Travel: Ranakpur Apathy

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Our initial plan today was to hire a taxi to day trip to Ranakpur before being dropped back at the airport for our flight to Mumbai later tonight. Unfortunately, our lack of internet connection at the hostel proved to be our downfall.

 

While I had posited asking the staff for advice on taking buses, Nick didn’t hear me, and I was too snuggled into my cozy cocoon to emerge from the warmth. We did not make it to Ranakpur and I regret not summoning the willpower to face the cold. Admittedly though, it was really nice to have an open day with nothing planned.

Credit: Ingo Mehling

Credit: Ingo Mehling

Ranakpur is 91 km away from Udaipur, making it approximately a 1-hour car ride in US terms and a 2.5 to 3-hour travel time according to IST (one needs to factor in traffic, rough roads, and slower speed limits). It is home to a  UNESCO World Heritage Site, a massive, sprawling, Jain Temple constructed entirely of marble in 1437.

imageIt is with sorrow that I cannot speakbout how amazing the structure was, as it has over 1444 pillars that are each uniquely carved in exquisite detail. Additionally, there is a massive rock that is carved into 108 snake heads and tails. The layout of the building is in the form of a chaumukha – four faces in each of the four cardinal directions that symbolize the cosmos.

Instead, Nick went off to meet his Uncle and I found a little cafe to savor coffee in while using their wifi for some net-based tasks. We met up again later that morning to visit Monsoon Palace.

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Credit: Nikhil Kulkarmi

The Monsoon Palace was built in 1884 entirely of white marble on the Bansdara Peak of the Aravalli Hill. At a total elevation of 3100 ft overlooking Lake Pichola, the original intent was for it to be a 9-story astronomical centre to track the movement of the monsoon clouds. It would also be a vacation home for the royal family.

 

imageUnfortunately, despite the innovative water harvesting system the building utilized in its underground cistern, the storage capacity proved to be inadequate resulting in the abandonment of the palace.

After the palace, all we had to do was get Nick a shave for the wedding, and find him some shoes. This was surprisingly almost as difficult as finding me a Saree; there’s not much you can do about a gigantor’s foot size when you are on a continent that tends to produce petite-sized humans.

 

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Travel: Colorful India

Since Udaipur is a smaller city and Nick and I have already seen our fair share of ancient temples, palaces, and fortresses, we chose to experience the diversity of India by visiting Shilpgram.

Much like the Dilli Haat in New Delhi, Shilpgram is a heritage village composed of 5 west-zone states. Its purpose is to expose the diversity of tribal cultures to the general public and foster a spirit of collaboration between rural and urban artists. This cultural complex was incredibly large with a total square area of 70 acres!

Nick and I didn’t intend to stay for so long, but there was so much vibrancy to be seen amongst the artists. I’ve attached a brief collage below to illustrate the range of work.

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Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni and Myself (some are his and some are mine).

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

 

 

One of the things I enjoyed the most were all of the regional dances that were performed. As someone who studied traditional chinese dance for over 8 years in my youth, folk dancing continues to fascinate me. It is such a rich part of one’s ingrained heritage and it would be a true pity if these arts got lost in the sands of time.

 

 

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Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

 

Some of the female dancers kept inviting me to join them! I didn’t, but I did pick up the rhythm and pattern of their movements. At the end of it all, they were really friendly and invited me to take a picture with them.

 

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

 

Nick and I both hopped on Camels and went for a ride as well.

 

 

 

 

We finished our day with a sunset boat ride on the lake, followed by more famous dances from Rajasthan at the Bagore Ki Haveli.

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

My favorite dance by far was the Teratali dance. Performed by the Kamar tribe while sitting down, the woman balance a pot on their heads and clench a sword between their teeth while they use Manjeeras (cymbals) to acoustically provide thirteen different beats. The sounds made vary by the angles at which the cymbals collide, making this dance one that requires technique and precision.

Unfortunately, the seating area was less than optimal, otherwise I would have provided a video. 😦

 

 

Travel: Venice of the East

imageNick and I actually delayed our travels to the city of Udaipur by a day because we wanted to visit the Fort. Hence, rather than a 7:30 AM bus, we caught a 6.5-hr sleeper bus. Since it was a non-AC bus, we were feeling pretty optimistic that it would not be too cold. After all, how often does a typical commercial bus have openly ventilated windows? Much to our dismay, even though each cot had its own glass-enclosed cubicle, the windows to open air were not tightly sealed, and therefore it was impossible to limit the amount of penetrating cold desert air.

imageEven worse, I woke up at 3 AM with a pressing need to use the toilet, with no possibilities in sight. I was concerned that even if I asked the driver to pull to the side, the language barrier would prevent him from fully understanding that I needed him to wait for me. I was terrified that he’d drive off and leave me, in the desert, by myself, in the middle of the night. A long struggle later, Nick finally woke up, and he made sure the bus driver didn’t leave me behind (though he was concerned when he felt the wheels of the bus inching). 😦  There is never anything glamorous about popping a squat in a dark ally out of sheer necessity.

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

When we finally arrived at our hostel around 6 AM, they had given our beds away (even though we had called the previous day to give them fair warning)! Nick and I ended up having to squeeze ourselves into two very small chairs with a blanket to catch a little more shut-eye.

 

Needless to say, we did not feel very rested when we finally awoke, and had a pretty lazy day.

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Udaipur, often called the “Venice of the East” for the its beautiful lakes, was founded in 1559 by Maharana Udai Singh II as the last capital of the Mewar Kingdom. It was during this time that the City Palace first came into existence. In reality, the City Palace is not merely one palace, rather it is a sprawling complex consisting of many different palaces that were constructed by 76 different kings over the course of nearly 400 years.

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Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

 

The royal family, the Sisodia Rajputs “Worshipers of the Sun God,” built each palace to face east, in order to greet the rising sun. The exquisite facade of the 11 palaces spans a total length of 800 ft, and a total height of 100 ft. A unique trait of the architecture is that, since the total structure was built over an extended period of time, one can see a diverse blend of different styles. Each characteristic of the Rajasthani, Mughal, Medieval, European, and even Chinese Architecture is paradoxically homogenous and unique at the same time.

 

It is said that the Maharana (distinct from the term Maharaja) built his palace atop the hill following the advice of a hermit who he had found meditating at the summit.