I love walking. In fact, just yesterday we joined a group of walkers to explore Old Delhi (more on that in a separate post). But walking in Delhi NCR can be quite difficult – especially during rush hour. There are many places where there are no footpaths. And even where there are, bikers get on to them to bypass traffic. The need to speed ahead with little regard to traffic rules or safety can be quite frustrating for pedestrians.
In the world of motorsports though, safety and rules are of prime importance. Last year, I had the opportunity of visiting the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida, and witnessing first hand the strict safety protocols observed there. Standing just above the pits, looking straight down, I saw something that I wish every biker on a footpath would do.
A prominent feature of Rajasthani architecture are the windows with their characteristic floral silhouette. When visiting monuments in the region, it is hard to resist the temptation of framing the magnificent views with the window. Ah, what a feeling it must have been, living in those palaces!
Alas, for women, not a very good one. The queens and princesses had their share of riches and maids and all luxuries that a royal household could provide. But freedom? Trapped in a tower, looking out of the window was the only freedom they had. Called jharokhas, the beautiful latticed windows were built to allow women to look at the world outside, without themselves being seen.
Here is one such window at Bagore ki Haveli, Udaipur. I wonder what must be visible through those tiny windows within the main window.
So this week, when the Daily Post asked us to show windows, I felt cheated. But considering what it must have been like for the women who looked out of these tiny windows, I don’t have any reason to complain.
As we scouted hotels near Lake Picchola, we were caught between conflicting traveller reviews—those that spoke of magical lake views, and others that complained of poor hygiene and stench. Considering that we were traveling to a city with lots of water, during monsoon, we decided to keep ourselves away from Lal Ghat.
We browsed through OYO rooms and zeroed in on the cryptic “OYO Homes 062 Fatehsagar Lake”. For reasons better known to OYO, the website does not provide the exact name of the hotel or the location without a confirmed booking!*
After confirming our booking, we looked for reviews of the property. There weren’t as many ratings of the house as compared to the other hotels, but all of them positive. Well, we would find out for ourselves.
Our flight landed in Udaipur half an hour before time; the air was cool, much cooler than the muggy national capital we had left behind; the scenic Aravalli range surrounded us throughout the drive to the city—a beautiful start to our trip.
Our talkative cabbie, Chetan, seemed to know a lot of touristy information on Udaipur—as did all the other rickshaw drivers we rode with. One would think they were all getting paid to promote tourism! None of them, however, had heard of Khudala House. So, we followed the map and gave directions. When we were near our destination, we caught sight of water for the first time—and what a beauty she was! As our eyes feasted on the beautifully blue Fateh Sagar Lake, growing ever wider in front of us, the GPS lady quietly said, “turn left, and you will arrive at your destination.”
We hopped off our cab and walked around the driveway. The property may not have had a lake view, but it was royally beautiful. Walking to the right, we were greeted by a row of statues posing against a great green leafy wall.
Ahead of us was a neat lawn and dining tables surrounded by flowering plants and bonsais.
And behind the lawn was the grand entrance to the house.
Our host, Mr. Dhanajai Singh, later informed us that the house was built in 1941 by his grandfather. About 35 years ago, his father, and present owner Capt. Jaiveer Singh added more rooms. The majestic original structure has now been leased to the restaurant 1559AD.
We walked back to the front gate and towards the newer, smaller (relatively speaking, of course) building on left of the driveway. A loose curtain of painted bottles and a stone wall decorated with divine statues marked the division between the old and new.
Here too, the visual delight continued. A beautiful lawn outlined by balsams in full bloom and surrounded by dozens of bonsais.
Our host graciously allowed us a complimentary early check-in and gave us very helpful tips on sightseeing in Udaipur, including the recommendation of a morning walk at Fateh Sagar, and advice of exploring the Old City on foot.
Our room was spacious and included a big bathroom, a dressing room and our own backyard! We ate home-cooked breakfast in a common dining room filled with interesting objects and memorabilia. Abhay, the soft-spoken housekeeper who single-handedly looks after all the rooms, took care of all our requirements. And then there was Bully, the boxer, whose droopy eyes looked at us curiously (I heard him bark only once). The owners were very warm; and sans the presence of impersonal staff and eerie hallways that are characteristic of hotels, we felt at ease during our stay.
