Author Credit : Mentallynailbiting
This was our first full day at Udaypore, and we wanted to make the most of it. Precisely at seven (the time for breakfast to commence) we were seated at our table (armed to the teeth with our laptop gear) as soon as the breakfast buffet was laid out. Netsurfing and breakfasting, we managed to put away a stack of couple white- bread toasts, some eggs (sunny side up), a plateful of crisp fried bacon and two cups of tea between ourselves. Stomachs quietened, we proceeded to book a car for the day’s journey to Ranakpur and Kumbhalgarh and back, amidst the din created by families and children of bathers at the pool below. Our cab was eventually booked over the phone (Google recommendations again) for a total of approximately seventeen hundred bucks inclusive of a hundred and fifty rupees driver allowance and toll and parking charges along the way. We came back to our room, preparing ourselves mentally and physically for a five to six hours drive and back.
The cab duly arrived at 9:30 am; a Mahindra Renault Logan with a pristine cabbie at the wheel. Javed was the name he answered to, and he was a welcome relief from our previous day’s cab experience; he was courteous and polite, spoke only when he was spoken to, and without an iota of ego or attitude, stopped at all the random places I requested (for the purpose of taking photpgraphs). On more than one occasion, he was also proactive enough to point out vistas which he felt were worth capturing on camera. We proceeded to Ranakpur first, and the awesome weather was a boon. The landscape was surreal with miles and miles of open farmlands and hills, their luscious, mellow green emitting a glow of their own under a slightly overcast grey sky. It was more like Nainital and seemed to be miles away from Rajasthan, the ‘desert’ state. Several tiny streams, rain-water fed, kept us company on our journey, to end their short sojourns as glistening pools of water wherever there were rocks piled high on their way. As Ranakpur came closer, the green of the hills changed from short shrubs to dense woods, which, according to our cabbie, were home to cheetahs. Sure enough, there were signboards on the road warning passers-by of the potential danger from cheetahs. We also saw several white monkeys as commonly visible around Haridwar or Hrishikesh, and at one point, renegade cows and bulls. Here an incident happened that merits some detail.
Javed had stopped the car at an idyllic location with a pool of jade green rainwater surrounded by emerald hills, recommending a picture perfect capture. Slightly wary of some white monkeys sitting at a distance, I got down from the car, taking no notice however of a herd of cows and bulls coming down the road, and got busy with the shutter. Just at the point of the ‘click’ my heart, along with the camera, gave a wild jolt and jumped to my mouth as something cold and moist nudged me at my elbow from behind! I whirled around to discover the herd of bovines practically encircling me, the wet nose of the guilty one inches away from my face. I moved away to the front of the car, waiting for them to pass through the cleared space. Imagine my discomfort when instead, two muscular, horned males made their way towards me with distinct ‘not going anywhere!’ looks. I tried to swerve. They came after me. I tried to shoo them away. They came after me. I tried to run to the car door. The whole herd came after me. At this point, I finally might have screamed for help, as Cirtnecce opened the car door and I leapt inside, managing to close the door by almost brushing the horns of the persistent bulls in the process. Significantly unnerved at the curious phenomenon (bulls trying to follow me home was a definite first) I barely managed to hear Javed trying to soothe my ruffled nerves attributing the incident to ‘hunger’—the bovines, apparently, thought I had foodstuff with me. I silently thanked my lucky stars that I, at least, was not the one considered as edible.
Ranakpur approached with no further incidents, and the sun had finally come out of the clouds when we parked at the temple complex. We were thankful to have escaped the heat right in time as we stepped into the cool shadowed portals of this 15th century marvel of Jain architecture. Long ago, a venerable friend had vetoed the internationally famous Dilwara Jain temples in favour of this one at Ranakpur, and looking around the temple, I could now understand why. This 1444 pillared edifice dedicated to the Jain Tirthankar Adinath is actually a successor of the celebrated temples of Dilwara, and yet, manages to look more ancient and somehow, more authentic. The smooth, gleaming polish of the marble of the Dilwara temples is missing at Ranakpur, where the building material, despite being the same, wears a rougher, uneven look. The abundance of human figures in the Dilwara sculptures is also less common here. Possibly this is also the reason why the temple looks less showy. The sculptures on the numerous columns, dense and beautiful, are primarily symbols representing facets of Jainism, human figures rarely depicted. A remarkable example would be the circular motif of intertwining snakes forming a semi-circular halo and a complete circular chain around the Tirthankar Parshvanath (whose symbol in ancient Jainism is the snake), a unique work of sculpture, overwhelming in its beauty and complexity. The heavily ornate circular pendants hanging from the rooftops, though, are common to Dilwara, as are the half-human figures doubling up as supports to the pillar shafts, and the statues of the twenty four Tirthankars within separate niches around the temple complex. It is remarkable that the main deity, that of Tirthankar Adinath, is worshipped regularly even to this date, a fact we witnessed, which again, sets it apart from Dilwara as the latter are primarily works of art than places of religion. Forty five well spent minutes and several photographs later, we found ourselves out of Ranakpur and heading towards Kumbhalgarh, our next destination.
