Udaipur to Jodhpur. Rajasthan - India
We woke on our last morning in Udaipur, to a fine sunny day, with none of the usual haze enveloping the hills and city. The previous night's storm which had cut power to the city, had cleared the air. There was blue sky everywhere and the distant hills and islands in the lake stood out sharp and clear.
Our driver chose to go by more isolated roads again. Although these roads were narrower than usual, we didn’t mind. Mr Ram showed us on the map where our detour would go and pointed to the route that would eventually take us to our next destination - Jodhpur. Just beyond the outskirts of Udaipur, he showed us the spot where, during an historic battle, the famous horse of a previous Maharajah had died, having been stabbed by a sword-wielding elephant. This heroic steed had carried its wounded master, away from the fighting and across three rivers before it died.
We stopped for a few minutes at a well on the outskirts of a village. Two buffalo, yoked to a beam played their part in operating the ancient mechanism, which drew water up from the well, in rotating buckets. The countryside was a riot of colour. Buildings, people and the surrounding countryside, sparkled and shone. Even the cows had their horns painted in bands of red, yellow, blue and green. A little white donkey with its head hanging down and nose almost touching the dust on the road, stood forlornly waiting, its coat covered with smudged patches of brilliant cerise coloured powder. The valleys we passed through were lush, and growth was strong and healthy. Water seemed plentiful and crops were tended by hand. We didn’t talk much but just enjoyed being part of nature’s brilliant gallery.
Our driver demonstrated the skill and dexterity of a rally driver as he negotiated puddles and pigs, potholes and people. He took us up another narrow winding road, high into the hills. Rows of craggy ridges staggered away into the distance. We stopped at the Aodhi Hotel near Kumbalgarh. It is a very high-class hotel but small and a perfect hideaway. Tucked in tight against the hills, it is built like a fort with a cannon at the gate. A group of policemen, resplendent in their uniforms, stood in rows at the bottom of the steps.
We drove on up the winding dusty road and stopped inside the entrance to the fort. We left the car and driver behind and walked the rest of the way. A long zig zagging climb led up to the courtyard at the main entrance to the palace. What an astonishing place this was. Kumbalgarh Palace sat on a hilltop within the walls of the fort. Halfway up the hill to the palace we saw where the elephants had once been stabled. A lofty doorway arched over the entrance to each section. The enormous outer doors, were studded with heavy spikes that had acted as a deterrent for attacking elephants. The temple in the grounds of the fort, was rather run down, but still a "living' temple with statues of the gods, decorated and covered with offerings of flowers and fruit. The whole of the stronghold covered the topmost levels of this rugged rock-strewn outcrop. Towering parapets clung to the edges of the precipice and we could see battlements winding away into the distance. This fort was remarkable in its isolation and dominance over the surrounding land. What was more astonishing was the fact that there was no one there but us.
Lunch was delicious, a feast of spinach and potato parathas with an enormous pot of tea. The driver took us to a Jain temple, “I think you should be seeing this, Sir.” We left our shoes under a hedge as rain seemed imminent. The High Priest showed us around the temple. He was a tall, imperious figure swathed in flowing white robes. The temple is over 500 years old and within the walls are 1400 marble pillars, no two exactly alike. Underground there are 84 small rooms in which the 84 images of the gods were hidden in times of trouble. Marble structures fill each of the domes and some of them reach five feet or more down from the centre of the dome. Apparently some of the pillars were deliberately damaged during construction to show that unlike God, no man is perfect. An enormous elephant over five feet tall, had been cut from a single piece of marble. It was wonderfully smooth and cool to touch. The whole temple complex had been built away from any roads or villages so that the monks would be blessed with peace and quiet at all times.
Another huge and cracking thunderstorm made us dash for the car. We were very thankful that it didn’t rain for too long, as the windscreen wipers on the car didn't work. Mr Ram leaded out of his window to wipe the water away. Sadri, Baali, Bhaanah and Desuri were some of the villages we passed through. We saw a tanker overturned and upside down, the back axle torn right off. A truck lay on its side further along the road, down a bank beside a low bridge. Quite often the drivers will run away if they can, to avoid the complications of police investigations and enquiries by insurance companies. At Bewar and Pali pollution in the river was appalling, caused by chemicals and effluent being discharged from sari factories in the district. The whole area was desolate and scarred with vivid blue and yellow sludge clogging waterways and streams.
We arrived at last at Jodhpur with our hotel in a palace near the main road, under the flight path of the nearby airport and within wailing distance of the local temple. We were tired enough not to let any of that bother us and after a beautiful meal in the courtyard of the hotel, were both soon sound asleep.
© Kate Frost 2008