In searching for the site to film his 1983 007 film, Octopussy, its not hard to understand why John Glen chose Udaipur, India. Like the many other majestic and charming cities James Bond finds himself drop-kicking the bad guy, sleeping with the exotic mistress and saving the world, Udaipur has the ability to capture one’s imagination as if it were fashioned from a fairy-tale storybook.
Even though the tourist sector of Udaipur goes a bit overboard with its Bond “fame”, I was still sucked into watching the entire movie at one of the dozens of rooftop cafes that play the film every night. It was then that I realized how far technology and cinematography has come in the past 26 years and how lame and touristy my trip had temporarily become. The three cute Danish girls staying at my guest house and had asked me to come, perhaps, had something to do with it. However tacky it may have been, it was neat being able to see the Monsoon Palace shown in the movie, then looking back to see the real thing lit up at night on a distant, rugged mountain. Or watching Bond motor up to Lake Palace Hotel in his, then high-tech, crocodile suit, then gazing literally over the top of the television to the see the marvelous Hotel aglow in the moonlight in the middle of Lake Pichola. But that was definitely enough Bond for me!
Day two was spent rather lazily, bumming around the Lal Ghat area while getting my bearings. The highlight of the day was definitely touring the massive City Palace that happened to be right next door to our guest house. The architecture and sheer size were very impressive and, like much of India, stimulating to the imagination of how things must have been back when the various maharajas ruled the region. After City Palace, while wandering around town and through some floral parks, I came across a zoo. “Hell, why not”, I said. 50 Rupees, time to kill. Yep, not surprising…lots of animals that all look rather unhappy to be there. I did see a tiger, some leopards and a Himalayan Black Bear, which was nice. And yes, they were all asleep dreaming of not being in a cage. That maybe the last zoo I visit.
That night me and my Danish comrades took a rickshaw up the mountain to the imposing Monsoon Palace (Sajjan Garh). After nearly burning out the feeble, little-engine-that-could of the glorified skooter with a frame, we arrived at the top for spectacular sunset views of Udaipur from above and the vast Thar Desert beyond. It was a great vantage point from so high and the colors of the desert really come out at dusk. Coming down, it was not so much the engine, but the brakes that we were worried about. No problems. Another breezy, rooftop dinner for the night-capper.
The next day was “Tour-De-Udaipur countryside” by bike and I really covered some ground on my city cruiser that I rented for 30 rupees for the day. First stop was Shilpgram, a small craft and performance village a few miles west of town. Nice, but a tad touristy, as everyone wanted a piece of my wallet. The ride there was actually much better. Next was Saheliyon-Ki-Badi, which was a beautiful ornamental garden, with tons of fountains and marble elephants. Last, and certainly not least, were the Ahar cenotaphs, which are tomb-like temples, honoring the many maharajas of Mewar (the surrounding area). The grounds were a little unkempt, but the centotaphs were incredible. Numbering over 250, it was seemingly an endless range of milky-white structures when viewed from some of the higher ones. As I was leaving, I struck up a conversations with a gentleman (I forget his name) who happened to work there as, none other than the resident cremator Apparently, the families bring their “expired” to the grounds, where this man will have built the pyre of wood, at which point, the family deposits the body on top, lights the wood, spends an hour or so in prayer and remembrance, then leaves. According to this guy, flesh and bodies take 3 days before they’re completely turned to ash, adequate enough to urn. So naturally, I asked him if he ever got the eebie-jeebies performing such macabre duties for his job. He admitted that he did, but being a 5th generation cremator, it was his duty, and went on to indulge in some very fascinating stories of encounters with the spirits of the bodies he burned. This also led to a lesson in Hindu belief concerning karma, reincarnation, and so on. Food for thought, for sure!
After pedaling back to the Soni Paying Guest House, it was time for one more glorious sunset over Lake Pichola and a final dinner with “the Danes” before bidding them “farewell” and seeing them off on their rickshaw to the bus station. I was to leave for Ranakpur to witness the intricate work of the Jain temples here. And here is where I am, in Ranakpur while I type, at the Shilpi Motel. Alas, now I must retire but will expound on the Jain’s work very soon! Good night!