They were chanting and placing flowers on the holy place and were perfectly fine with my taking flash pictures during the service. I notice that in India, things are quite relaxed in religious settings; people don’t seem to mind commotion, noise, or photo-flash!
Next I visited Khuldabad where Aurangzeb is buried. He is the son of Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal in honor of one of his wives (his favorite), and many other elaborate memorials. Apparently the son, Aurangzeb felt that his father had spent too much money on these so he placed him under house arrest, banishing him to the Agra Fort from where he could gaze at the Taj Mahal, and took over ruling the kingdom. Aurangzeb is buried under a simple slab of marble—no building, no Taj Mahal!
Back in Aurangabad, I saw the Bibi ka Maqbaa, a mimic of the Taj Mahal, built later by one of Aurangzeb’s sons, Prince Azam Shah, for his mother, Begum Rabia Durani. The guidebook liked it, but I thought it looked ‘funny,’ maybe because it was kind of like the Taj, but not the Taj. Our last stop was at Pan Chakki, a watermill of the Moghals from the 1600s.
Another flight took me to Udaipur where I stayed in the Lake Palace Hotel, a landmark hotel situated on a little island in the middle of the lake, and once visited by Jackie Kennedy. The birds were singing, the sun was shining—really the good life! Beer was served in cold pewter mugs, beautifully decorated. My room was all trimmed in green which was kind of gaudy, but this is India and here it looked right! The building was built in the 1700s and made into a hotel about 25 years ago.
Later I bought a ticket to a ‘folk dancing’ show, which I attended that evening with two Greek women—we shared a tuk-tuk. They were from Athens and smoked ‘bidis,’ which are Indian cigarettes that have no paper on them—only tobacco leaf, and they smell a little like marijuana, but aren’t. The dancing was enjoyable; the best one was a woman that balanced a total of ten pots on her head while she danced through broken glass and on swords.
The standard story around this town from young men is, “I’m an art student and next month I’m going to the USA to be part of an art exhibition. Would you like to come into my art school and meet my professor? “ About four gave me the same lingo, and the first one did succeed in getting me into his shop.
The next morning I left on a bus for Mt. Abu. The bus went through wonderful scenery—mountain moonscapes, Rajasthani women harvesting grain with small scythes and binding the grain into bundles, and threshing with oxen going round and round treading on the grain on a threshing platform. The bus was stopped along the way about five times by young women who put logs and branches in the way of the bus, then danced and sang and asked for money. This is in connection with the Holi celebration.
On the way to my hotel, the Bikaner Palace, the jeep-taxi had a flat tire. Eventually I arrived and was assigned a huge suite, “The Princess.” The hotel was built in 1893 and is beautiful, if down at the heel. My suite had a huge sitting room, an even bigger bedroom and a huge bathroom. It had a fireplace and many windows.
I had a cold beer in the ‘living room’ of the hotel and looked at the photos from the early 1900s to 1962. Many of them showed hunting trophies—beautiful lions and tigers that someone had killed for sport! I told the manager that he closely resembled the Maharaja in the pictures, he said, “Same caste—the raj.”
I had dinner in the dining room, all alone. I asked for a gin and tonic but the waiter said they only had beer. I told him that earlier the manager had promised that I could have a gin and tonic, so the waiter went to ask the manager, and what I got was gin and Limca with no ice—but close enough for India! The dinner was great. I had a nice array of Indian dishes.
The next day I spent in the village of Mt. Abu, shopping and people-watching and then visiting what I came here to see—the Dilwara Temples. They are gorgeous Jain white marble temples, constructed from the 11th to 13th centuries, all beautifully carved into lacy detail, and perfectly preserved.
The people visiting them were interesting, too. Many women were from the rural areas and had large decorative rings in their noses and wore colorful clothing; the men wore white dhotis and bright red turbans.
On the bus back to Udiapur, the bus driver was a real cowboy, not like the one I had on the way here who was steady and skillful. As we came down the mountain (at breakneck speed!) we encountered many Holi celebrants. We were stopped about 50 times which resulted in requiring an extra two hours to get to Udiapur. When the girls stopped us and treated us to singing and dancing it was nice, but when the young men got involved, there were some altercations with the bus conductor and delays. Many of the young men were covered with pink or other-colored water, called galel, which is thrown about to celebrate Holi.
When the bus finally stopped for a break, I bought some French fried onion rings. As I sat eating them, I wondered how long the bus would be there so I went to investigate—the bus was just pulling away! I called to the conductor who saw me and stopped the bus so I could get aboard—a close call!
I flew to Jodhpur, staying at the Ajit Ghawan Palace Hotel which belongs to Maharaj Swaroop Singh, the uncle of the present Maharaja of Jodhpur. This lovely palace was built for the Maharaj 65 years ago; he is now minister of the area. About 13 years ago it was converted into a hotel. I had stayed here in ’91. The grounds are quite extensive and there were many pictures on the walls of the hotel of hunts with their trophies of animals. The hotel also has a wonderful boutique where I bought some souvenirs.
Back in the hotel, I had a wonderful dinner in the courtyard with Rajasthani musicians, dancers and singers. The tables were lit from beneath and had beautiful cotton red and orange tie-dyed tablecloths, candles, and had many lanterns lighting the buffet—an exquisite scene!
I’m really enjoying Jodhpur. I will be going to Jaipur in a couple of days.