With time to kill before the Jaipur Literary Festival, I was advised to spend at least four nights in Udaipur on the lake with its shimmering waters. When I arrived after a horrendous overnight train journey, I went straight to my traditional calm and peaceful room after a hearty breakfast and an interesting encounter with the beautiful spiritual Australian Linda E.
My next day began badly because the local travel agent next door to my heritage hotel The Jag Niwas, had suggested that I join another tourist for a day out to the famous Fort and the Jain temple. I just agreed not considering the mileage and got excited as the woman was French Canadian from Montreal, yet another city on my bucket list and the dream destination of my adopted Cuban 'daughter. What I had not considered was the dreadful bumpy non highway roads leading into the unknown.
I thought I was an experienced traveller but how wrong I was. Initially I sat with Madame in the back happily conversing in French when after fifteen minutes of bumps, I commanded the driver to stop immediately. I opened the car door and elegantly leaned out to vomit. Up came the undigested cornflakes. Madame could not have cared less that I was stuck on the road to hell and most unhappy. On we continued in silence with me sitting in the front next to the driver. I found out the journey would be at least three hours going to the f---- Fort I didn't even want to go to let alone yet another temple. On we soldiered for who knows how long and then it happened again only this time it as all the sliced bananas. No 'are you ok Jilliana?' from Madame or the worried driver who I found out had never had a problem like this before with a client!
We finally came to a primitive tea station with a stunning 'photo me' view of the Fort. The driver offered us Cha Masala which had milk and ginger served in a tiny paper cup. He said it was good for my stomach. I took interesting photos and on we continued. Five minutes later up came the Cha as elegantly as the other times! We reached the Fort soon after. Madame marched off to climb the exhausting walk up to the top of the Fort while I raced to the thankfully clean wc in the cafe patiently waiting an hour for Madame without consuming a thing as I was too scared. Then more bumps to the ancient enormous important Jain temple. There was silence in the car by this time and a frosty atmosphere on both sides.
I got back exhausted and told my saga to the travel agent who called an Australian experienced regular client who kindly brought salt replacement powders telling me to drink it in hot water as I was dehydrated. Another concerned Englishman came to my room and gave me two more precious packets. Five minutes later even that came up! I think I could say it was one of the worst experiences of my life. The bitch hurried off without a Bon Voyage. I tore her business card up. Oddly enough she worked in the pharmaceutical industry! I visited the stimulating historical City Palace with lots of steps which was very tiring but in the end worth the effort. The museum traced the magnificent history of Udaipur. There was even a showcase for the glasses worn by the actor Ben Kingsley in his role of Ghandi, shot in Udaipur and donated by its director the late Lord Attenborough. Now I must watch this fascinating film again. Outside in the grounds I saw, photographed and spoke to the first of three Vedic astrologers I would meet. 'You came late!', he said to me, when he heard this was my first trip to India. Better late than never I always say!
The next day I met the local Tuc Tuc driver Prebhat who spoke good English and hired him to go around the city and to the City Palace gardens. I love gardens and, with professional help, have designed two with architectural plants back in London and Brighton. Prebhat then invited me to a Hindu wedding which was very friendly. I and another Australian lady, who had come especially from 'down under' as she was a friend of the bride, were the 'guests' of honour. The adorable beautiful inquisitive children clamoured for attention each competing with each other for me to take their photos, asking where I was from and my name. I said I was called Rani Ji of course.
By Indian tradition it was an arranged marriage and the camera does not lie. They looked miserable the pair of them. No smiles or sign of affection. Apparently they had met six months earlier. The groom arrived on a horse and wore a mortified expression throughout as if he was in a daze. It was the marriage of the two respective families and the children are coerced into marriage whether they like it or not. This is India. I could not eat the copious amounts of food and digested only some roti with dhal washed down by the inevitable Cha Masala.
I was another day invited to Prebhat's humble home for a meal. I was made most welcome by his mother who did not speak any English. At the wedding she had been wearing an attractive yellow sari but now she was dressed in a normal Kurta and trousers. Prabhat supports seven people in his family and is saving up to marry his fiancée this year who has to come to his house to live on the floor like everyone else does. I took a lot of photos and whatsapped them to him. He casually mentioned his mother needed another sari so I equally casually inquired the price. He said a good one would cost 2,000Rs (£20). I asked what was her favourite colour, pink the colour of roses was the reply. No problem for me of course. I left an envelope a few days later asking him to send me a photo of his mother in her new pink sari.
