January 9, 2001: Day 36, Aurangabad
Date: 1/9/01, 10:01 AM EST (8:31 PM in India)
Re: Udaipur and Aurangabad
Hi from Aurangabad,
Thanks for all your letters again... and as usual we can't respond easily to most of them directly due to the poor bandwidth. For those of you that asked for past issues of this news letter, we'll have to wait until we get home to send them because we only have a few of the most recent ones here. Hotmail is stupid in how you can set up mailing lists so we weren't very consistent about our mailings in the beginning before we finally started to cc ourselves and reply-to-all as our way of running this list. Sorry... very disorganized for a bunch of people that supposedly work with computers for a living (this is the vague memory we have about our careers anyway).
Also a small correction: The fatefully Thali mentioned in the last issue was a Rajastani Thali, not a Maharastrian one (which I have no intention whatsoever of trying, thanks, even though we are actually in Maharastra now... yes, Gina is sitting next to me this time, which is why I now know where I actually am).
Since our last email we made it to Udaipur and spent our one full day there mostly sleeping off our various diseases. We did manage a walk in the afternoon through the old town in Udaipur, which has streets as narrow as those in European midevil towns, but with real live functioning surface-running sewage drains (rather than picturesque non-functioning ones).
Udaipur is nevertheless very beautiful, with many palaces and temples overlooking a lake down to which are many bathing/clothes washing ghats (aka steps leading down to water). The air is filled from morning to night with the sound of people beating their laundry clean with wooden paddles (which of course also contributes to the terribly polluted waters, along with the seepage from the town in general).
We spent quite a bit of time sitting on the balcony outside our room watching the light change over time across the water, where the sunset beautifully lit up the city palace. Also entertaining was the filming of a Hindi movie, clearly visible from our sitting area. It's amazing how many takes they need for a group of people walking in circles, chanting, tossing colored powders into the air, a bonfire burning and a perfectly color-matched motor boat circling continuously in the background. As far as we could tell they spent the whole day on about 30 seconds of film, but there could have been more going on that we couldn't see.
Many of you may know Udaipur and some of the palaces here from the James Bond film Octopussy, some of which was filmed here. Predictably, there is an Octopussy Restaurant with live Octopussy Show every day (which we decided to skip). Actually, unfortunately there are entirely too many tourist shops and aggressive vendors in Udaipur, which ruin some of its charm unless you avoid the main roads and walk instead through some of the torturously windy and narrow side roads (which are more smelly but also more fun and certainly quieter and safer due to the lack of traffic there).
In the evening we spent an outrageous sum (even from a US person's point of view, much less from our now-indian idea of cost and value) on dinner at the Fateh Prakash hotel, which is located inside the city palace. This was an OK dinner in a pseudo-european style and was very satisfying even tho it probably would have been most disappointing at home. But this was nice because it gave Gina and I a chance to walk around the city palace and hob nob with the Maharaja, who still lives there. OK, so we didn't really see him but being the only people walking around there, we felt like special guests and got what I hope will be some great night shots of the illuminated architecture.
Next day we left early for the airport to fly here via Mumbai, but our plane was delayed and they shuttled us back to Udaipur again for lunch at another posh hotel, the Lakshmi Villa So and So Hotel on the hill, overlooking another lake. Having been quite ill, we weren't too interested in the food but the tomato soup was good and we got to spend some nice time on the lawn reading and looking at the view. The lake was very low in water, even worse than the Pachola lake (which was the one in front of our hotel), and apparently this ongoing drought state of affairs has really impacted tourism here.
Eventually our plane took off from Delhi, its origination point, where it was stuck in the fog, and we were ferried back to the Udaipur airport from the Lakshmi and even managed to make our connection in Mumbai, where we would otherwise have been stuck most of the day. So this all worked out pretty well because Udaipur was much more pleasant than Mumbai and we even got a private car rather than the Indian Airlines bus due to our dawdling until the bus was full. The latter was thanks to Guru, who caused all sorts of other trouble at the airport as well, first accidentally ripping his ticket in half, then taking photographs, which is prohibited there, and finally forgetting his fleece in his checked luggage, which he was then disallowed to access. As a result we are now famous there, but we got in good with the head Indian Airlines guy who was very nice and managed to get the other jerky staff to honor the ripped ticket despite their drooling over the prospect of charging us an extra $125 for the flight. In the end it cost only 100 Rupees (about $2) to grease the wheels a bit.
