January 28, 2018
I really loved my time in Bundi. Probably I should have stayed for longer, but I wanted to more places in India. There were some weird things happening on my last day and a half in Bundi. There was some religious dispute brewing or expected and the government shut down internet access. Happy new year! And while I was leaving all of the shops and restaurants were closed and police were everywhere in town. No one seemed very concerned, maybe it was all precautionary. But it seemed like a good time to make my exit.
On my way to catch my bus out of town, a shop owner stopped me to chat in typical Rajistani fashion. I told him I was going to Udaipur and he suggested that I should stop by Chittorgarh since it’s midway point between Bundi and Udaipur. With no fixed plans, or even internet access to make them, I decided to go for it. Off to the bus stop I went repeating Chittorgarh in my head so I could ask for the right bus.
I had to ask around for the bus stop and everyone would ask “government or private.” I responded, “whichever is cheaper… is there a difference?” It didn’t matter in this instance because, possibly due to the dispute mentioned above, because there were no private buses running. I ended up at the government bus terminal and I found my bus. The government buses are cheaper with fixed rates so that there is no haggling for a fair price. But they are in worse condition than the private buses. A 6 hour ride to Udaipur in a government bus, bouncing along dirt roads with no suspension would have been too much. But a three hour ride to Chittorgarh was tolerable.
I arrived in Chittorgarh (the fort of Chittor) around 4 pm. Luckily I had internet connection again, and so I was able to locate several hotels near the bus stop. I made a loop asking prices. I found out that none of the cheap/reasonable hotels had WiFi. The hotels with WiFi cost three times what I was hoping.
I ended up choosing Natraj Tourist Hotel because it was the cheapest and went with out the WiFi. It was just about the same quality as the other hotels and it was the closest to the bus stop. I later made a search for hostels and found a few options on Google maps, but not on any of the hostel booking websites. I went to check them out in case I wanted to extend my stay and found out that none of the ones on Google exist. This is a strange tourist town.
My one day in Chittorgarh was spent full on touristing. I walked 17 km that day; it was a lot of sightseeing and well worth it. I went to visit the fort, which is apparently the largest one in Asia. Entry to the fort is free, but there is a tourist ticket you need to buy to access a few sites within the fort. Mostly the fort is full of temples. They are everywhere. All of them are absolutely beautiful are all free to visit. Most of the things in the tourist ticket weren’t so interesting to me, such as ruins of palaces.
The most notable thing to me about all the the temples, towers, and palaces was the amazing stone carvings everywhere. That was truly a delight. And I played Tomb Raider in the abandoned Baori (step well, pictured in the panoramic photo), jumping between all of those pedestals to reach the other side.
One of my favorite places on the tourist ticket was the Padmini Mahal. This is the water palace of Padmini, who was a beautiful princess with lots of stories about her, and apparently this palace was the inspiration for the construction of similar water palaces like the Taj Mahal. A cool place in it’s own right but wait, beautiful princess Padm___ that lives in a palace surrounded by water. Water being unlike sand, which is coarse and rough and irritating, and it gets everywhere. Sound familiar George Lucas?
Next up Udaipur, the city of lakes. After so many days without proper internet, that was my top priority for a place in Udaipur. I booked Backpacker Panda Hostel on Lake Fateh Sagar. They have two locations, and of the two, this was cheaper and quite far from city center. But that was perfect for me. I was exhausted from touristing so many days in a row and I extremely pleased that the neighborhood was quite and peaceful and very close to the lake. Even the main part of the town was relatively quiet for how big of a town it is.
I did practically nothing for two days and it was great. My biggest excitement during that time was going for a run around the lake. I also made it a habit of eating along the lake where there were some fast food restaurants that served great coffee and chai. (Also pictured: sweets, the Indian take on a sandwich, daal bhati which was recommended to me over and over again here, and raw sugar cane juice)
Also interesting note on the hostel; this was absolutely the cleanest place that I stayed so far. They were really strict about no shoes in the hostel and the bathrooms were pristine. The bathrooms were also finished, in the sense that they were tiled instead of just raw concrete like most bathrooms I’ve experienced here. The one thing they were missing was the big bucket, which I was puzzled by in an earlier post. I was not affected by this because I don’t know what the big bucket is for, but I still felt a sense of longing for the big bucket.
