Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Bikaner in Rajasthan is situated in the desert not far from the Pakistani border. Temperatures were warm during the day - we visited in December - but fell close to freezing at night. We saw more camels here than elsewhere, possibly because of the town's remoteness, or perhaps because of the camel research centre located there. We liked this camel for its typically haughty facial expression. He seems to be telling the world that he is king of the road, and perhaps in Bikaner he is.
When India gained its independence from Britain in 1947, rulers of the Rajput states, including Udaipur, chose to join the new Dominion of India. Since that time, there has continued to be a Maharana of Udaipur. He is the heir of the former Maharanas, and, though he has no formal position or power, he is deeply respected by the people of Udaipur. We were in Udaipur in 2007 when his 63rd birthday was being celebrated. At the City Palace, which continues to be his residence, there was a very long queue of well-wishes bearing him gifts.
The Peacock Square or Mor Chawk in the City Palace in Udaipur gains its name from the peacocks in vivid blue glass mosaic that decorate its walls. This is only one example of the many beautiful rooms we admired in India. The peacock is the national bird of India.
In 2007 the City Palace complex in Udaipur was one of the most interesting palaces we saw in India. We had a very nice, very informative guide all to ourselves for over an hour. The palace was built by the Rajput Maharana Udai Singh beginning with the royal courtyard in 1568. He was given the title of maharana in recognition that he did not submit to defeat by the Mughals. The palace complex is a blend of medieval European and Chinese architecture. It has buildings of immense beauty, as well as gardens and fountains - all well planned and finely executed over the years.
Our favourite place in India when we visited in 2007 was Udaipur in Rajasthan. When people think of the beauty of Udaipur, they immediately visualize Lake Pichola. This lovely pavilion on the lake is reputed to have been where the Udaipur Maharanas entertained their ladies.
Monday, March 1, 2010
One of the very memorable moments of our trip to India in 2007 was meeting these women from Goa. They approached and surrounded us with broadly smiling faces, welcoming us to India. They said that we must go to Goa on our next visit to India, because we would have such a good time there. The only word to describe them was joyous, just because they were so delighted to see us. It is rare and delightful to encounter people who are so unabashedly happy.
The population of India is more than 1.1 billion. It is understandable that when traveling there, you expect to see a lot of people. They tend to be gregarious. For instance, if you have a problem and are seen discussing it, in no time at all there will be ten people, usually men, congregating nearby to listen and offer helpful suggestions. Some of the most popular places for people to gather are the ghats beside the rivers. Maheshwar is an out-of-the-way town that is not accessible by train. At the city of Indore, we hired a driver to take us there. The Narmada river is very clean and beautiful, and the people were having an enjoyable time. Maheshwar and Mandu, located in the same district, were wonderful places to visit - all the more so in that they were quiet and far from the more popular tourist destinations.
Much of the success of our trip to India in 2007 depended on the railway porters. We took many trains including six that went overnight, and everywhere there were plenty of porters to help us. Often, within the station, it is necessary to climb stairs that take you over the tracks and down the opposite side. With two suitcases for a six-week vacation we couldn't have managed unassisted. The porters also help you find the correct train and coach - a challenge until you learn how to negotiate the system. Trains were uniformly clean, safe and reasonably punctual. It was a great way to experience India and meet the people