It is in fact interesting how people seem to fall into two categories: Those that try to rip you off and those that try to help you. So far we've usually encountered them together in a fortuitous way. For example in Udaipur, a rickshaw driver was claiming I had to pay him $10 for photographing in the old city (which was very transparently BS). Even though I just laughed at him, another driver immediately told off the first guy and told him to mind his own business. Something like this is fairly typical, maybe just a symptom of the general chaos that underlies most things here.
So we finally got to Aurangabad, where Gina ate Wonton soup and Steak Diane in the totally vegetarian (including no eggs) restaurant in the hotel (OK, the steak was a veg cutlet with mushroom sauce). Rashmi ate American Chop Suey, further evidence that we are getting desperate in the food category. This turned out to be exactly what is served as Chop Suey in New England in Chinese restaurants, to the great amusement of Gina who wants me to include these details: It was crunchy noodles over cornstarch thickened sauce with onions, whereas at home "American Chop Suey" is entirely different than Chop Suey (it's pasta with tomatoes and meat, she tells me... this is all New Englands stuff that I've managed to avoid so far in my eleven years in Boston).
Meanwhile, while all this exciting eating was going on, I (true to my character) slept in the room and don't even remember letting Gina when she came in later, happily fed.
Today we had our driver take us out to Ellora, where there are huge Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain caves/temples hewn out of solid rock. We spent several hours exploring them and baking in the hot sun, but opted out of paying the outrageous 10$/person "foreigner pricing" to actually go into the main Hindu temple, which is the larged monolithic carving in the world (which means in it's entirety, it is carved out of the rock without adding any stone anywhere, and it is substantially larger than the Parthenon, just to give you some idea of the thing). Still, we could climb up the hill and get a very close view of it from both sides and behind and so didn't feel like we lost out on much in making our little statement against India's racist law.
The policy to charge foreigners 50-100X the entry fee to such monuments is by the way only 2 months old, and in our opinion a good reason to avoid traveling to India until they change the law to at least something more reasonable like 2-3X pricing, or at least checking citizenship and not just color, which is how they are doing it now... This all means a poor white student traveler now pays the big bucks while rich Indians and even rich Indians now living in the US or elsewhere pay the 10 Rupees (25 cents). Grrr... well, this made us so mad we also skipped the Daultabad Fort, which is located nearby. This is a place where some crazy Moghul once tried to move Delhi, literally marching the entire population the 1100 km over here to build the new city just because it was more geographically central.... in the end they dropped like flies and 17 years later he marched them all back to Delhi, where the capital remained.
But anyway, we do plan to pay the $10/head tomorrow at Ajanta, which is said to be worth it and would otherwise be missed entirely by us... this is yet another series of caves, but older and with better preserved paintings, most of which are gone at Ellora.
So that's it for now... after Ajanta we're on to Savda, near Jalgaon, where we will visit with some of Rashmi's family before heading back to Mumbai and our flight back home! Yay, home!
By the way, as you may be able to tell by all this text, we're feeling much better... interestingly the turning point in our health problems was seeing an old episode of the Lucy Show in TV in Udaipur, and of all crazy things a Jaganath face was on the wall in the background in about 50% of the shots.... this is the Hindu god of Gina's Odissi dance, and the one to whom the priest in Puri was going to pray for Gina! So we did end up having at least one appropriately mystical experience in India, like all tourists should have at one point or another!
It's not clear when we'll be able to write again so this might be the last installment from here, but we shall see. Certainly Savda will have no internet cafe because it is a tiny little town...
Hope all is well!
- Stephan and Gina
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