I checked in to The Golden Palace Hotel having had a restless night at Shampoo Villas. Aside from the runny bottom and the traffic noise first thing in the morning, I had been disturbed by the cleaning boy; who insisted on coming in and half-heartedly moving a brush over the floor and then asking for money for his hard work. I gave him 1 Rupee and told him that I wasn’t happy – what with there being no electricity or water.
The policy that most budget hotels seem to have in India is that, if the room is empty or presumed empty, all amenities are switched off. I pointed out that brown smudge down the toilet to the boy. “No Water” I said and HE was dissappointed with 1 Rupee? Ha!
The manager wasn’t in yet, to check me in, so I got comfortable in the room before he turned up a couple of hours later. His name was Ajit, or something like that, about five foot four and wearing a baseball cap that read ‘Commando’ with a little pistol symbol upon it.
As he checked me in he told me about a ‘safari’ he runs for his guests and that he had some photos he wanted me to see. I agreed to look at them tomorrow qith him.
At 3pm I headed over to the school for a chai with the boys. After which, one gave me a lift on his moped down to the entrance to the City Palace, where I intended to get a boat around the lake from the City Palace jetty. I was almost beginning to feel like a local.
I got up to the jetty and asked for a ticket for the Lake Picola Tour, with a stop-off at the deserted Palace of Jag Mandir. “Come back at 5 o’clock. Need at least five people.” I was the only one there. The last tour had just ended and three Europeans were getting off of the boat.
“Any Good?” I asked.
“Yeah, really good mate. Load of carvings and stuff, that Palace…” he pointed to Jag Mandir across the water “… was where they shot Octopussy. Really Good. Recommend it.” he had a half cockney accent. “We’re going for tea at the Palace now.”
“Mind if I come?” I had an hour to kill after all.
He, Carlos, was originally from Bournemouth, had moved to London and was now living in Geneva; that’s where I assumed the girl ‘Sylv’ who was with him was from too; the other guy was from Tel Aviv, I didn’t catch his name.
We strolled into the glorious dining hall of the City Palace Hotel; it was vast and had three enormous chandeliers slung from the ceiling. At the far side of the dining hall was an arched colonnade exposed on one side to a spectacular view across the lake. We sat at one of the tables next to the windows and admired the vista. The table was laid with proper teacups and napkins; quite a change for us all.
Carlos and Sylv ordered cream teas. I had a straight Darjeeling and Mr TelAviv – a juice. It was mightily expensive by Indian standards but boy did it feel good to have a proper cup of tea! The atmosphere was great – a sitar and drum duo played further along the colonnade where other guests also sat having afternoon tea. It was like a scene out of a Merchant Ivory film.
It was here that I got my DV camera out in public for the first time and captured as much of the moment as I could before the inevitable questions came. Yes, I was the proud owner of a JVC GR-DV1 – one of the first-ever consumer digital video camcorders available on the market. Sleek, silver and about the size of a paperback novel it could capture images in ‘broadcast quality’ resolution and fit discreetly into my bag. (A far cry from the clunky Hi8 and cumbersome VHS camcorders that previously ruled the analogue home-video market.) I had brought it along for the trip not knowing whether it would be able to cope with the humidity, which it was finding somewhat stifling.
I bid farewell to my brief friends and headed down to the lake to catch the boat which, I was surprised to find, was practically full of Indian women and children. It seated about twenty and there were at least fifteen of us altogether. We set out around the lake at a serene pace, enjoying the sights of Udaipur across the water, and then stopped at Jag Mandir to check out the Palace which had been almost untouched since its construction.
It was relatively small compared to other monuments in the city – but interesting all the same. Above us, monsoon clouds were gathering and the moment we stepped back ashore it started to rain. I nipped back to the hotl before the real downpour began.
After about an hour it let up and I went out to see if David had been stupid enough to traipse to the roof garden; he hadn’t. The roof garden was far too soaked to eat at so I headed in to town, brolly in hand, to a restaurant called Shivram. They were showing Natural Born Killers a highly tedious Oliver Stone movie written by Quintin Tarrantino. I indulged in a pizza – which translated as stuff on top of a nan bread.
Back at the hotel I tuned into the BBC world Service, on my 10 band Matsui radio, and caught up on world affairs: William Hague becomes leader of the Conservative Party. Who? Where did he come from? The new grey man who won because no one else was suitable? All I know is that he looks like a young Neil Kinnock and has an equally annoying voice.
A couple of prolonged power cuts meant I had to enjoy the news and sport in total darkness…