When I moved to Delhi a good friend of mine who grew up here told me to get out of the city every six weeks. This is the key to mental health, he said and to maintaining the energy you need to manage this place.
I’ve been grumping my way through nearly two rounds of six-week chunks and feeling guilty for the grumpiness, so I took myself on a thirty-six hour therapy session to Udaipur – the city of dawn – in the heart of Rajasthan.
The city hugs three lakes and rolling desert hills. It is steeped in warrior history and the stuff of legend. There’s a palace that was built in the 16th century and that has housed the reigning maharanas until Indian independence. The term, maharaja, which is most commonly used to refer to the royalty of the princely kingdoms in Rajasthan means royal leader. “Maharana” means royal warrior. The kings of Udaipur are known for their warrior skill.
Here’s a shot of the palace and of me with my travel partner, Lola:
Udaipur is a romantic city, mostly because of the large central lake and the world-class hotels that sit on the banks or float in the middle of the lake. At night, everything is lit, the city glows, and the hills fade from brilliant sunsets into velvety nights:
We stayed in a small haveli, a term used to describe hotels that were once courtyard homes of the wealthy. In our haveli, most of the rooms overlook the lake and there are breezy open-air window seats, perfect for nestling. I spent one divine morning with endless cups of coffee, reading and watching children play in the water below my window.
Lola and I wandered the streets, shopped and bumped into village life. There was lots of flavor on the streets. Sunday was the Hindu festival of Dussehra – a holiday that marks Ram’s victory over the evil Ravan. People burn effigies of Ravan, dance in the streets, parade, wear masks and throw colorful powder. I don’t understand all the symbolism behind the ritual, but it’s a festival of color and lots of drumming and dancing:
Here are a few temple scenes you might find interesting. The first is a shrine to the warrior goddess Durga, I think – or maybe Laxmi. I can’t remember and it’s difficult to discern because of the dress but the symbols in her hand suggest Durga. The second photo shows a little girl putting a coin on the plate (yoni) at the base of the lingam. The lingam is often misinterpreted as a phallic symbol – in Hinduism, it represents the oneness and endlessness of life… although I think there are arguably sexual-spiritual roots:
This temple also made little homes for white rats – they, too are worshipped. Unfortunately, as you see in the second photo, one little guy was unable to move and most probably dying. He kept raising his head and falling back in exhaustion. I’ve never liked rats but watching him wasn’t easy. Anthropomorphic sympathy set in, I suppose…. he was, for me, a little suffering soul:
Here’s a typical scene – everyone loves a photo with the foreigner:
And foreigners do silly things, like get a second piercing in their ears. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I don’t get a bad infection or tetanus or some unknown local yucky – the guy I went to sold old knives and weapons and he used what looked like a thin nail. Yes, it hurt. And it’s still hurting. I sleep on my back… misery for one who favors the fetal position:
To round-out the adventure: a traditional Rajasthani dinner in a village hall on painted cow dung floors. There were no utensils – you use your bread to scoop and your rice to mix with the gravy dishes. The rice turns into a sticky, malleable paste that you ball into your fingers:
Lola and I spent our last evening on the haveli rooftop under the stars and the moon…. getting drunk. We were celebrating her 60th birthday and friendship. The last photo is of her actual birthday a few days before our departure. Happy Birthday, Lolaji! Thank you for the laughter.