Keep Calm and Carry Ohm

26/11/08 Day 13 - Udaipur

Dawn broke and all was quiet.

The moment we woke however we immediately switched the TV on for further update on what was happening in Mumbai.

The reported death toll had now risen to 47. Many were killed at the railway station including the Chief of Police. Gunmen had also opened fire indiscriminately into a busy restaurant, called Cafe Leopold.

People were being held hostage at both the Trident-Oberoi and Taj Mahal Palace and that there was also a hostage situation at a Jewish community centre.

good morning Udaipur
flutist, Lake Palace hotel, Udaipur

The situation appeared to be worsening but it did appear to be isolated to Mumbai.

We found ourselves watching the same footage over and over again, especially a particular gruesome clip of someone who had his finger shot off outside the railway station.

We decided to switch the TV off and try to carry on with our day as normal as possible; which of course always begins with a jolly good breakfast.

We opened our door and were greeted by the delicately wistful tone of a flute.

It was authentic piped music as the serene soundtrack was provided by a flutist sat cross-legged overlooking the stunning lotus pond.

Down in the breakfast room everyone was talking about the Mumbai attacks.

Some had more reason than most to be in a state of shock as they had either just arrived in Udaipur yesterday from having stayed at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel the day before or that they were due to travel there today.

In contrast all I had to worry about was that breakfast was only a cold western buffet.

Lake Palace Hotel, Udaipur

"What? No Curry?" I complained "But I want Dal Sambar !"

My personal trauma was short-lived. The Taj Lake Palace didn't let me down as a hot breakfast menu was brought to our table and a Dal Sambar with idli and a Channa massala on poori bread was ordered.

City Palace hotel, Udaipur We weren't in any rush this morning so we sat in the breakfast room drinking tea, admiring the idyllic views across Lake Pichola. To the East the City Palace looked very majestic.

Whilst northwards a bridge in the distance spanning the river looked almost Venetian with its Rialto-esque arches.

Lake Pichola, Udaipur

Udaipur has been called the Venice of the East but other than this bridge it's not really a suitable title. The City of Lakes is a more apt alternative.

Whilst we were drinking our tea a member of staff came to our table.

"Mr. & Mrs. Owen" he began.

"Oh, oh, what have we done?" I thought.

"I understand you are checking out today, would you like me to arrange a selection of pastries for your onward journey?"

We turned down his kind offer but later when Julie saw someone carry an ornate cake box she wished we had accepted.

At 9am we made our way over to the hotel's Jiva Spa. We had booked a "Suma massage for two".

We stepped inside the royally decorated spa reception and sat down to a most delicious cup of Basil infusion with honey and lemon.

"Basil is a holy plant" said Pritesh, a spa masseur "this drink is good for cleansing the body. It's better if you drink it in the morning on an empty stomach."

Once we had finished our tasty detox tea he took us through into a room where we met Roma, our other (female) masseur, busy preparing the perfect ambience for us.

Warm, subtly lit and perfumed with rose petals, we were immediately relaxed.

Pritesh explained the protocol and then they both left us to get undressed and put on paper pants provided and then the happy robes.

We were told to sit down to wait for them to return. When the re-entered the room they fetched a bowl of warm oiled water and knelt down before us. Roma in front of Julie and Pritesh in of me.

Then in unison they gently asked "May I bathe your feet to cleanse you?" I was surprised Julie agreed as she's not a big fan of her feet being touched.

Once cleansed we were asked to move to the massage tables. We lay face down side by side (on two separate tables) as they rubbed us from the tips of our toes to the top of our heads.

I must admit that having a man kneading my buttocks felt a little odd but it didn't detract from the feeling of total relaxation.

We were then instructed to roll over onto our backs where they repeated the top to toe attention.

One area in particular was a causing me some concern.

As his hands settled on my stomach and he pushed in a deep circular motion I felt curry for breakfast was not a wise choice. I tensed up as I used all my powers of concentration to stop myself from farting! Thankfully he moved on before I embarrassed myself.

When the massage came to an end Pritesh whispered in my ear "Sir, you may now enjoy the rose petal bath. We shall return in half an hour" and off they both went.