The restaurant 1559AD is as beautiful inside as it is outdoors. We were too busy admiring the ambience and relishing the food to take any pictures (actually, we had left our phones behind in our room next door, and regretted it!)
Rickshaw drivers did not know where Khudala House was. So we had to use nearby landmarks to explain where we were staying. Once we came to the T-point in front of Fateh Sagar, we told our driver, “turn left, and its right there!” “Yeh to 1559AD hai,” (this is 1559AD) our driver said. “You should told me this before.”
During the three days we spent in Udaipur, we were mostly tourists. But at the end of the day, we came home.
* When I did a new search a little while back, our comfy homestay’s name was very much mentioned—though there were other properties with cryptic names. I don’t know if this hiding of names is a random thing. Any ideas why OYO does this? If you know anyone there, could you ask them to change this?
Photos taken with Motorola Moto G3. Click / tap on the image to enter my Flickr photostream.
Of Udaipur’s many lakes, the Fateh Sagar takes pride of place. While lake Picchola has the exotic lake palaces, Fateh Sagar retains the beautiful backdrop of the Aravalli hills.
“Well, you’re on vacation, but if you are early risers, I recommend taking a walk along Fateh Sagar. The roads are closed for vehicles till 8 am for morning walkers,” our host Dhananjai at Khudala House advised us.
I remembered reading about the beauty of sunrise at Fateh Sagar on an online travel forum. And so, on a Sunday morning, we set our alarm for 5:30 am, unlocked the House’s front door and sneaked out.
A few minutes later, we crossed the barricades to enter a walker’s paradise—the lake on one side; a rock-cut wall providing shade from the heat of the sun, on the other. We joined hundreds of locals walking briskly along the cordoned section of the road.
We walked leisurely, admiring the still boats basking in the golden light of the rising sun, the soft rustling of the gentle waves, the cool atmosphere, the seemingly endless hills washed green by the monsoon rains and the clean environs.
It had poured heavily over the past two days—a kind of rain that would have brought Delhi NCR to its knees. And yet, the streets of Udaipur were devoid of waterlogging. Even Fateh Sagar’s water level remained constant.
When we first came to the city, our hearts were set on lake Picchola, having been enamoured by its ghat and the surrounding architecture. Making our way from the airport, our talkative cabbie Chetan had said, “You come to Udaipur, the main lake is Fateh Sagar. The boating is good here too, and reasonable. Picchola is okay… famous for the palace. But the real beauty is in Fateh Sagar. It is 20 kms if you want to go all around it.” At the time, we dismissed his words, but as the winding roads revealed the breadth of the lake and the distant hills, we understood what he meant.
Over an hour into our walk, there still was no sign of the sun. But what was that? The sound of water. A waterfall? Noone mentioned a waterfall in these parts.
We reached the end of the cordoned section, and there she was, not-so-quietly going about her job of making sure the water doesn’t spill out into the roads. I’m not sure what this structure is called—a sort of dam, I suppose, to control the level of water.
Nearby, a middle aged man with a mesh paddle was busy cleaning the lake—the ‘filth’ mostly comprised of leaves. Standing on the bridge, we soaked in the misty spray of the ‘waterfall’ and watched the calm water of Fateh Sagar spill out into the bushes on the other side.
And behind the bushes, we saw our sun—already up, waiting for us. We wondered if this was the viewpoint that we were supposed to have reached an hour earlier. If you happen to visit Fateh Sagar for the sunrise, perhaps you could shed some light on this matter. On the other hand, if, like us, you get caught up along the way admiring pretty much everything and miss the sun rising from behind the hills, here’s our takeaway:
The sunrise isn’t a view. It’s an experience.
In response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: share with us the structure of something typically overlooked.
Photos taken with Motorola Moto G3. Click / tap on the image to enter my Flickr photostream.
A cool breeze, clouds playing hide and seek with the sun, the sound of waves to one side, and the interiors of a palace on the other, a panoramic view of palaces and havelis and the backdrop of Aravalli hills – perfect, no?
