Sunday, 18 November 2007

Day 179 - Udaipur (India)

Well the flight was nice and straight forward. As I queued at checkin with my bike an official asked 'Can I help you`, 'no' I replied', 'What are you doing here' he said, so I told him `checking in`, `With a bike?` came the reply. Did he think I had got into the wrong queue at the traffic lights or something. Soon after it hurt to see them forcing my bike through on a conveyor belt, but when I got it back it was fine.
At customs in India they asked what value in dollars all my stuff was worth, approximately 2500 I said, then they tried to charge me tax as the most I could bring in was 1500. 'It's not dutiable I said', they said it was. 'Let me think I said' then after a few seconds I said 'It's only worth 1499 dollars, not 2500`, 'You are changing your story' they said', 'I know, 2500 was only approximate and know I have done a quick calculation'. They laughed and liked my reply and let me off without any charges and even drew me a map of how to get to the city and wrote of the list of things I should see in Ahmedabad. I got no sleep overnight and by the time I left the airport it was 8am so I went in search of a hotel, but they were all full and I had to go right into the city centre. The changes were noticable straight away, there were no end of dogs on the street, people and motorbikes and rickshaws everywhere and the noise from car horns, trains and buses was constant. The population of the city is about 4.5 million about twice as much as the whole of Oman. It felt VERY strange riding on the left again after 6 months and as I was half asleep there were near misses at every corner, you need to be switched on here and right now I was switched off. I couldnt get my head round the concept of going around a roundabout the 'wrong' way. I eventually found a place with a secure spot for the bike and went to sleep at 10am. At 3pm I went for a walk and was relieved to get money out of a cash machine, then crossed the river, got totally lost and couldn't even find the river again, and its not exactly small! So in the end I got an auto-rickshaw to take me back, so I had dinner and had an early night hoping I would be more with it in the morning. After Muscat that is so pristine, Ahmedabad is at the other extreme, a real dump.

So the following morning I was glad to be on the move, but before I left I visited Gandhi's Ashram where he lived from 1915-1930 and from where he started his salt march to the coast to extract salt from the sea to avoid the tax of the Brits. They are humble dwellings and a shivver ran through me to think that I was standing in the place where the great man lived for 15 years. But I had no intention of staying that long and was away and soon on the main road heading north. I was really surprised by it too, not as much traffic as expected and not as dangerous as I had expected either. If you took away all the traffic going the wrong way down the dual carriageway it would have all seemed quite normal, even though it still feels very odd to be back on the left. I stopped for a break and a truckers hotel. There have an open side facing the road and serve food. I was about the only person there but it soon filled up and I was joined by a family. I was fascinated by gran sat opposite me as she struggled to open a tin taken from her handbag, but I soon wished I hadn't shown quite so much interest as she soon revealed a fine set of dentures! I ended up at Himatnager, another dump of a place and stayed in a tatty hotel at the top of a block, but the floors in between had never been completed and were just open concrete.

The next day I headed for Dungapur and the last 25k were on a little road and by heck it was bumpy, but it was really nice to be on a little road and life was all around as people used cattle to plough fields and for threshing, and there were little villages to pass through. Once there I checked into yet another rough old hotel, this one didnt even have a shower and had a strange looking loo that you could either sit or stand on, very hygenic. It is set beside a lake and I went to the fort at the top of a small hill for great views and then went to a really posh hotel built into part of an old palace. I obviously looked out of place as I was soon thrown out. On the way back there was a very colourful gather by the steps to the lake. It was the festival of the sun and women fast for 48 hrs with no food or water. I was befriended by a student and his family who told me what it was all about and it gave me a good opportunity for some people photos. As the sun went down a large flock of crows flew over the lake from behind us, then I realised they weren't crows but bats, the biggest bats I have ever seen, about the size of a crow funily enough. There were hundreds of them and I was mesmerised, sod the festival! I soon had a crowd around me and after a while the student said it was time to go and I then discovered that the festival had gone and I was the only source of attention. I was then shown around a temple with strange doll like figures, an odd thing to worship.

