Dadu Aur Madak

The map we had showed that after traveling the first hundred kilometers or so south from Jodhpur the next hundred kilometer segment that headed east to Udaipur was multi-lane divided highway. As it turned out, the southbound section from Jodhpur to Sirohi was the most heavily trafficked road we had encountered in all of our time in Rajasthan. It was a two lane blacktop that alternated between barely adequate to life threatening. Even though we were traveling early as usual and that it was a Sunday morning, we still spent most of that route dodging oncoming trucks that were in our lane passing. Passing in India is something that is done without any regard whatsoever to traffic coming from the opposite direction. Regardless of the degree of stupidity of any given maneuver, a good rule of thumb is that the right-of-way goes to the largest vehicle. This explains the inordinate amount of multi-truck or truck bus accidents. It also accounts for an equally ridiculous number of single vehicle accidents caused when vehicles swerve to avoid the death defying passer. You can be approaching at 80 kilometers an hour and will have passed the oncoming vehicles in 6 seconds, yet a truck doing 40 miles an hour will not wait for you to pass, but rather will pull out to pass another truck doing thirty-eight. The whole operation will take something like four minutes, and you will be meanwhile forced to go on to the shoulder to avoid being obliterated. Even worse is the truck that's pulling out to go around a farm tractor while at the same time an SUV is going out further still to pass the truck--all of this on a narrow two-lane with no shoulder. Well when we reached the portion heading east we found that it in fact was not a four-lane as the map had indicated, but the first twenty miles was actually a single lane with traffic traveling in both directions. After that first twenty miles we did in fact encounter the four-lane and a mile or so of it every 4 or 5 miles was actually paved, although it was generally only on one side. Equally frequently you would be diverted off of the four lanes of hard packed dirt on to a one or two lane bypass. That hundred miles was dusty, bumpy and slow. To the credit of India's road builders though, in the course of that 100 miles we saw more than 20 people working on some half dozen scattered stretches. On top of that we saw at least three pieces of heavy equipment, to say nothing of the half dozen or so dump trucks. When we finally found a place to stop for petrol about 40 kilometers out of Udaipur we asked if the road got any better on the way into town but we were told it was a work in progress.

The only thing making the driving along this stretch tolerable was the colorful encampments of desert people with their herds that we encountered on the outskirts of every little town and water hole that we passed. Most were headed for Pushkar to take part in the massive camel fair there.

In a bizarre twist, after having traversed probably the worst roads we had found in Rajasthan, as we entered the town we were rounding a curve and Karen skidded out on some soapy drain water that was running out directly on to the roadway. She had the wind knocked out of her, and had went down pretty hard on her elbow.  Her padded jacket kept it from being any worse. We were kind of able to milk her misfortune to our advantage though. We had arrived one week before Diwali, a celebration that is dragged out for as much as two weeks. Udaipur, which is widely known as a honeymoon or simply a romantic destination is one of the places that the guide books advise you to avoid even trying during Diwali and the two weeks following. We found a hotel that actually had a vacancy, and the helpful manager even directed us to a hospital called the GBH American Hospital. It was a far cry from the state hospital I had visited in Himachal Pradesh. It was a private hospital that had every modern convenience, still our bill for two x-rays a doctors consultation (who had to be called  to come in from home), and the prescriptions that he had written cost under twelve dollars. We told the hotel owner that the doctor had told her she had to stay off the bike for at least a week (a slight exaggeration), and he was more than happy to accommodate us.

 Udaipur is a fair sized city, but the majority of the tourist activity is centered around the lake. Along the waters edge there are more than a score of several story hotels boasting rooftop restaurants. Of course like most lakes in Indian cities, the shoreline is ringed with ghats. Udaipur's real claim to fame though is The Lake Palace Hotel pictured above that takes up every inch of Jagniwas Island. It was one of several sites around Udaipur that were used in the James Bond film Octopussy. Literally all of the the rooftop restaurants in town advertise that the film is shown nightly, usually with a second feature.

    Also in the lake is Jagmandir Island which is host to a palace built by two successive Maharajas in the early 17th century. On the far side of the lake (right), is a new upscale hotel Udaivilas with prices ranging from $450 USD to two grand for a suite with private pool.

In the week leading up to Diwali, the town busied itself stringing lights and cleaning up the city. Diwali celebrates the Hindu new year  and is known as the festival of lights. Udaipur's old section has open channels covered with concrete slabs for sewers, and these were cleaned of all debris and hauled away. The largest part of the celebration takes place in the old city. This night shot taken from across a narrows of the lake shows the lit up ghats and part of the City Palace.

The City Palace was outrageously expensive to visit and the shot at left is the closest they will let you get without paying. The shot at right was taken with a telephoto from a hilltop called sunset point.

Udaipur is home to scores of temples and one of the more impressive ones is the Jagdish temple near the center of the old city, but the attendance her is dwarfed by that at he tiny Laxmi temple down one of the small lanes in the old city. Laxmi is the goddess of wealth, and so many people come to visit that they have to bore holes in the pavement to put up pipe and rope barriers to keep the procession orderly. Like many temples in India, men and women have to enter from different doors.

As Diwali approaches the Laxmi temple becomes the center of activity, with men and women seperated. In the last few days all becomes lit up. Diwali is the festival of light and celebrates the Hindu New year. Watch the video.

Even the animals get decorated (left), and it is a very auspicious time for weddings. I had to get the permission of the groom to photograph this young bride at right. The stripe of vermilion down the part of the hair indicates that this woman is married and off limits.

Not to be outdone, the downtown of the new city is also lavishly lit. The top picture is of the Town Hall. In the bottom shot the lights even extend to crystal chandeliers. Just as a side note, I have to include this video. Karen found it so amazing she talked about it for days. At the Town Hall there was also a sizable carnival. We paid to see this event that took place in a wooden tank about 100 feet high and 100 feet in diameter. It is called the "Well of Death". The video quality is not that great because it was pretty dark, but what you are looking at is three motorcycles and three cars driving around the interior of the tank at the same time. More impressive is the fact that the cyclists wear no helmets and drive with no hands, while the car drivers open the top side door and lean out of the car and wave. It's wacky. Check it out.

Besides the lights, the old city is decorated on every stoop, from the most humble to the elaborate. The colors red and white are considered the colors of good fortune. We asked the kids around the stoop at top right what the footprints signified. They said it was so Laxmi could find her way there. I asked him if Laxmi had two right feet, at which point they called out the guy who had done the painting and had some fun with him. A few days later we were walking to breakfast when someone started chasing us down the street. It was the artist just wanting to show us that he had corrected the feet. The design at bottom right is made with the powders of ground up stone.

On the morning of Diwali the throng around the tiny Laxmi temple becomes even more intense. Almost all pilgrims bring in garlands or handfuls of flowers, and these women are busy all morning. This young lady has come dressed as the blue goddess.

Even royalty gets in on the act. The throng parts as the Maharaja of Udaipur and his young Maharani make their appearance.

An honor guard precedes him clearing a path.

His 20s era Rolls Royce was as long as a locomotive with headlights the size of garbage can lids.