Monday, January 18, 2010

Trip Part 1: Udaipur and Palitana

Matt and I arrived back to Delhi this weekend from our 2-week excursion around India, which I consider a great success. We submitted ourselves to the unpredictable nature of Indian travel and saw scores of interesting things.

Our first destination was the city of Udaipur, situated on series of lakes and known for its romantic floating palaces.

The city itself is horrendously touristy, but rooftop views were striking. The central part of the town was lined front to end with souvenir shops. I swear the foreigners outnumbered the locals. Needless to say, we spent most of our time up on top.

We spent a lot of our first day in Udaipur eating. We went to a tiny two-table, family-run cafe on the west side of town, where the daughter of the house was the sole cook. She made us the most incredible banana curry and also a pumpkin curry, both of which were without a doubt the most innovative Indian dishes I've eaten.

Later, we headed to the sprawling City Palace, where we had classic English tea in one of its banquet halls. We were served a pot of tea with an array of sandwiches, scones, cakes, biscuits, and fantastic clotted cream.

At night, we saw a dance and music show at Bagore-ki Haveli, an old palace that is now a museum. This woman had small cymbals strapped to her body which she tapped in sync with the music with a ball and chain.

Having exhausted all the interesting things to do in Udaipur, we got back on the train and headed to the state of Gujarat for the city of Palitana. As southern Gujarat is less-frequented, the road infrastructure is sparse, and getting there was quite an ordeal. The nearest train station was at Ahmedebad. From there, we had to take a 5-hour bus to the town of Bhavnagar, and then transfer to another 2-hour bus to our destination.

The buses were the packed-like-sardines kind. Before it had even fully pulled into the shabby bus station, people raced towards them, shoving their belongings through the windows to nab the seats. Some of the young boys pulled themselves into the windows. Everyone else pushed and squeezed. I hid behind Matt, who threw elbows but still could not secure us seats. For a 30-capacity bus, there were at least 60 people crammed in there, not including luggage.

Unfortunately I haven't so many photos from this leg of the trip. Matt and I were the only foreigners around, and were conspicuous enough without whipping out our cameras. The locals drilled their eyes into us.

Palitana was a rather dull place, the only highlight of which was a very busy corner restaurant called Jagruti that sold fantastic Gujarati thalis and the best chai I've had in India, all for about a buck. We ate here for every meal in Palitana.

But the main reason we came here was for the hill of Shatrunjaya, on top of which perches a sprawling temple complex with almost a thousand crumbling Jain temples. Palitana/Shatrunjaya is the most important pilgrimage site in the world for Jains, and has been since the fifth century.

The hike up there was rather strenuous, and took us almost two hours with plenty of stops along the way. Once we reached the top, the sight was breathtaking.

Jain temples are like no other temple I've ever seen. Some of them are two or three stories high, with spires and conical towers and intricate structures wrapping around the outside.

We spent the next three hours wandering around the temple enclosures, climbing up on catwalks and exploring every inch we could.

The next day, it was back to Bhavnagar, back to Ahmedebad, and from there a train to our next destination of Ajanta.

To be continued...


Anonymous said...

7 hrs on trains standing up? even if you were able to sit on the floor, that sounds exhausting.

Ania PraseĊ‚ek said...

Wow! When I was in Udaipur, there was much more water in this lake!
It looks different.. and there were not so many tourists ;)

U have a different experience as I can see ;)

Cheers!! Take Care!
Ania (remember me?? this Ania who loves eating;))

Stu said...

I've never known a lot about Jain, but the temples are really cool looking

Hem Group said...

Palitana is not a dull place...It is the most sacred place on Earth, and the world's largest Temple complex. Around 35000 idols are there in 2500 temples, did u know??? And, u r very lucky to visit. It is said that a human being, in order to be free of all sins and to attains the highest stage of 'Moksha' the ultimate destination, must visit Palitana...So, visit next time and explore yourself...

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