The Times of India is my touchstone, reporting on national and international affairs from an indian perspective. Currently the Supreme Court of India is considering the rights of gaged birds, while violent crimes are reported in all their grizzly detail. I enjoy Indian English: A car wasn’t stolen, rather it was “looted” and a creditor who was slow in paying was said to be “dilly dallying”.
India leaves you’re entire senses reeling. It’s best not to try and categorise this country as it defies classification, just immerse yourself into the flow and let it wash over you without expectations. India is full of surprises, it won’t disappoint but it will ask you questions.
In Jaipur, the Pink City, we spent the day exploring the Amber Palace and Fort which is known for its artistic Hindu style elements, with its large ramparts and series of heavy gates and cobbled paths. Teeming with tourists, persistent touts and elephants, the whole complex has a beautiful aesthetic ambiance. Mosaics, paintings and sculptures in marble and sandstone create a splendid symmetry on a massive scale that leaves an evocative impression of how the Maharajahs might have lived.
We scaled an ancient path that led up to the fort that sits atop the palace on a hill. It was occupied by mountain goats & monkeys and surrounded by lakes. UNESCO listed this Rajasthan Hill Fort a World Heritage Site in 2013. The whole place looks like a real life Indiana Jones archaeological site, which I guess it is.
After an early morning train journey, Udaipur railway station’s prepaid taxi office was unmanned so we were at the mercy of the tuk tuk drivers who jostled for our business like seagulls fighting over food scraps. Much to their collective disgust, we decided to walk the 3 kilometres to our hotel. We needed to stretch our legs.
Udaipur is a beautiful city, built around a man made lake. It is the historic capital of the kingdom of Mewar. Maharana Udaip Singh of the Sisodia clan of Rajpats founded the city in 1559. Udaipur is a city of faded glory with its narrow streets, crumbling palaces and decaying indian architecture. The layers of human history mingle with the modern world as cars navigate paths once only considered suitable for people or animals. We walk everywhere, to the museum, temples and former palaces. We eat vegetarian thali, a tray with bowls of dhal, veggies, roti, rice and a sweet with yoghurt. We buy fruit and lemonade from local vendors. Thus far we have been spared any illness. The bazaars are full of beautiful Indian handcrafts and we succumb to a few tourists trinkets and mementos after some spirited haggling with the experienced merchants.
Unable to secure seats on a train to Mumbai we opted instead for passage on the overnight sleeper bus. There is little concept of personal space in India, however we did manage to snatch a few hours sleep between the constant stops, blaring horns, bickering, belching and farting and arrived in Mumbai feeling almost refreshed early on Sunday morning.
Mumbai, India’s largest city, is a massive vibrant metropolis. Staying in the Fort area of South Mumbai close to many of the cities attractions and landmarks, we walked down by the port to the Gateway of india monument and the famous Taj Mahal hotel (the scene of a murderous terrorist attack). At the Asiatic Society, we chatted, then modelled, for a group of young photography students.
The British have left their mark most obviously in the surviving Victorian architecture such as the railway headquarters, Victoria Terminus or Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus, as it’s officially known. It is a mix of exotic Italian medieval Gothic and Mughal architecture styles, with gargoyles, stained windows and ornamental iron work. Truly one of a kind.
On Sunday afternoon, we stopped to watch an organised street cricket match. As one of the fielders ran backwards onto the busy major road, eyes only for the ball, he put out one hand to stop the oncoming traffic, before taking a spectacular one handed overhead catch, to the cheers of his team mates and passers by.
We were most fortunate to meet up with Sujeet and Priyanka my daughters friend’s family, who treated us to a most amazing dinner of fresh southern Indian fish cooked in various styles with delicious sauces of coconut, tamarind and curry. Our hosts were engaging, sophisticated Mumbai locals who spoke with great intelligence and understanding, answering all my questions with patience and clarity
The next day we went to the Britannia Restaurant. It’s a Mumbai institution that came highly recommended. Specialists in Persian and Indian fusion foods, it has operated from the same site since 1938. The highlight was talking with the original owners son now aged 93 who still works there and seemed to know an awful lot about Australia. He told us he wrote to our former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, suggesting that she have children for the good of the country!
I literally fought my way through the crowds at Crawford Market. We were offered the services of a coolie, but declined politely. A hand reached out to steal my sunglasses which were hanging on the neck of my tshirt, I managed to twist the offending fingers which retreated back into the crowd. An old distinguished looking Muslim man sidled up to me offering “best quality Marijuana”.
Mumbai was still sleeping as we traversed the early morning streets to Victoria Terminus for our train to Goa on the Mandovi Express. We step lightly so as not to disturb the pavement dwellers, those sleeping on the street. The headline in the Mumbai Mirror said that 697 people had fallen to their death from trains so far this year in Mumbai alone, another example of the scale of this country.