Post 57 – Day 32 ‘The Magical Mystery Tour – The Second Day’

Post 57a Post 57b Post 57c

Second day in Udaipur. Breakfast is at 7 am; fruit juice, omelette, banana, cereal with curd and melon. Then off at 8 am to the City Palace via several roadside diversions, one of which is a blacksmith who today, and probably most days, spends his hours diligently crafting small anchor hinges for use in the building of doorways. He is a friend of the driver, and as we watch the man at work his family gathers about. We are, and I am, enthralled by him, they curious about us. His wife offers tea. I make a film of the blacksmith’s craftsmanship. The man takes short lengths of square-faced iron rod, with one hand holds them with a set of homemade metal tongs, and with the other hand hammers and folds them on a small anvil. Each piece of iron is heated to near white-hot on a modest bed of charcoal. It is aided in the heating by a little electrically-powered blower of the kind present-day blacksmiths and artists commonly use. In fact, it is little different from a hair dryer. The procedure takes about a minute a piece, and by his side he already has many identically worked hinges, and a great many lengths of cut iron waiting to be folded. The blacksmith’s family will sell them at a local market. While I look on a man arrives with a tool whose blades have become loose due to wear. With little discussion the rickety tool is taken, heated, the blades’ loose rivet realigned and tightened with several beats of a hammer, and returned to its owner. The repair and transaction take but a few minutes, the blacksmith returning to his repetitive task of folding the iron hinges, as if uninterrupted, and as if the task of repairing the item had never happened.

Next I am driven to a small Hindu shrine, a priest on duty to impart blessings, marigolds cast about by devotees. My stop at this unassuming shrine was at the suggestion of my driver, simply to fill in time this hour of the day when most attractions are yet to open to the public. The shrine is diminutive in comparison to those such as the Jag Mandir and the Jagdish Mandir for which Udaipur is renowned. The Jag Mandir is dedicated to Lord Jagdish, Vishnu, and is on an island in Lake Pichola. The Jagdish Mandir was completed by Maharana Jagat Singh I in 1651, and enshrines a black stone four-armed image of Lord Vishnu. An example of Indo-Aryan architecture, it is the largest temple in Udaipur, the spire some 24 metres in height, its hall and sanctum multi-storeyed.

For supposedly similar reasons of time wasting I later find myself at a public garden, the ‘Sahelion Ki Bari’ or ‘Garden of the Maidens’, which was originally built in the early 18th Century as a place of pleasure and rest for the queen and her attendant ladies. In the garden there is a large pool full of lotus, statues of elephants, ornate fountains, manicured grass lawns and formal beds of flowers. Somehow I am instantly adopted by an anonymous guide who, suddenly manifesting himself, with polite and well-practiced authority transmits uninvited information of no apparent relevance to my experience at all. I don’t know really what I’m doing here, I don’t know what the guide is doing here, and I am pacing a long wall of a building whose purpose I don’t have a clue about, and seemingly neither does the guide. And if he does, and he divulged it, it’s been lost amongst the many sentences that he has uttered in rapid succession and I have been distracted from paying attention to. At risk of conveying an impression of grumpiness, what I really wanted to do was to be left in peace and to my own devices, and to be left to the pursuit of them at my leisure. But I’m being shepherded again. Happily I am also in the company of others, and at first opportunity quietly absolve myself from the impromptu party of tour captives, fade from view amongst a collection of shrubbery, and attend to the photographing of the garden’s many colourful flowers, flowering water lotus amongst them. In the distance the guide continued to happily chat away, apparently oblivious to my absence.

The writings of early Christian Gnostics would have us to understand that the world is fundamentally flawed, being the misconstruction of lesser and vengeful gods. But I do not find flawed design in flowers, or the multitude of colours that abound to their forms. Nor can I discern imperfection, through malice or bad craftsmanship, in the colours and forms of the many creatures that are attracted to them. Instead I would venture that the divine gave us the privilege of sight so that we could enjoy the wonder of flowers, birds and butterflies; the latter two neither least nor last among the myriad diversity of ‘anthophilous’, that is ‘flower loving’, creatures. Withheld from the eyes of mankind is only the grace of perceiving the world in the ultraviolet spectrum, thus denying to us the full spectral wonder of the floral universe. For this, or at least components of the broader light spectrum, is assigned solely to other beings – bees, beetles and their brethren; these beholding a different, no less remarkable, sense of vision and understanding. But I detract.