We got up slowly from the tables and floated over to the bath and opened the chilled bottle of Indian champagne.

Having detoxed earlier with holy basil we were now about to get intoxed .

We stepped into the water and were amazed to find it the perfect temperature. It had been poured over half an hour earlier; it must have been a thermostatically controlled.

rose petal bath, Lake Palace Hotel, Udaipur

The bath was lined with mosaic tiles, a good anti-slip surface we assumed but a little chaffing. It also had no taps nor a plug hole, perfect for two people to share without one partner having to put up with the discomfort of taps in their back. We then spent five minutes discussing how were they going to empty the bath without a plug hole. "There's got to be a secret plug hole in here somewhere" We never did find it.

It was wonderfully relaxing. Julie forgot all about Mumbai for almost the whole hour but her fearful thoughts returned to what was going on at the Taj hotel.

Our bath time oasis was up. We spent a few minutes adjusting to the altitude of standing up before leaving the room. We thanked Pritesh and Roma and after buying one of their happy robes we returned to our room.

Wine fuelled and nicely rubbed up we would have given anything to climb into bed for a siesta. Sadly it was time to get going before the check out curfew of 11am.

red carpet treatement at the Lake Palace hotel, Udaipur

Fortunately we had packed our luggage earlier as now we were both as useless as a courgette flower in a food fight and incapable of even packing a toothbrush.

We struggled to leave our room, taking one final look out the window, then one final look over the lotus pond, eventually reaching the reception desk and checking out.

The red carpet treatment continued as we were escorted down to the boat. We certainly felt like royalty.

In fact I read later that the "Royal Butlers" who work at the hotel are descendants of the original palace retainers.

The hotel used to be a palace.

It's original name would have been Jag Niwas and was built in 1743 by the ruler of the Mewar dynasty, Maharana Jagat Singh II as a summer retreat.

The Lake Palace certainly looked exceptionally beautiful as we sailed past.

We got quite excited when we spotted the windows to our room. We looked at each other and smiled a happy smile.

Our hearts were filled with special memories.

Lake Palace Hotel, Udaipur
Lake Palace hotel jetty, Udaipur
We arrived at the jetty just below the City Palace where we sat in the shade to wait for Rob & Carol to arrive with Sanjey and our guide for today.
From here we could see the rugged Aravali hills that surrounded the west of Lake Pichola.
Lake Palace hotel jetty, Udaipur
Some distance away perched dramatically on the edge of a craggy hill was another palace.
Sajjangarh, (Monsoon Palace) Udaipur

With the naked eye we could only see something on the hill top but using my camera's great zoom lense (now powered by proper batteries courtesy of the Lake Palace shop) to take a closer look at Sajjangarh, also known as the Monsoon Palace.

It was in such a striking location.

"I bet there would be a great view of Udaipur from up there" I said.

Julie's animated eyebrows spoke "don't you even think about it" to me and was enough to change the topic back to the fairy tale Lake Palace, Roger Moore's left eyebrow and Octopussy.

I don't remember the film much but apparently the Lake Palace featured prominently in the 1983 James Bond film.

We didn't have to wait long before Rob & Carol arrived to pick us up. Sanjey opened the door to the mini bus and in we got for the shortest drive (about 30 seconds) to the City Palace.

We had missed the tour of the palace itself but were now going to see the famous Crystal Gallery.

Lake Palace hotel, Udaipur
Maharana of Udaipur
Photographs were strictly prohibited inside the gallery which wasn't such a hardship as it was mostly display cabinets full of cut glass but one piece in particular was quite spectacular, a crystal glass four poster bed!

Down in the large reception hall we sat down beneath a huge crystal chandelier for a pot of tea with Dev, our local guide.

It was all rather civilised.

Durbar hall, City Palace, Udaipur

The topic of conversation inevitably turned to what was happening in Mumbai. Dev was so concerned at the effect this would have on tourism. His livelihood and that of thousands more in Udaipur alone depended on the steady stream of visitors. There were several other guides in the hall sharing tea with their clients. They briefly gathered together to discuss Mumbai and they all had worried faces.