The journey from Ranakpur to Kumbhalgarh took us through a different route and a trifle tired, I took a power nap in the car, waking up directly as Javed was parking before the fort. It was around two thirty in the afternoon, and while the breeze was still cool and abundant, the sun was high up above our heads, beating down mercilessly. The fort, a heavy, looming affair, however, was no major impact after a Chittorgarh, an Agra Fort or even a Tughlakabad fort. Looking at the steep inclines leading to the top which we were supposed to negotiate by no means other than our feet, Cirtnecce refused to accompany me point blank; so I set off by myself. This 15th century fort built by Rana Kumbha proved to be a disappointment all the way as I huffed and puffed to the very top, climbing the steep walkways and staircases, with nothing special to see except the view around, and that too, was not anything extraordinary (as I later found out). Return was even more dangerous and I had to constantly buckle my knees and walk on tiptoe so as not to lose my balance and roll all the way to the bottom. The fort was one of our biggest disappointments and our only consolation was that we did not waste too much time and money on it.
Ravenous after the climb, we had lunch at a place called Devi Restaurant right outside Kumbhalgarh, a smallish property, clearly constructed only recently, with not too many takers as we were the only ones eating out there. The food, however, was economical and tasty, the besan gatta, paneer butter masala and dal fry taking care of more than our dietary needs. The return journey from Kumbhalgarh was via another slightly shorter route and took us lesser time to reach Udaypore, but it was only when we wearily rested our heads on the ultra-comfortable pillows, knowing that dinner would again be the meal we would not be having, did we realize how tired we were. In hindsight, there was some rigorous climbing involved both at Ranakpur as well as Kumbhalgarh, which probably was the reason for our lethargy.
Our second day was a rest day, as we decided to spend our day without venturing outdoors. It was a much needed relaxation, as after our gorgeous American/South Indian breakfast, we sat down to write, me my Udaypore experiences and Cirtnecce the synopsis of her book. Settled comfortably on cushioned settees with our laptops plugged in, we wrote our respective pieces sipping mocktails and overhearing snippets of conversations around us. After spending about four hours in a similar fashion we came back to our room, watched some telly and then went for lunch for the first time at the hotel. Lunch with Missi Rotis, Dal Makhni and Murg ka Mokul (a preparation of chicken in yogurt) was sumptuous, and we had distinctly overeaten. The remaining day was spent inside the room chilling out either reading, writing or watching more television, till it was time for dinner. We were not particularly hungry, so we ordered a burger and some pasta with some dessert afterwards in our room. Barely managing to polish off the food as we were, surprisingly, nodding with sleep, we decided to call it quits with our second day at Udaypore.
We were supposed to leave the next day evening, and we had kept our sightseeing for Udaypore and around for this day. However, when we woke up in the morning, neither of us was in a mood to leave just yet—we wished we could stay another night. Then, with typical impetuousness, we extended our hotel stay by another night and booked return flight tickets back to Delhi for the next day as we were supposed to join work on July 5 evening. That done, with significantly lighter hearts (and wallets), we proceeded to our best-loved part of the day—to breakfast, post which we wrote some more till it was time for our cabbie to come and take us to our tour of Udaypore.
Our first destination was, naturally, the City Palace, and the edifice, once we reached there, took our breath away. Though parts of this architecture belong to as early as the 11th century, the overall structure is remarkably well-maintained even to this date by the royal family of HRH Arvind Singhji of Mewar, primarily with the aid of revenue generated from his eminently profitable hotel chain (including the Udaypore Lake Palace Hotel of national and international acclaim) and from renting out portions of the palace for events like celebrity weddings and James Bond movie shoots.