Finally I am at the gateway to the City Palace, the car dutifully parked at a location to which I am ignorant, me now advancing through the palace entry gate and along the lengthy, formally landscaped, palace forecourt in the hope that I will be found and safely retrieved by the driver later in the day. The City Palace is a huge assemblage of ornamented buildings and courtyards, its extent only fully appreciated from the air. Yet its outer white-painted shell is austere, this faithfully representing the architectural and cultural fashion of its time. Scholarly discourse argues as to whether the City Palace portrays a fundamentally Moghul architectural influence or, rather, that this overlays and is entwined with a pre-existing Rajput tradition. Regardless, no one Maharana can lay claim to the marvellous totality of its romantic construction, and when they ran out of space on the original hill top location they simply extended outwards, building new structures on massive artificial props. Since the 16th Century twenty-two rulers have built and added to the City Palace, though Amar Singh I (1597-1620), Sangram Singh II (1710-1734), Sajjan Singh (1874-1884) and Fateh Singh (1884-1930) contributed more than most, Karan Singh (1620-1628) being responsible for the central area known as the ‘Mor Chowk’. To the Mor Chowk, two hundred years later, Sajjan Singh added the beautiful inlaid glass mosaics depicting peacocks. But it is no longer just a sprawling palace complex, for the City Palace also hosts a school and technical institute, a free medical dispensary, a library, the Maharana Mewar Research Institute, offices of the Government of Rajasthan, and a museum of archaeology, the last housing archives of the Mewar dynasty. The Palace Garage is also home to a Rolls Royce, borrowed with royal agreement, and used in the filming of the James Bond movie ‘Octopussy’.

Artillery pieces of 19th Century vintage and British parentage are positioned at strategic points within the palace grounds so as to highlight the royal splendour of the structure. The palace is guarded by numerous attendants of miscellaneous and unknown rank, and soldiers in immaculate ceremonial dress uniform. There is a hint of the taciturn in their bearing, and they impart the distinct impression that they are not open to casual chit-chat from itinerant tourists. They set such a tone of rigid formality that I get the feeling that I am underdressed for the visit. Worse, I have arrived uninvited and unwanted, just one of the numberless and inquisitive ‘hoi polloi’ that the owners are forced to suffer so as to pay for the upkeep of the expansive buildings and the payment of state taxes. Given a choice they’d probably still be independent rulers of an erstwhile Princely State, now having to suffer the masses of us common folk in their backyard only because Lord Mountbatten, India’s last British Viceroy, at the eve of Indian Independence and partition told them to sign up to the new Republic, or face being overwhelmed by the oncoming wave of common democracy. Well-healed, and not foolish, they took note and acted on the advice, begrudging of it as some probably were. At a stroke of the pen their palaces and estates became taxable assets of potentially ruinous proportions, and the Maharanas of Mewar and Udaipur, along with the many otherwise titled Maharajas of India, were no longer a legal entity. But regal splendour and respect remains nevertheless.

So it was, that in a moment of belated reflection, there on the Marahana’s front lawn, I consider that I should have chosen a more formal shirt, even considered a tie perhaps; nothing too flash. I have a nice purple and metallic green one at home emblazoned with the images of a pelican and a fossil ammonite. Fortunately I am rescued from my dress guilt by the sheer number of foreigners by whom I am accompanied, even surrounded by at times, none of whom are formally attired, and most of which are part-veiled in bits and pieces of loose fitting garb signifying the re-emergence of a later-day Western counter culture. However, and it might have just been the kernel of an epiphany, looking around at the assemblage of nationalities, most representatives of these being thirty or more years younger than myself, I start to feel terribly conservative in my choice of garments. Instead of looking quaintly provincial, the turned up front brim of my hat not helping to soften this impression, I could have looked just plain silly. Thankfully, as it turned out, I had not bought along a tie, but perhaps I should have left the pseudo-safari slacks and hiking boots back at the hotel, and dressed in a tie-dyed kaftan and matching dhoti or muslin jodhpurs.