I joined the family at 7am back at the lake. The fast was now over and the baskets of fruit that they had with them the previous day were disributed amongst the people and I seemed to be given more than most, so much I was then given a bag and people still put more fruit in. I decided I should leave, then it was another 30 odd k back to the main road for a hillyish ride to Udaipur. This is the first major attraction that I have arrived at and it is full of tourists. there are hotels everywhere but I still succeeded in finding a grotty one, but after the room had been tidied and the bed made it looked ok, but the view from the restaurant over the lake and the palace in the middle are just great. In Udiapur you can watch the film Octopussy in a different hotel every night at 7pm for a month, it apparently has scenes filimed here at the palaces. I found a pharmacy and at last got some decent malaria pills, similar to malarone that we can get at home and so much cheaper. I was a bit surprised to read the storage instructions and found it said 'Store in a well', then I remember that when you get to the end of a line you start on the one underneath, which said 'sealed container'. I ate at the highest rooftop restuarant for the views but the mossies still got me, time to take those pills, I hope its not too late. When I got back to my room the mossies were out in full strength so I experimented by sleeping with the fan on full and the gale force wind blasted them away, the only problem was it kept blowing my hair into my face!
Today has been spent wandering around Udaipur. It was always going to be a place I liked as it is beside a lake. The Palace (top building in photo) was wonderful with lots of rooms and fine courtyards, though a little to packed for my liking but they were pretty well all Indians. As the sun was going down I went around to the other side of the lake for a fantastic view of the town and the palace, but sadly photos don't do the place justice. I sat on one of the ghats where men, women and children were doing thier washing, followed by washing themselves. 3 children took a shine to me for some reason and each time other tourists arrived they said they didn't like them. I think they liked me as my skin was darker than theirs, but they were amazed when they saw my feet and tops of arms and were fascinated by my white hands.
Well, despite an bad start in Ahmedabad I have settled in well to life in India and I am thoroughly enjoying it and the prospect of so many good thing to see in the weeks ahead is quite exciting. From what I remember of my last visit India hasn't change that much, but it is much cleaner and so far I have had no hassle at all. Also the cars on the road are all newish whereas before they were all very old designs. The times are changing, but slowly.


Caff said...

WOW - stunning photos kiddo - I look forward to the next batch. Have yet to read your blog, my current priority is job application so your news will have to wait!!!!! :-)

Erik said...

Hi John!

We are in Udaipur at the moment. Are you still here (19th today) We are staying in the Mona Lisa hotel (near the Palace in Lal Ghat area) roomnr 206. And will be here for the rest of the day. Would be great if we could meet up again.

In case we miss eachother. We'll be cycling to Ajamer/Pushkar in the coming days.

All the best Erik and Tjeerd

Caff said...

Hi Erik - not sure whether John is still there. However judging by John's photos it all looks so stunning Anne and I will try and get there by lunchtime - it's got to be better than work and cold snowy Oxford!!!!!!!! :-)

Caff said...

ps : thanks for your room number, we'll be there soon!!!!

John Harwood said...

Wow! Good to hear from you Erik and Tjeerd, and I only decided to stay another day at the last minute. I dont know where your hotel is but I will try and find you.

aoiffe said...

You thought that the doll like figures in the temple were strange - what would they make of a catholic church? And in Lourdes you can even buy flashing Madonna's (I'd better re-phrase that-statues of Mary with flashing lights) certainly 'doll like figures'.

And another thing - wot hair? You growin a comb-over by any chance? Or perhaps it is your long beard. Photo please!

aoiffe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Caff said...

I'm confused by your calculations and I'm not sure you've totally got to grips with the abacus. First you say you'd estimated your bike etal to be worth approx 2500 dollars, but then you change your mind and make it 1499. Ok, that bit I understand. But it's the calculation of Gandhi's Ashram which I think you've got a little wrong, you said he'd lived there 15years. According to my calculations 1915-1930 is only 15 minutes!!!! :-)

Tony said...

Full of interest - Thanks, John.