8am. I awoke to find the train stationery and the people in my booth collecting their things together. “Udaipur?” I asked hopefully – they nodded.
I got out of the train and found a bench to sit on to collect my thoughts. It was already noticeably hotter than Bombay. Task 1: find a hotel.
I eventually succumbed to the hawkings of a Rickshaw keen to find me a hotel and to earn himself some commission. He led me out to his three-wheeled contraption painted in a similar fashion to the Bombay Taxis. I got in and after the machine had back-fired about three times we eventually got going into Udaipur.
The journey was relatively short; I had requested he take me to a place on Lake Palace Road – Mahendra Prakesh. We arrived and I went in to see a room. Rs 350 for a crappy single room, but they did have a pool. I said “No” and left. The rickshaw took me to a place next door called Shampoo Villas or some such name, where I ummed and arred until we agreed Rs 150 for a reasonably pleasant double room overlooking some gardens. I paid the rickshaw Rs 50 and went to bed.
I slept until about 3 o’clock. After deciding that the shower was past it’s sell-by date, and freshening up in the sink, I went up to the roof restaurant for something to eat and to admire the view over the city towards the City Palace. “I like Udaipur” I decided to myself. The palace was built on a hill and looked down over the city. Home to the Maharana of Udaipur; Queen Victoria once stayed there.
After a light lunch and a flick through the guidebook I set out to get my bearings.
I was shocked; I had walked 300 yards down the street and no-one had hassled me – cool! I knew it couldn’t last though – and a moped suddenly screeched to a halt next to me. “Sir , sir, hello sir, where are you for?” Here we go.
One of the two boys on the moped got off and approached me, he explained that he was a student at the Udaipur School of Miniature Art and would I like to come and see some of his work? I declined saying that I wanted to see some of the city as I had only just arrived that morning.
“Are you here tomorrow?” I asked with absolutely no intention of returning.
“We have an exhibition in Bombay tomorrow – but you can come in the morning. Do you know Yorkshire?”
“Do I know Yorkshire?” – what a strange question.
“We are going there soon to show our work. Bradford, Leeds and York.”
I was taken aback, perhaps I would return tomorrow. I bid him farewell – mush to his disappointment and continued into the city. Five minutes later I was approached by another student of the school, he was less pushy, but I had explained that I had just spoken to his friend and I would come to the school tomorrow. He said he would show me around Udaipur, if I liked; I didn’t have much choice.
We saw the Lake Picola and some of it’s ghats; stairs leading into the water where women were doing their laundry. There were cows, lots of cows, the odd temple, thousands of cyclists, mopeds and motorbikes. The narrow streets were a throng. Eventually, and I knew it would happen, we ended up at the Minature Art School – much to the delight of the boys I had met earlier that day.
I realised that these boys were actually genuine – not like the people of Bombay. They asked me about London fashions and were appalled to learn that skin-tight jeans went out 15 years ago, which one of them was wearing proudly.
They showed me how they do their work – by stretching silk canvasses over wooden frames and painting with needles and fine brushes. They also painted on cotton and marble.
Eventually, over a glass of chai, we got down to the nitty-gritty.
“Which do you want to buy?”
After much umming and arring I plumbed for a painting of a camel – the symbol of love, for Squeeze. At Rs150 they were a little disappointed as they had hoped I would spend a lot more. There were paintings of tiger hunts and elephant and camel polo matches, ceremonies, gods, parades … all very beautiful, but out of my price range.
“The camel is for love, elephant for luck and horse for power.” I was told.
When they learned that the camel was for my girlfriend they immediately asked “How many girlfriends do you have?” Only one seemed laughable to them, but I said I was happy with the arrangement. Before leaving they insisted on showing me a new hotel opposite the school, The Golden Palace; Rs75 a night they said. I saw the room – it was lovely, much better than the one I currently had. I told the man at reception that I would move there tomorrow.
Leaving the friendly throng of the boys behind me I headed back into the city to find a restaurant mentionned in the guidebook: Anna’s. Allegedly they showed Octopussy most nights; the Bond movie, most of which had been set in Udaipur. They were actually showing Ghandi that night, but I didn’t mind so much as I hadn’t seen it; and it would be an education as to the history of India.
I indulged in a palak and nan whilst teaching my eardrums to cope with the appalling sound system coming from the TV set. Other Europeans obviously knew about the restaurant and a number came throughout the movie. I got chatting to a French guy called David. He had been all over and was on the last leg of a four month tour of the region before returning to Paris. Nepal, Tibet, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi were all ‘done’ and he was now heading south. He recommended Pushkar as the next place I should go; not much to do, but very relaxing. We had a beer together.
Without warning I began to shiver – a cold fever had crept up on me – I had obviously eaten something dodgy. I bid David farewell and agreed to meet him there tomorrow night before dashing back to the hotel for an uncomfortable night’s kip, to sweat out the fever.
I wrote a letter to the folks and promised I would find the GPO the next day.