Next in the corner of my 'Marigold' world was my smiling sunny tailor Sunil. What a talented charming young man! Born into generations of dress and shirt makers! He could copy anything and he did. Although I needed nothing somehow I left with around four kilos of handmade trousers and kurtas, even a magnificent vintage blue silk embroidered scarf plus pashmina shawls from Kashmir from a colleague. Word had gone around Rani Jilliana Ji was in town!
Linda E and myself had sailed on the Pichola lake at sunset. What more could I do with my limited time? I had lunched and dined with German Stephan who hated living in Germany and had become, like me, an adventurer. He had created a leather business with beautiful designer iPad covers and notebooks that he designed, got made up in Udaipur and later sold at German Xmas fairs for a vast profit which financed his travels as he had never married. He was off overland on his bike to neighbouring Myanmar and then to Laos where his brother owned a resort as he too could no longer live in Germany.
Underneath the delightful laid back Rainbow restaurant with excellent food and an enchanting view of the Pichola lake, was a cultured Jain miniature paintings dealer who spoke good English. I understood his passion for the framed and unframed works of art he sold. We would wile away the time because business had dropped everywhere in India even in peak season. Less foreign tourists were coming due to the Fundamentalists bombing and targeting tourists. It was not to be the last time I would hear that from jewellers, restauranteurs and hoteliers. He spoke about his long marriage and how sometimes he had 'girlfriends'. Not all arranged marriages are successful I was to find out even though few couples get divorced. I was informed that Jains were wealthy and very successful in business. He, Sunil and Prebhat became my 'Marigold' family and made my stay enjoyable. Sunil would often offer me some of his lunch box, lovingly cooked daily by his wife.
Next door was an Ayurvedic massage place. Officially 800Rs for 50 minutes but offered to me for a mere 700Rs. Jaya, the masseuse, arrived from out of my area by bike. She was a beautiful woman wearing smart clothes but did not unfortunately speak much English. Divorced, which is very unusual in India, she was no longer interested in sex and men having suffered from an arranged marriage. All she cared about was her daughter having a good education and a better life. She was so good at full body massage that I booked her for the next day. Then she slipped me her number saying she could come to my room to give a private massage. I agreed as I was horrified that her boss took 500Rs and only gave her 200Rs! The next day the hotel reception called to say Jaya had arrived but no guests were allowed in the rooms, not even a woman to give a massage let alone any hanky panky! It was the law so they said for their guests' security. In fact the staff were not allowed to enter to clean unless the you requested this service. Apparently a British Airways hostess had been drugged, raped and murdered in India so I guess after that they brought in new legislation. I was invited to Jaya's home for a massage and after found out she was qualified to do facial rejuvenation massage that back in the Uk would have been £60 plus for a similar session. Then she offered masala chai and chapatis plus a gift of a handcrafted red and black necklace. I was so touched as it was already prepared in a gift bag. Jaya did not not know that I had, in fact, brought her a European necklace as a gift. We have subsequently kept in touch through whatsapp. She even sent me a video of the Indian National Anthem.
Clever Rosie from a wealthy very British family didn't care for her family nor they her. Subsequently she owned a Romany caravan and began to rent out both in England and in France eventually acquiring several. Somehow she gave up France bought a house in Udaipur which she renovated and eventually let out to Airbnb. Now she is one of the leading properties in India for their home stays. She is to be found every evening in her 'office' at the Rainbow Cafe at the same time in her seat overlooking the shimmering waters waiting for the sunset and the twinkling lights across the ever enchanting lake. She is an interior decorator and antiques dealer, selling from the house she does not live in. Instead she camps in a cheapo guesthouse close by! A character for sure who has found her paradise while doing up yet another property in Romania. However there was one last eccentric to meet - British Rosie Cornwallis. The name was very familiar. Of course she was the granddaughter of the Governor-General of India in the days of the Raj! She did Airbnb and had the perfect studio for me should I return before April 2016. But here is the synchronicity, not only did an Indo-Canadian couple who I had met at the Jaipur Modern restaurant stay in that very studio in Udaipur but her father, who was a retired tea taster on an Assam tea plantation, was a personal friend of Vikram Singh the owner of Chirmi Palace in Jaipur, a city of four million people!
I longed to stay in my Marigold lakeside corner of the world until eternity but a wedding beckoned me in Jaipur as I had been invited by the Royals back at Chirmi Palace Hotel plus of course the famous Literary Festival.
End of part 2. Written in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India. February 2016.