Hotel, Udaipur

We thanked Sanjey and the Kuoni rep for going beyond the call of duty. They really made this transfer a lot easier.

We picked up our overnight bag, a small rucksack, (we had left our luggage back in our Trident hotel room) and arriving like a pair of dishevelled backpackers we were warmly greeted by the Taj hotel staff. They made us feel very welcomed.

A boat was waiting for us to ferry us across the dark waters of Lake Pichola towards the alluring light of the hotel.

We were a little disappointed that we were arriving so late but arriving in the dark with the hotel floating on the water like a heavenly vessel was very special.

We docked and disembarked safely, then in a finely crafted welcoming ceremony we floated our way up the red carpet, up the steps, through the doors, to the reception desk and then onwards to our room.

"Welcome to the Taj Lake Palace Hotel"

Each step of the way someone directed us on to the next, the way forward was constantly being shown by a smile, the wave of an arm, and the bow of the head.

"Welcome Mr & Mrs Owen" said the girl at reception "would you like to follow me"

view of City Palace from room at the Lake Palace Hotel
City Palace, Udaipur

We did and soon arrived at our room where we completed our check-in formalities at our table.

The room was quite lovely. The decor was old fashioned but in good taste.

The best feature was the beautiful view out of the window. We turned off the lights and sat on the bed in the dark staring out at the illuminated City Palace.

I'm not ashamed to say that I filled up with emotion yet again.

This perfect moment was interrupted when my stomach rumbled the mightiest of complaints.

It was time to eat.

We stepped out of our room in search of food but then ended up wandering around the hotel in utter amazement.

We hadn't noticed the stunning interior of the hotel during our dream-like arrival but now we had settled down a little we could begin to take it all in.

Our front door opened out onto a balcony that overlooked the lotus pond at the heart of the palace.

We stood there in silence admiring the stunning design.

We sat briefly in a small pavilion, or it could be called their Hall of Private Audience absorbing the inspiring views both inside and out.

We left our thrones and walk down to the ground floor (which doesn't seem correct as we were in the middle of a lake) to have a look at the menu available at the hotel's two restaurants.

We decided that we were looking a bit too bedraggled and feeling a little travel weary for a posh meal out in a restaurant.

We were going to order room service instead.

But first, we were thirsty and we went in search of the bar.

It was across an attractive little courtyard lit up by a display of candles.

We had missed an earlier a performance of traditional dance in this courtyard and whilst I'm sure it would have been the best one of the lot we weren't too upset.

We ordered ourselves a drink and found a secluded corner.

There was a maze of little rooms and alcoves to hide ourselves away for a romantic aperitif before supper.

I went for a mojito and Julie had a Caprioska cocktail but at almost £10 each we didn't have any more.

An hour later Julie was still struggling to drink her neat vodka cocktail and I was beginning to chew my arm off I was so hungry. We returned to our room and ordered food.

It soon arrived and they wheeled in the heated trolley that then converted into our dining table.

Two members of staff then spent almost five minutes preparing the table to perfection and explaining to us what each dish was, just in case we didn't remember what we had ordered.

Julie ordered a "Classic Fish and Chips" which disappointed. The chips were skinny french fries and the battered fish was more schnitzel in style and had the consistency of a fish finger!

I couldn't fault my Thali, especially the Tarka Dhal, which I felt was the tastiest of the trip.

The best part however was the view. We were sat by the window with our lights turned low. It was superbly romantic.

Julie looked lovingly towards me, her eyes shimmering with the golden reflection of the City Palace.

It felt perfect.

We lay down in bed with the curtains wide open and fell asleep gazing at the beautiful view.

It was worth the twenty three year wait!

We fell into a really deep sleep but at 3:45am we were both woken up by Julie's mobile phone receiving a text. All it said was "R U OK?" We were a little annoyed but for only a brief second as another text soon followed. "Something's happened in Mumbai. Are you OK ?"

"Oh my God, what's happened?" asked an alarmed Julie.

We switched our TV on and discovered why everyone were so concerned. It was 10:15pm back home and everybody we knew must have been watching the evening news.

Terrorists had attacked Mumbai.

We sat up, shocked as we watched it all unfold on an Indian news channel. "WAR ON MUMBAI" was its title. It appeared to be a coordinated attack with incidents across the city. Reports were coming in of shootings at a railway station, a hospital, a popular cafe and at two premier hotels, the Trident Oberoi and the Taj Mahal Palace hotel.

The fact that hotels were being targeted concerned Julie.

"Are we safe here?" she asked. "Of course we are" I replied "we're in the middle of a lake!"

"What if they had boats?" she insightfully added. "Should we barricade the door?" she continued as her anxiety spiralled.

I tried to calm her down the best I could and make her realise that it was just in Mumbai and not a nationwide attack. At the time however I didn't really know that.

We phoned home to let everyone know we were safe in Udaipur 500 miles away. They were extremely glad to hear from us. I could hear the overwhelming relief in my father's voice.

After replying to all our texts I went back to sleep but Julie couldn't. She sat up and continued watching the news.

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