“Oh, that’s nothing. Just some old ruins,” he replied in a laid back tone, that could only be described as Goan.
The Churches of Old Goa are staple tourist fare. And like diligent tourists, we paid a visit to the most famous of them all – the Basilica of Bom Jesus and the adjoining Se Cathedral. Both sites had ingredients one would expect from a medieval church – massive in size, walls engraved, high ceilings housing intricate chandeliers and a presence that makes you speak in whispers, lest anyone else hears. With the sea of humans, though, the churches were reduced to fancy backgrounds for selfie enthusiasts – even with signboards and staff members explicitly asking people not to take pictures with people in them.
Making our way out of Se Cathedral, I noticed a lean brick tower in the distance.
As we made our way around the streets of Old Goa, the tower became taller, and then hid behind some trees.
The cab driver looked in the rear mirror. “There really is nothing there. Just ruins.”
I looked at my fellow travellers hoping for at least one of them to share my eagerness to visit that lonely tower.
After a few minutes the driver asked, “You want to go there? We can make a short stop.”
As soon as we reached, I jumped out of the car with a new friend. With others waiting, our instructions were clear. Go there, take a few pictures and head back as soon as possible!
Up close, the tower revealed itself to be just a fraction of what it must have been a few centuries ago. There was a large open space in front, and a large hall just behind it. At its fullest, it may have been much grander than the more illustrious buildings we had just visited.
‘Ruins of St. Augustine Complex’ read the signboard on one of the large stone bricks. Built in 1602 and abandoned in 1835, this church collapsed within the next few years. The silence of the space seemed to speak about its neglect and the lost grandeur.
Amid the spectacular ruins, not all seemed gloomy, though. A few pillars along the side of the fence spoke of survival even as the rest of the land stood barren.
I longed to spend more time within the hall behind the tower, but felt contented that I had the opportunity to visit. I grabbed my pictures and hurried back to the cab.
Built on raised ground, this fragment of a tower is visible from as far away as Se Cathedral
Overlooking the fallen pillars
Standing tall, this pillar attempts to defy the destruction around it
Back home, on digging around the web, I came across an interesting story surrounding the Church. In Hunting for a Georgian queen in Goa Srinath Perur writes about a martyred Queen, and the search for a missing relic that continued into the 21st century.
And a bonus bit of trivia – the eerie song, Gumnaam hai koi was filmed at the ruins.
In response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: what is guaranteed to distract you? What is your “Ooh, shiny!”?
One of the major attractions in Gwalior is the Saas-Bahu ka Mandir. In Hindi, saas translates to mother-in-law and bahu is the daughter-in-law.
The strange name is believed to be a convenient short form for sahasrabahu – meaning thousand arms. The two temples in the complex are covered with beautiful, intricate carvings of geometric patterns, animal motifs and dancing figures. Some claim that one temple is for Lord Vishnu, while the other is for Lord Shiva. There is also some confusion as to whether they are Hindu temples at all. What is widely agreed to, is that the larger one is definitely the saas, and the smaller one, the bahu!
This photograph of the smaller temple was taken inside the larger temple.
If you intend visiting, be sure you have enough battery and memory to click pictures. We know we didn’t stop with one 😉
To see how bloggers across the blogosphere are framing their points of view, check out this week’s Photo Challenge
The phone rang at 3:30 am. The voice of the driver was impatient. “It’s getting late! No no… I don’t know who told you 4 am. We need to leave now. We’ll get stuck in a traffic jam!”
A traffic jam at 4 am? Oh well, we were already up. We scrambled and managed to leave just a few minutes before 4.
The blinding curves on the mountain were dark and quiet. But just after two turns, another car joined our route. In another 15 minutes we had more company.
By the time we reached the base of Tiger Hill, we were at the tail end of a massive car line. The driver took shortcuts off the road to jump ahead. But as we reached higher ground, there was only one road.
“How far is it from here? Can we walk it?” The driver nodded confidently. We hopped out. It was a race against the sunrise. We joined at least fifty other people who were already trekking uphill at a fast pace.
