David: Rajasthan was on Sam’s itinerary wish list because of everything he had heard of my visit there with Max in 1994 and with Lora in 2010. To give us enough time, he and I left Lora, Jonathan and Max in Varanasi a few days early and flew to Udaipur, a city in the south of the state.
Udaipur is the city made famous by the Lake Palace Hotel, where Max and I stayed in the flush days of 1994. (A story from our 1994 stay in the Lake Palace is later in this posting.) In the not-quite-so-flush days of 2014, Sam and I had to content ourselves with a distant view of the Lake Palace from a not-quite-as-plush palace on the ghat alongside the lake.
Movie buffs among you will remember the Lake Palace as the site of many scenes in the 1983 James Bond movie Octopussy. For those of you without that memory, every restaurant in town will remind you.
One of the high points for us in Udaipur was the Jagdish Temple, built in 1651 and devoted to Vishnu, the supreme Hindu god. The temple was just a couple of hundred yards from our hotel and Sam and I rushed over when we heard a ceremony in progress. A Sadhu holy man sitting at the temple’s entrance acknowledged us as we snapped his picture. The following video captures one man’s total commitment to the ceremony.
Udaipur Temple Video
One of the “medium” points in Udaipur, at least for me, was our search for a small jewel of a room that Max and I had discovered in 1994. It was in the Shiv Niwas Palace Hotel, which is part of the beautiful and vast City Palace complex. We had dinner one night alongside a reflecting pool in one of the hotel’s interior courtyards. While we ate, a sitar player performed on steps leading to the room on the opposite side of the courtyard. After dinner we explored the room, which was a beautiful two-story library room.
Sam and I found the courtyard and library. The courtyard’s reflecting pool is now a swimming pool, surrounded by chaise lounge chairs rather than by an elegant dining area. And the room is now a bar/cocktail lounge, not a library. It’s still very beautiful, but not quite what it had become in my memory.
The Shiv Niwas Palace Hotel “library” (above) and the City Palace at night.
Now about Max’s and my stay at the Lake Palace in 1994. Since Max was showing me “his India” on that visit, we were staying in $1 a night hotels. On at least one occasion, the bathroom was simply a hole in the floor in a corner of the room with a dripping spigot above it. Udaipur was the exception since I had heard of the Lake Palace. I reserved a room to make sure we could get in.
For some forgotten reason, we decided to arrive in Udaipur a day early and I wanted to make sure the Lake Palace would have a room for us. We were then in Agra and, in 1994, the only practical option was a telephone booth in the street where an attendant was on duty to place calls. Try as he might, he could not make a connection. Inspired after 20 minutes of frustration watching cows, pigs, goats, monkeys, water buffalo, sheep, etc. meandering past the phone booth, I asked the attendant to call my office in Massachusetts. Thanks to its being a satellite connection, the call went through effortlessly. I asked my assistant to call Udaipur to let the hotel know I would be arriving early, and her satellite call also went through effortlessly. All the while the attendant was still not able to make a landline connection.
When we arrived in Udaipur, we found the hotel almost empty. It seemed that the day after I had flown out of Boston there was an outbreak of bubonic plague in nearby Gujarat, and the world’s elite had cancelled their travel plans in droves. It was a lesson in “You never know…”