On my last day I was sitting around with a few of the Indian guests and they were complaining that the hot water was scalding hot (it was and difficult to modulate with the cold water). And then they said “and where’s the bucket! You guys need to have a bucket.” I was so excited to learn its use. The front desk guy told them that there is no need for a bucket because the shower has hot and cold water. They said that they needed the bucket in order to get perfect temperature for bathing. I tried to inquire further, but was just told that a bucket is the best way to bath and nothing else compares. No further details were forthcoming, but evidently water temperature has something to do with it. I’ll keep inquiring.
The folks at Backpacker Panda were really great. One night I went out to dinner with my buddy Chetan and his friend. We sat across the lake from the City Palace which was gorgeous when lit up, then we went to a romantic lake side restaurant Hari Garh and shared a mutton dish and beer. It was great to navigate the city with a native speaker. It was far less stressful to find transit and ask for things at the restaurant.
After this I decided to move into town so that it was easier to see some of the sites. I wound up at Moustache Hostel because of the price (not because of the name, the mustache craze drives me nuts). It is a pretty decent hostel, but not as nice as Backpacker Panda. I spent my first day trying to hunt down a train ticket for my departure, which left me empty handed. The process required knowing the exact departure times, queuing up at multiple counters, begging a nearby hotel to make a printed copy of my passport, and ultimately the only available tickets were too costly. I ended up with a bus ticket, but a sleeper seat this time so I was excited for that. Mostly I just walked around looking for chai and food.
I also went to a really cool dance and puppet show at Bagore Ki Haveli, but I have no pictures because it was an extra fee. It sounded cheesy to me, but I heard so many great things that I gave it a try and far exceeded my expectations. The best way I can describe it is if the fiendish Dr. Wu were to decide to host a kung fu tournament in Rajasthan with all of the greatest fighters in the world, this would be the entertainment the night before the tournament.
There were several rounds of dances from various parts of Rajasthan, a pretty great puppeteer, and traditional music on the harmonium accompanied by percussion instruments. The dancing started off with three women coming out with big flaming pots of oil balanced on their heads. My favorite dance was done seated with these nun-chuck bells that the women would swing around and bounce off of various metal plates on their bodies. I would have sat through a full hour of just that. The evening ended with the most senior dancer performing balances with a huge pot balanced on her head, then two, then three, the six, then nine. It was insane. She was older with a rather feeble looking walk, but she was so smooth when balancing pots on her head. Just like a ancient kung-fu master. She won the tournament despite the fiendish Dr. Wu’s elaborate plans.
On my final day in Udaipur I went to the main tourist attraction, the City Palace, even though I was feeling a bit burnt out on tourist attractions. I had heard that this palace was mostly closed off to the public and you only got to see a portion of it. It’s true, but even so I’m really glad I went. It has beautiful architecture and some really cool paintings of royal people doing royal things. There were some fun paintings full of figures with slightly enlarged heads all doing things like smoking hookah, dancing, hunting, lounging royally, stuff like that.
After the palace I all I had to do was wait for my overnight bus back to Delhi en route to Amritsar.
I’ve been walking a lot, and navigating through the streets of India means occasionally shifting your shoulder to avoid a passing car. This sort of behavior from motorists would enrage me in the US, but not so much in India. When someone passes you that close in the US, it’s because they are inattentive or trying to scare you for the offense of encroaching on their sacred pavement to which only they are entitled. In India, it seems like the drivers doing this fully aware of you and where the side of their vehicle is. It’s not any safer, but the intent seems entirely different. It’s much more crowded on the streets, and they’re just trying to squeeze past.
I also noticed that a lot of people walk in the direction of traffic, the opposite of what we are told to do in the US. I was walking with a local to dinner one night and he explicitly had us cross the road to walk with traffic. I asked about this and he said it’s what they’re taught to do in school. He also said that it makes no sense to him, but that’s the way it is. Huh. I’m still opting to have a modicum of control over the situation and walking facing traffic when I remember which direction that is.