Back in the mini-bus we drove across town to our next attraction. Along the way Dev talked about his family, that he was from the privileged Brahmin cast and a 23rd generation citizen of Udaipur.

modern Udaipur

He said he recently got married to a girl from Pushkar. They had a huge celebration in Udaipur with 3000 guests and a further 2000 guests in Pushkar. The union of two influential families. Carol took the opportunity to ask if the marriage was arranged.

"Yes" he said "it's still very common". He then told us all about the first time he met his wife.

"A meeting was arranged through a common friend of our families. The first time I saw my wife was at her house. My parents were with me and we all sat in a room with her mother and father."

"They then said that we could have five minutes alone, to get to know each other. I was very very nervous but I did ask her three questions. For the first two minutes I didn't say anything. Time was running out so I had to ask something. Do you know what I asked?"

It was one of those questions where an answer wasn't really expected so we all just shook our heads.

" 'Can you cook?' My first words to her were 'Can you cook'! She just nodded. I then asked 'Do you have someone that you love and want to marry?' She just shook her head. Finally with seconds left I asked her 'Can you speak?' She said 'Yes' and that was it, our time up."

Saheliyon Ki Bari, Udaipur

Saheliyon Ki Bari, Udaipur

By the time he finished his tale we had arrived at Saheliyon Ki Bari, the Garden of Maids.

This was a lovely garden of marble pavilions, fountains and ponds.

"Water from Fateh Sagar Lake is fed into here." said Dev "and as we are below the lake, gravity alone pushes the water through these fountains"

Saheliyon Ki Bari, Udaipur
It was built in the 18th century by the Maharana Sangram Singh for his new queen and her entourage of 48 court maidens. I couldn't help but notice how forlorn the ceramic statue was in the middle of the pond.
Saheliyon Ki Bari, Udaipur

We walked around manicured lawns and well kept flowerbeds which were all quite attractive.

The best bits were undoubtedly the water features and marble work.

Even they weren't enough to hold my interest for long.

Saheliyon Ki Bari, Udaipur

Dev timed the visit to perfection as we left Saheliyon Ki Bari just as boredom was arriving.

He asked us if we wanted to visit a miniature painting art shop or did we want to return early to the hotel. We all collectively agreed, including Dev, that we could would benefit more from a lounge by the pool before our evening excursion.

When we arrived at the Trident hotel there was a noticeable security presence at the gates . I guess with the atrocities in Mumbai they weren't taking any chances.

We sat in our room for a few minutes watching the news. The death toll had risen. The sieges were continuing. In the middle of it all this one scene made us laugh which was a dreadful thing to do when someone was in such a desperate situation.

Perhaps it was our own nervousness towards the circumstance but a guest at the Trident Oberoi in Mumbai was on the phone with the news station explaining that he was barricaded up in his room, he could hear commotion outside in the hallway but he was being terribly British about it all, saying that he was lucky he had just boiled the kettle for a cup of tea before they cut the power. What an outstanding stiff upper lip.

swimming pool, Trident Hotel, Udaipur

We headed for the pool for that well earned lounge. We had the whole area to ourselves. Julie and I had chosen one side then Rob and Carol sat on the opposite.

We hadn't eaten since breakfast and so with it being 3pm it was now officially lunchtime.

cheese on toast loveliness, poolside, Trident Hotel, Udaipur

I ordered a Paneer Kathi roll and Julie ordered something even nicer. It was cheese on toast but pimped up with tomatoes, coriander and wonderful balance of spices; and the bread was just warmed not toasted. It was perfect comfort food and after eating my wrap I helped Julie in finishing her plate.

"We've got to try that when we get home" said Julie.

All I could reply with was a "Mmmmmmm"

Our siesta was over far too quickly as we were collected from the hotel at 4:30pm for our sunset boat ride.

Walking down from the City Palace towards the pleasure boats we past the Maharaja's ménage where his horses were being exercised.

I love horses. There's something special about them. They are very regal animals. There were four here being put through their paces, the screwbald (white & chestnut) looked the most striking.

I stood and watched them for a while whilst we waited for our boat.

ménage, City Palace, Udaipur
ride a white swan, Fateh Sagar Lake

I wasn't too sure to expect from our boat ride.