Entrance to the City Palace set me back Rs75, Rs200 more if I had brought along my camera. It is difficult to describe the palace complex for it is part intricate and bewildering dolls house swollen and exaggerated in magnitude beyond recognition, and part stark and grim institution, in which I pictured the inhabitants dwelling like reclusive inmates, gorgeously imprisoned and damned forever in the vast geography of its interior design. The palace is both profoundly beautiful and yet dreadful. It was built to confuse and to disorientate, the lower levels windowless and unyielding, the upper works a mass of superimposed towers, turrets and crenulations. It’s the sort of place where you expect to find old rodent-gnawed bones interred within the walls, or sallow wax-moulded figures of dead royalty held motionless in the act of some every-day task. The maze of halls and closet-like rooms project a feeling of the bizarre and the uncomfortably surreal. I image small children, princes and princesses, here at eternal play in an endless labyrinth from which only their eventual aging provides an escape. The echo of their voices held forever, their attendants shuttling back and forth at unending tasks through an Escher-like graphic art landscape of stairways and stairwells that ceaselessly fold back upon themselves going everywhere and nowhere, an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ world where things and people fade almost to the point of vanishing but are never quite extinguished. It is an unfathomable realm, holding no points of reference to my own, here in this toy world where navigation without the aid of a ‘GPS’ is hopeless, the whole place threatening dire risk of getting eternally lost. The City Palace is a splendid construct of the architects’ minds, yet it is a cage by any fair standard.

There are numerous mirrored and otherwise decorated rooms, these usually tiny in comparison to the size of those with which I am familiar. The doorways that lead into them are often low, the height reflecting a world and a time in which people were either naturally shorter, or a clever stratagem to slow parents in their pursuit of joyous or wilful children. Kautilya had much to say on the subject of children, noble born or otherwise, even prior to their birth, for restrictions were placed on the nature of torture of pregnant women. His ‘Arthashastra’ emphasized the protection of children, qualified maintenance at state expense, free travel on ferries, and special attention by judges in matters concerning them. Particular directives applied in the context of slavery and bonded labour. When, for example, an ‘Arya’ man and his family had been bound in servitude it was the children who were to be redeemed first. Slaves less than eight years old were not to be unwillingly forced to undertake menial jobs or to work in foreign countries. Further, their property was to be held in trust by the elders of the village. Children were normally the responsibility of their families but if under conditions of being orphaned the state had an obligation to feed and cloth them, though orphans could be later recruited by the state into the secret service. When an enemy’s fort or camp was attacked children, being under the general category of non-combatants, were not to be harmed. On paper at least, though in practice not reliably, this was a compassionate advance on the Biblical command of Moses who, in the Old Testament Book of Numbers, directed the killing of all male Midianite children, and all the women children except for those that had not known a man by lying with him; the virgins. Going one step further Moses happily informed his people that they could keep the virgin girls for themselves. Later, during the Isrealite invasion of Canaan, Joshua, their captain, did not hold back in the wholesale slaughter of children and infants. Kautilya, equally driven by the demands of establishing a secure national state, seemed to be operating from a more ethical pedestal, for in addition to directing the well-being of child non-combatants he also stipulated a minimum ration of food for children, the level being set at half that prescribed for a male member of their respective social class and profession. He also stipulates that children shall be employed in searching for special herbs and spices used in the state’s manufacture of alcoholic beverages; gainful encouragement no doubt, and a healthy introduction to the ‘work ethic’.

However, the hubbub of tourists throughout the palace maze does not engender lingering in meditative contemplation of what has been achieved here, or of the history of its occupants, nor the fate of children; wandering as my thoughts were. There is much that demands more than a brief glimpse. But too many lips breathe across my shoulders, and too many shoulders wedge between my face and wall-mounted information boards. Their presence compounds the feeling of plaster claustrophobically shrinking in on you. By myself I could have melded into it all but the company was pressing round, and as the morning lengthened the numbers of tourists embalmed within the palace’s walls grew. In need of living space I gravitate back to the grand forecourt, eventually finding myself in a shop selling books, post cards and dapper clothing. The debonair Sikh proprietor has just what I want, a blended kashmir and silk scarf, all in royal blue. It has not the slightest hint of a contrasting pattern. Plain as plain can be, only quality, just what my daughter had asked for. He gives me the scarf at a special price, a glass of marsala chai thrown in ‘on the house’ to secure good customer relations. In return I entertain him, to the point of overflowing, with stories of my similarly turbaned and bearded family doctor, and personal reminiscences of the Sikh community and temple at Woolgoolga, a burgeoning coastal town just north of Hometown. Unfortunately a sales assistance calls him away, me some pages short of concluding the remaining verses of my epic tale.

