Udaipur and Chittorgarh: "Happy Holi"

Udaipur, Rajasthan

India

March 4, 2007

Dear Family and Friends,

Here I am at the Amet Haveli, another one of those recommended Special Places to Stay. [*] The broad terrace of the Ambrai Restaurant overlooks a very inviting Lake Pichola. (12 sq km. 7.5 sq mi.)

I am sitting with Yasmine (an Israeli beauty) and her mother Mali, and Madam Fee, a German ex-pat who has lived here for many years, and John from England. Hair, face, arms and shirt, John and I are totally covered with a rainbow of pastel chalk -- mostly reds and purples. Happy Holi.

One of the most important Hindu festivals, Holi takes place on a full moon night in March and marks the end of winter. On the eve of Holi, bonfires are lit, and an effigy of the demon Holika is burnt to signify good over evil. The next day, people swarm the streets, sprinkling coloured water and powder on each other. This exuberant festival is especially dear to Lord Krishna. [**]

I put on my appropriate white cotton pullover and white cotton pants. I wander towards the town, apprehensively. The boys rampaging around are besotted, so I am besplashed, besplattered and bestained. As my friend Allen in New York said when he saw the photo, "Beschmutzed."

Whatever.

Happy Holi.

The view from the terrace across the lake is superb. Just ahead and "floating" in the middle of the lake is the ultra luxurious Lake Palace Hotel. To my left are many private homes, temples, and hotels along the shore. And high above the lake, stretching along the eastern shore, sits the Udaipur City Palace.

The City Palace is a fascinating combination of Rajput military architecture and Mughal-style decorative techniques. Its stern fortress-like fa├žade is topped by a variety of graceful balconies, cupolas and turrets. The largest palace in Rajasthan is actually a complex of several palaces, built or added to by twenty-two maharajas between the 16th and the 20th centuries. Much of it is a museum and parts of it are luxury hotels. [**]

As I sip my late afternoon beverage and chat with my colorful friends, the buildings along the shore and the massive palace above take on a rich golden glow as the sun sets beyond the mountains that surround the lake. Happy Holi.

At my lakeshore breakfast the next day, I think about my plans for Udaipur. The emphasis is on "think." I order another coffee. I chat up a trio of French women, including Veronique who is the Directrice of a travel agency. Who wants to leave this spot? I can watch the small boats cross the lake to that grand hotel. Other boats circle the lake for a charming cruise. I am happy to just unwind on the terrace under an umbrella. And since it is Holi, the Palace is closed.

Everything is closed: souvenir shops, internet cafes, everything.

Thank you Lord Krishna, I have a rest day.

Almost.

The Chittorgarh Fort is only, only 115km, (72 miles) northeast of Udaipur. Chittorgarh calls to me; so I call Perdeep. Chalo! Let's go.

The great battle-scarred Chittorgarh Fort epitomizes in its tragic history the valour, romance, chivalry and strict death-before-dishonour code glorified in Rajput myths and legends. Sprawling across 280ha (692 acres), atop a steep 180m (591 ft) high rocky hill, Chittorgarh's ruined palaces, temples and towers bear witness to its illustrious and turbulent past. [**]

Over the centuries Chittorgarh was besieged three times and each time thousands of defenders rode out to certain death. The women committed jauhar -- a ritual form of mass suicide by immolation practiced by Rajput women to escape dishonor at the hands of their enemies.

I wander alone and climb among the ruins. I must use my imagination here. There are no "profusely" or "ornately" or "sumptuously" decorated palace furnishings. Just stone walls. It is a bit creepy, and also instructive. I wonder, "Is there a massive fort or a fabulous palace or a sky-scraping set of towers anywhere in the world that one creative man can build and that another desperate man cannot also destroy?" Yes, it is instructive to step through the crunchy pebbles under foot.

I spot a tower in the distance across the plain. It's a long walk.

The magnificent Vijay Stamgh or Victory Tower (1468) stands 36m (118 ft) tall. The sandstone is richly carved with gods and goddesses. Dozens of kids are milling about and many of them are climbing the interior staircase to the top. The tower is really the centerpiece of a complex of active temples and mansions; there are many pilgrims here today.

Opposite the tower is the Padmini Palace with gardens and a lake pavilion. Just beyond the palace is the seven storied Kirti Stabh, a "profusely decorated" Jain tower. The tower is near the Surajpol, the wide and lofty main gate with unending views across the empty plains. This gate, this fort is really quite high. I have to wonder again how these walls were ever breached.

I am pleased that the ride back to Udaipur is smooth along the modern multi-lane highway. I anticipate another lakeside aperitif and sunset supper.

And another. I booked an extra day. As I said, "Who wants to leave?"

Cheers from the old philosopher,

Happy Holi,

Jan

PS. One of the drunken Holi kids patted my face with chalk and put his arms around me and gave me a big hug as he powdered me on my arms and shoulders and back. He whispered in my ear, "May every day in your life be a colorful day."   I'm not the only philosopher in Udaipur.

[*] Special Places To Stay. India. Alastair Sawday. 2006

[**] India. DK. London. 2006.

 

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