We had earlier seen swan shaped pedeloes on Fateh Sagar Lake and Julie joked that we were gong to be thrashing about in one of them.

When we watched large boats heaving with tourists leaving without us for their sail around the lake I began to worry that she was right.

Fortunately weren't going to ride a white swan. We instead had our own privately chartered boat for our Lake Picchola sunset boat ride. It was just big enough for the five of us and the boatsman with his outboard motor chugging away.

Within minutes of setting off Dev pulled out a newspaper cutting from his pocket and showed us a photograph.

"Madonna was here with her husband" he said "and I was their guide for their boat ride." he proudly added.

We looked closer at the tabloid print and whilst it was Madge and Guy it wasn't a very clear photograph of Dev. It could have been anyone really but we took his word that it was him.

It was a fantastic "claim to fame" for him. (I've since scoured the internet for that photo but I haven't found it yet.)

The familiar sight of the City Palace featured prominently in what we could see.

Dev explained however that the whole complex was not one palace but comprised of several individual palaces. At the southern-most point was Shiv Niwas, which is now a luxury hotel.

Shambu Niwas, City Palace, Udaipur
Next came Fateh Prakash with its crystal gallery and Durbar hall. The most impressive building was Shambu Niwas the residential palace where the descendants of the rulers still live. The four open arched tiers were spectacular.
skipping class, Udaipur

Then finally a group of four or five smaller palaces wrapped inside a fortress-like facade now collectively house the City Palace museum.

As we sailed along Dev pointed out some boys lounging in a pavilion and he reminisced about his own youth doing exactly the same.

There was a public school nearby which Dev attended and he would often spend time skipping lessons at the very same pavilion.

A little further we saw the wonderful sight of a beautiful heron standing on steep steps that lead down to the lake.

Keeping the heron company were a pair of cormorants.

I must admit that I do enjoy seeing different birds, especially one as special as a heron. I should definitely not be confused with a birdwatcher however.

I couldn't tell you if they were Great Cormorants, Black Shags, Lesser spotted Black Cormorants or Great Shags; nor do I care to which sub-species they belonged.

But I must confess to get excited if I see something different. We have a heron that visits our little pond at home and I still get a thrill every time I see it.

heron, Lake Picchola, Udaipur

Bagore-ki-Haveli, Udaipur

A little further up we saw ghats that gradually sloped to the shore. "That is Gangori ghat " said Dev "and the small palace there is called Bagore-ki-Haveli"

bridge, Udaipur
We reached as far north as we were going to go; still several feet away from the Rialto bridge and we turned the boat around for the return leg.

Our focus was now directed to the Lake Palace. Once again we spotted the windows to our room and we filled up with happiness.

This morning we were guests now we were tourists looking in from the outside.

We could see the skyline of Udaipur reflected in the windows and we turned around to see the wonderful sun-soaked colours of the charming palaces.

They all looked even more beautiful in the drench of the setting sun.

windows Lake Palace, Udaipur
City Palace, Udaipur As we turned the corner past the Lake Palace we were stunned into silence at the sight of the Aravalli hills silhouetted against the glowing sky.
Aravalli hills, Udaipur
We continued our course out into the middle of the lake heading towards another floating palace, Jag Mandir.

Then in a moment of utter excitement the secret birdwatcher inside of me came bursting out when a pair of pelicans swooped down.

pelican, Lake Picchola, Udaipur

One splashed into the water, the other perched itself awkwardly on a floating oil drum marker buoy, which wasn't easy for such a big bird.

"Wow, they're amazing" I think I said out loud. Oh dear, the secret's out now! But they were genuinely amazing though; with their large gait and oversized beaks.

Julie contributed with the little ditty "A wondrous bird is a pelican, it's bill can hold more than its belly can!" That's why I love her!

What was undoubtedly amazing was the breathtaking view of Udaipur from the centre of the lake.

City Palace and Lake Palce, Udaipur
"Sometimes in summer" said Dev "the lake dries up and people have to drive to Jag Mandir" I couldn't imagine how sad it would look without the water.
Jag Mandir, Udaipur

We got off the boat at Jag Mandir and walked up the steps through its decorative entrance gate.