After close to two kilometres of jogging and walking, we managed to reach the top of the hill, where a huge crowd was staring into the distance, camera in hand, waiting expectantly.
“Don’t worry, the sunrise will be only at 6:30! Plenty of time! Yesterday the view was very good. Today let’s hope the fog lifts with the sun! Here, you must be tired. Have some coffee!” The coffee sellers were busy catering to the captive, sleep deprived and hungry clientele.
The day was in full bloom. And yet the coffee seller coolly said it would take another half an hour for the ‘sunrise’.
“Whooooaaaah!” A section of the crowd began cheering, as if having spotted a celebrity. The fans began climbing on every possible vantage point. The paparazzi were clicking away.
We looked in the direction of the cameras. In the distance, an uninterested orange sphere looked into the mist.
Funnily, the crowd seemed to have forgotten for a while, why they were actually atop Tiger Hill. For it was not the sun we were waiting for. It was the promised breathtaking view of the Himalayas drenched in golden sunshine in the opposite direction.
That promised view was sleeping snuggly under a thick white blanket.
Hundreds of travelers from across the globe waited and stared into the white abyss. The mist didn’t budge.
We were severely disappointed. For the fifth straight day Mt. Kanchenjunga eluded us. As the crowd began dispersing, we caught sight of a few foreign tourists. We pitied them. At least we were still in our country. These folks had come from much farther away. But they were still cheerful. Two of them even held up a large photograph of the mountain range and posed for pictures!
We took their cue and brushed our disappointment aside. It was only while we were walking downhill that we took notice of the picturesque route leading to the viewpoint. In the darkness during our ascent and in our hurry to reach the top of the hill, we had missed the flowering trees and the web of prayer flags above the road.
We missed the golden Kanchenjunga, but we walked away with a handful of other memories. Hopefully, one day we can get back up there. For now though, we have a string prayer flags hanging at our doorstep, to remind us of the things we didn’t miss.
“Do you want to make a boat?” There was a hint of concern in the man’s voice – he seemed to have mistaken our behaviour as a threat to his livelihood.
Up until then, the nawik was quite cheerful. He encouraged us to feed the birds. Another man on another boat sailed by, selling goodies to be fed to the birds. “Don’t worry about polluting the river – the birds will swoop down before it soils the water”, he said, gently steering the boat across the remarkably clean Ganges. The Magh Mela had ended only a fortnight ago, and the temporary docks were still up – being taken down one nail, one plank at a time.
Seeing our keenness to photograph everything around us, and the special attention his boat was getting, he was at first amused, and then a little worried.
We couldn’t help laugh a little and reassured him that we were just fascinated and enjoyed getting up close to the many textures in front of us. We had no intention of making a boat.
Somewhat reassured, he returned to his usual cheery self and continued to row gently. “The other nawiks were interested in showing their muscle and speed at rowing. What’s the point? Why rush? I enjoy myself. Don’t you? You’ve clearly come from far just to see the Sangam*. You would want to spend more time, won’t you?”
We nodded our approval of his thoughts. He offered if we’d like to try our hand at rowing. Of course! He taught us to row and the technique for steering. We both took one oar each and rowed for a while. “I’ll take a picture of you two! You would want to keep this memory.”
We taught him how to use the phone camera and continued to row. He was a good teacher. And rowing was actually fun! After a while he took back the oars. It was, of course, his job!
We soaked in the glow of the golden sun as it began diving into the river and once docked at the ghat, we paid our nauka a tip for the memorable trip.
Here’s one of the many close-up pictures of our nawik’s prized possession – his nauka
To see what details other bloggers around the world are clicking, zoom in to this week’s Photo Challenge
Nauka: boat Nawik: boatman
*Sangam: the confluence of three rivers at Allahabad: the Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati
As kids we would stuff old socks with rags to make dolls. We’d use rubber bands to create the ‘neck’ and ‘waist’ and buttons for the ‘eyes’. I’m not sure but perhaps this may be related to the Hindi phrase ‘आँखें हैं की बटन!?’ (Do you have eyes or buttons!?)
For this week’s photo challenge, I would like to introduce you to Mr Button – he has a pair of eyes of his own!