India: Oct 17: Assorted Udaipur Sights

I took a smattering of pictures at every site we visited this day.

Because we liked Udaipur and decided to remain here several days, we knew we could explore at a lackadaisical pace and still see everything we wanted. We started the day on yet another rooftop terrace eating an okay breakfast at Mewar Haveli. After breakfast, we wandered into Art'o'craft, a good painting/art shop with pieces in a variety of creative styles.

We then took a rickshaw to the Vintage Car Museum. The maharaja has a fondness for classic cars and opened his collection to the public. The curator of the collection opened each garage in turn for us and accompanied us as we explored, telling stories about the cars along the way. Apparently, on a trip to England, an old maharaja was insulted by a salesman who looked at him and thought he couldn't afford a Rolls Royce. The maharaja bought the store's inventory and used all the cars as garbage trucks. Rolls Royce, thinking this use of their vehicles would tarnish the brand, offered to buy them back. The maharaja refused.

The curator also told us a story about the front axle of a Rolls Royce getting broken. It was brought to Rolls Royce for repair and maintenance. Rolls Royce returned the car, fixed, without a bill, instead saying, "our axles don't break."

The curator also told us some interesting facts:

  • The Rolls Royce logo changed from red to black when Charles Rolls died.
  • Old steering wheels/steering columns previously impaled drivers. This was one of the first impetuses for seat belts.
  • Some old cars were built with wooden frames!
The car museum is located in a hotel, Garden Hotel. For lunch, we went to the hotel's restaurant. I was enthusiastic about the meal because it was a traditional thali (many small dishes) and I'd been aiming to have at least one meal like this during my trip. Here, although the dishes probably weren't freshly made, all were decent.

After lunch and a brief a detour through Sajjan Niwas Gardens / Gulab Park, we walked to the south entrance of City Palace. We wanted to visit Jag Mandir, an old island-palace (not to be confused with the luxurious, relatively recent construction of the gleaming white Lake Palace).

Visiting Jag Mandir made us angry. First, the price listed at the booth was twice the price printed in the pamphlet (250 rupees), which was supposed to be valid throughout the whole month. Nevertheless, we paid and rode to the island. But, the only accessible part of the island was a large and overpriced restaurant and an absurdly, almost mockingly small museum. The rest of the island, which held some ruins, was under repair/restoration and off-limits. Although the ride across the lake was nice (see the pictures), we felt seriously ripped off. Had we known what it was like, we might not have even bothered going if it was free. When back on the mainland, we complained and were directed to the corporate office.

The corporate office was no good at customer service. They kept trying to explain to us how we were wrong. They told us repeatedly that many people go to the island for (a four thousand rupee) dinner; none of those customers had ever complained about the price of the ride to the island or the lack of things to do there. We didn't think this was relevant. They insisted the trip to the island is worth as much as they charged, and we were wrong in thinking it wasn't worth that much. And, as for the inaccessibility of many places on the island, we should've known. Who cares if we were mislead by their own literature? Furthermore, they have a corporate policy of no refunds.

After venting, we returned to our hotel to pick up the sweets we bought in Jaipur. We ran into the hotel owner and mentioned our negative experience (unexpectedly high price, nothing to see) to him. He commiserated, and explained that in Udaipur and India in general prices have been going up: real estate, stock market, etc. He also took this time to show us some of his paintings. They're very exact. He paints them by copying pictures. In addition to painting, he binds books.

We brought our snacks to a cafe and ate. The tout from yesterday came by and we talked with him for a while. Then we talked to an interesting, entertaining Swiss guy, Raf, who's on his twenty-somethingth trip to India, and his friend Dushan. We'd actually run into them at this cafe multiple times while in Udaipur.

Raf gave lots to advice and told many stories:
  • He told us a story about a massive Indian holiday/festival (Kumbh Mela) that he, and 11 million Indians (!), attended. It apparently was visible from space. He bathed in the Ganges, supposedly washing his sins away. Now, he claimed, he could go back to being a "fresh bastard."
  • He said if people do their secret things with you, you'll become friends. That's why he said you've got to drink with Muslims and eat meat with Hindus.
  • He said that if Indians were trying to be too friendly, simply tell them friendlily to f--- off. It'll be okay.
  • He told us stories about traveling in Hungary and meeting gypsies and pickpockets.
  • He told many offensive jokes about India, including one about Gandhi and apples, another about Muhammads (yes, plural), and a third about Pakistan ("fill it with water").
  • He espoused the virtues of saffron alcohol ("kesan" ?).
Leaving the cafe, we stopped on the way to dinner by bazaars so J could look at suits and shirts. We also passed many temples. To give you a sense of the density of temples in many parts of India: four were on a single block!

We ate a good overall, solid dinner at The Whistling Teal, located in a hotel, Jhadol Haveli. When deciding what to order, someone said (I forget who), "we should try to avoid the familiar culprits." I was amused by this (unintentionally) different way of saying usual suspects.

We chatted with our waiter. It started with talking about the types of flour used in halvas and rice puddings, then spread to the variety of styles/customs in India, and then to how movies affect the way holidays/festivals are observed. We also talked about the difference in food between urban and rural areas. For instance, halva is urban; it's only eaten in rural areas on special occasions. Finally, we got tips from the waiter on what's worth seeing in and near Udaipur.

On the way to our hotel, we saw a party in the streets. Many people, density packed, hit sticks together in time to music. Apparently it was part of a festival called navratri.

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