This palace was built in 1620, over a hundred years before the Lake Palace, Jag Niwas.

Jag Mandir, Udaipur

Prince Khurram, who later became known as emperor Shah Jahan, sheltered here whilst planning a rebellion against his father. and Dev proudly explained that the use of inlaid white marble at Jag Mandir influenced the emperor's design for the Taj Mahal.

There was a even a miniature model of the Taj Mahal inside the largest hall, Gul Mahal, where the mughal prince stayed with his Rajput wife.

afternoon tea at the Jag Mandir, Udaipur Dev pointed out a bearded man busy on his mobile phone. "That's Prince Lakshyaraj" he said "son of the Maharana of Udaipur. He is the manager of Jag Mandir."

It does have seven rooms but it's more popular with day visitors ferried across Lake Picchola to enjoy a meal at the restaurant or perhaps afternoon tea gazing at that incredible view.

stone elephants of Jag Mandir, Udaipur
Or like us, get away without spending a penny and still enjoy the spectacle of Udaipur in the sunset.

We spent quite sometime up on a viewing balcony unable to look away from the panoramic cityscape changing hue with every minute of the sun's descent.

As we left Jag Mandir we bid "Namaste" to the eight stone elephants that stood guard along the palace's north side and returned to our small boat.

Sailing across Lake Picchola, back towards the City Palace, the sky over Udaipur turned to a hint of violet. The yellow sandstone beneath the purple sky looked sensational.

This magical combination didn't last long as the set sun lost its ability to project itself and the colours left the scene.

City Palace, Udaipur
darkness, Udaipur

Back in our mini-bus we made our way across a very dark city. There were some street light but not a lot. It made for an an eerie atmosphere or at least I felt one. A strange feeling of nervousness came over me.

I'm not used to having moments of anxiety but my thoughts were gravitating towards the TV footage we saw of the events in the darkness of Mumbai. My head was filling with "what if we were there".

I'm not usually that irrational. That's usually Julie's job.

We arrived at the secure Trident hotel and said goodbye to Dev and arranged to meet Sanjey tomorrow morning at 6am for our transfer to the airport.

As it was our final day tomorrow we gave Sanjey his tip tonight in a sealed envelope. We didn't know how much to give but he had safely driven us across Rajasthan for the last five days. We decided on 2000 rupees.

In our room we packed our suitcase with the news on in the background. The death toll was now 92. The Taj Mahal hotel was in flames. The Indian special forces, the Black Cats had been sent in to flush out the terrorists.

swimming pool, Trident Hotel, Udaipur

The news were reporting that the General Manager's wife and three children had been executed. That shocked us into stopping what we were doing and we watched the TV in disbelief. We were near to tears.

We rendezvoused with Rob & Carol at 8pm for our free evening meal courtesy of Kuoni.

It was a buffet where I had plenty to choose from and as it was my last meal in India I spooned onto my plate a good portion of everything I could eat, with the exception of one dish called a Potato Opera.

I had Bhindi Massala (Okra in spices), Dal Amristari (a spicy yellow lentil dahl), Gatta Curry ("gold coin" curry - gram flour dumplings in a sauce), Palak ki Subzi (spinach fried with garlic) and Aloo Methi (potatoes with fenugreek). It was a plate and a half.

All were tasty but the gold coins. They were more like rubber bullets.

Julie had the same as me but quarter the portions. She also tried the Potato Opera dish. She usually loves all things potato but she didn't enjoy this opera. It was the only thing left on her plate.

After a round of second helpings I then went back for desert. A doughy Balu Shahi and a sugary Lapsi almost finished me off as I sat there full to the brim.

We enjoyed the evening chatting with Rob & Carol. They were off the Kerala tomorrow but were meant to be flying to Mumbai for a connecting flight to Cochin. The Bombay airport had been closed for security reasons so their plans were up in the air so to speak. They were still waiting for confirmation of their alternative arrangements and halfway through the meal they received a phonecall asking them to get ready for the 6am pick-up. They were to fly to Delhi with us and then on to Cochin.

Just after 10pm we called it a night and returned to our room. We put Ganesh in the window to protect us from any evil spirits and we fell asleep with the news on in the background.

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