For lunch I dine at a restaurant in the city, the meal costing Rs500, a king’s ransom compared to the price of the meal at a roadside trucker’s eatery the day before. I crave eating in hole-in-the-wall establishments. It wasn’t that they were cheaper, it was the opportunity of just being another person of ordinary status. Such places levelled everyone to the same position in life, irrespective of whom you were and where you came from. You became one of many people just getting on with living; the eating of food part of it. In restaurants you were the centre of unwanted attention, temporary and maybe feigned as it was. At roadside stops you were ‘just you’.


The afternoon begins with a tour of the Jagdish Mandir temple, originally called the temple of Jagannath Rai, then a voyage in a broad flat-bottomed boat on the waters of Lake Pichola, the slow cruising of the craft taking us past various shoreline buildings of splendour, and out to an island. All very nice, but me way out of my comfort zone, and not at all sure what was on show here, India or the numerous boatloads of foreign tourists plying the lake. Either way it was a spectacle.

Back on shore, and the sun getting lower on the horizon, I meet a young lady from Australia who had originally come to India for two weeks to volunteer in a program to sterilise stray street dogs, of which India was home to more than a few. She had stayed another three months, and now, at risk of overstaying her visa was hoping to extend her temporary residency yet again. She had first come with a friend, but they had long parted company. Her voice betrayed loneliness and homesickness, but she was captive to a cause, to something beyond my pursuit of self-interest.

The story of India’s street dogs is an interesting and a sad one. Made more the so because of most Indians not wanting to kill them; the whole issue being tied intricately to the philosophy of non-harm, ‘ahimsa’. Indeed I am given to understand India enacted a law forbidding their killing, thus, in the absence of voluntary canine celibacy, the attempt to deal with the problem by means of sterilization; the plan being a hoped for dramatic reduction of the dog population by their resultant inability to breed. It is an overwhelming task.

No country has more stray dogs than India. They number in the millions, and they breed like rabbits. Everywhere you go you find them; sleeping under cars, sprawled under shrubs in public parks, lazing by roadsides and on patrol in city streets. Annually they bite millions of people, and every year in India an estimated 20,000 people die from rabies infections. This is more than a third of the annual global rabies toll, 99 percent of human rabies deaths being attributed solely to dogs. The typical Indian street dog has close-cropped hair, pointed ears, a distinctly wedge-shaped face, and a short tail that curls prominently over its back. In many respects they look like the Australian dingo. They are scavengers, being common loiterers at the ubiquitous mounds of garbage, yet throughout my journey I see few that could be considered scrawny, none that resemble the sickly dogs attendant at the camps of indigenous Australians. Some claim, wisely perhaps, that removing India’s stray dogs would result in an increase in rodents. They may have a point.

The particular breed of Indian street dog most commonly met with is called the ‘Pariah’, the type now recognized as a purebred by the United Kennel Club of the United States. Although once thought to be the ancestor of the dingo analyses of mitochondrial DNA samples taken from the Pariah indicates that Australian dingos originated from southern China. The name Pariah is derived from the Tamil word ‘paraiyar’ used to refer to the lowest level of the traditional Indian caste system; the word first adopted into the English language in 1613 to mean ‘social outcast’. But India has a true wild dog, the endangered Dhole, Cuon alpinis, native to south and south-east Asia. It is the only representative of the genus Cuon, and differs from the genus Canis, the genus that encompasses all other canines, by the reduced number of molar teeth and the greater number of teats.


Tomorrow Kumbhalgarh, about 80 kilometres by road north-west of Udaipur. There is a big fort there, a really big one. I plan to walk its perimeter wall.

Post 57d


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