India: Oct 19: Ranakpur and Kumbhalgarh

We chartered a car to drive us from Udaipur to our next destination, Jodhpur. On the way, we stopped by Ranakpur, an intricately carved Jain temple and one of the highlights of my trip to India, and Kumbhalgarh Fort, an enormous mountain fortress that's also pretty extraordinary. I took many pictures. They illustrate the day much more then the following words ever could.

For breakfast, we quickly tried eating the leftover pakoras we made at our cooking class the previous night. They were sad, soft, and soggy; we threw them away.

Kumbhalgarh was our first destination. En route, J observed that Rajasthan has many buildings perched on hilltops. I imagine it's because of all the wars that occurred in the state.

At Kumbhalgarh, we stopped outside, looked around, headed inside, looked around more, and climbed to the palace-stronghold at the top of the mountain, all the while taking pictures. Some pictures came out great because of the beautiful azure sky. Kumbhalgarh is impressive, not simply because of the mountaintop citadel but because of the size of the fortress itself: the outside wall stretches 22 miles, encompassing 36 square miles of land within the fort's boundary. I thought the palace at the top of the fort was anti-climatic, but N liked its simple design; unlike many other historic complexes we visited, it lacked bright colors, shops, etc. Also, ignoring the few colorful flowerbeds and some spotlights embedded in the ground, one could easily imagine it was, say, the seventeenth century. The fort hasn't changed in ages.

After the fort, our driver had us stop by a mediocre and overpriced roadside buffet. At 200 rupees per person, it was more expensive than most meals we had in India. N and J weren't as down on it as I was: N liked the yogurt and J liked the dal.

In the afternoon we explored the main temple at Ranakpur. I'd read a lot of effusive material about it beforehand. Nevertheless, it met my high expectations -- it was as impressive as I imagined. The combination of the exceptional detail with the size of the temple was nearly inconceivable. Each pillar was unique, and there were many of them. I wonder how long it took how many people to carve everything.

There are many alcoves within the temple, each with a statue of a deity. We weren't supposed to take pictures of the deities; everything else was fair game. I hate to say it, but some statues looked funny because they had glue-on eyeballs. Meanwhile, the doors to some alcoves were closed. I wonder why.

While exploring the temple, a security guard pointed out an interesting sight (see the pictures) and expected me to be amazed (I was not), then asked me for money. Similarly, I received a (sweet) blessing from a priest, complete with colored paint on the forehand, then asked for money. Not too tasteful. And he didn't want a small donation; he asked for a few hundred or a thousand rupees.

After the main temple at Ranakpur, we stuck our head in another temple, then found our driver and continued our journey to Jodhpur.

It was nice to travel in a car for a change. We were traveling in style compared to our past train and bus trips. Nevertheless, the trip wasn't all lollipops and roses. There was a truck traffic accident along what would best be called a one-and-a-half lane road that backed up the road for multiple kilometers. (Yes, multiple kilometers: I looked at the odometer.) We passed two or three hundred trucks! (Yes, I counted.) The accident took up enough of the road that another truck couldn't pass. We could pass, though with dramatic tipping as one pair of wheels drove where the shoulder fell off, because we were in a smaller vehicle. The accident must've happened hours ago to have such a lengthy backup. Or perhaps the road is simply well traveled -- it's the major Bombay-Delhi highway. (Yes, a road that could barely be said to have two lanes is the highway connecting two major cities.) In any case, we were very happy we weren't on a bus.

Because it's cleaner than a bus or train, I might normally have appreciated traveling in a car with the windows rolled up. However, we already got dirty enough from hiking around Kumbhalgarh that this bonus from our method of transportation didn't matter to me.

Sitting in the front seat, I got to watch as the driver signaled to other cars. He honked if he was going to pass someone and wanted them to move over. He honked when going around a blind turn. (Recall that most roads are effectively a single lane.) He flashed his headlights or brights multiple times to indicate here I am; I'm going through. Other cars flashed their lights once to acknowledge the signal. When other cars flashed him multiple times, he also responded and acknowledged. He generally used his turn signal to indicate to oncoming traffic where to go--i.e., get over there. Obviously, he didn't use these signals consistently, and many other drivers had other variations, but the general principles were relatively widely applied.

Once in Jodhpur, we walked around hunting for a hotel. As in Udaipur, per my request we leaned toward heritage hotels. The first we stopped by had strange architecture, including beds in nooks, a green color theme, and a feel that was just plain odd. We didn't take it because the room the proprietress wanted to give us had no air flow. Instead, we ended up at the Shahi Guest House, a different 350-year-old haveli. As you'll see from the next day's pictures, the roof had a good view of the town and especially Jodhpur's fortress.

Incidentally, our driver couldn't bring us from hotel to hotel because the car wouldn't fit down the streets in that (older) part of the city.

While hotel hunting, we saw someone block printing, in effect stamping a pattern on fabric. Neat!

For dinner, we dined outside at Bollygood. It was quite good overall; I liked every dish.

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