Throughout our guided tour of the palace, I wished I had eight more eyes to take in the sights and sounds of artefacts around me; the original battle armour of the legendry Rana Pratap and his horse, the elephant’s trunk which was supposedly grafted onto Pratap’s horse’s nose as a ploy to conceal the horse among the enemy elephants during the battle; a four-hundred-year old painting depicting every minute detail of the battle of Haldighati between Rana Pratap and the Mughal Emperor Akbar; a two centuries old miniature painting depicting the entire layout of the City Palace; an entire roomful of miniature paintings depicting the Rana Bheem Singh playing Hori (Holi) with his sixteen queens or going on a hunt or listening to Bhagwat Katha; the Peacock pavilions and Dewan-e-Khas built by Amar Singh II; the once-bejewelled-now-stained-glassed Manek Mahal (supposedly a bedroom for newlyweds) and several such other rooms/areas where the king and his royal entourage rested, ate, slept and lived. This five-level palace also offers beautiful views of the Udaipur city and the Pichola Lake, several of which I managed to capture on camera.
Climbing up and down the five levels of the palace had drained us considerably, so after bidding adieu to our guide we spent some time nursing a Chamomile Iced Tea and a Chocolate Fantasy at Palki Khana, a restaurant within the City Palace complex. Sufficiently restored, we went to our next destination—the Vintage Cars Collection of the royal family of Udaypore. The visit was an automobile ecstasy as we ooh-ed and aah-ed while happily clicking away the bevy of vintage Mercs, Cadillacs, Rolls-Royces, Fords, Morrises, Austins and Chevrolet trucks, not to mention the Royal Bugghy utilised for public processions. The time of purchase of these cars range from the 1930s to the 1960s, and most of these vehicles are still active and running, frequently used by the royals even to this date, the eight-cylinder-120-kmph giants a treat to the eyes. Our next destination was not exactly on our agenda but our cabbie gently insisted that we visit the ‘Saheli ki Baadi’, a garden-fountain combination apparently constructed for the hundred-something strong women who had accompanied one of the royal brides to Udaypore. We spent barely five minutes out here, as it was nothing but a tiny park, which, though well-maintained, was no novelty. After having lunch at a roadside restaurant named ‘Rajwada Bites’ (!!!), we moved to the Pichola Lake for a couple of photos, and then proceeded to our last destination, the Sajjangarh Fort on the outskirts of Udaypore.
The fort is located slightly on the outskirts of the town, on a solitary top of the Aravallis, and the drive to it is a dream. Steep and narrow, the road is however, conveniently motorable, with lush green forests on either side, a portion of which, we were told, is still maintained as a game trail and wildlife sanctuary open to the public for a safari. We decided to content ourselves with the fort, the jungles being an entity to be admired from a distance and not courted in intimacy. This, however, was not a decision we would regret, as moments later, we got down at the fort, craning our necks to take in the huge structure looming before us. A guided tour of the building took us through the several mythical intricacies of the construction of the fort, especially its unique water conservation system with the gargantuan water tanks cleverly sunk within the base architecture and spread across the gigantic fort foundation. This building, though starkly huge, is, in reality, an unfinished monument, constructed by a ruler who had originally conceived thirteen more storeys to the existing structure, which, however, could not be completed due to his untimely demise. Standing on the tall rooftops of the unfinished ruins today, once can breathe in the beauty of the Udaypore city with its numerous lakes spread for miles around, the hunting towers, seemingly tiny from this great height, nestled cosily in the dense green hills, a dirt track encircling the fort running parallel to the dark road in a perfect winding symmetry of red and grey, the evening sun melting the surrounding hilltops into an alchemy of copper, silver, bronze and gold. There are spacious lawns with well-trimmed grass and seasonal flowers within the fort complex, along with strategically located seats/wooden benches where tourists can rest their travel-weary limbs while drinking in the natural exotica all around. We lingered for half an hour at the fort, me clicking away happily at all angles of the inclination.
While preparing for our return, I realized with an abrupt emptiness the reality of leaving this enchanted vale for the drudge and drear of Delhi once again. Yet, strangely enough, the emotion was not as overwhelming as I had feared it to be. Because, while we once again meandered the streets to Udaypore negotiating our return back to the hotel, coming in and packing our stuff with listless resignation, rubbing sleep from our eyes in a desperate attempt to stay awake and savour our last few moments at the hotel we so loved staying at—all this while, I knew that the memories of Udaypore are now snugly secured within the deepest recesses of my heart like a beautifully watered emerald hiding in the dark earth, a jewel I can take out whenever I want and make it glow forever in the limpid lights of my nostalgia.
Lake Palace Picture used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License