Sunday, January 22, 2006

Udaipur: Octopussy Galore

We've entered Rajasthan now, a state in the northwest of India which borders Pakistan, and one with a rich, fantastical history of warrior clans, chivalry, vivid colors and harsh living. This is the land of maharajas and magical landscapes: from every angle you see a fairy tale palace, mystical walled city or fierce hilltop fort!

Udaipur is our first destination and known for its romantic, whitewashed palaces that seem to float on lakes created by the effusive monsoon season. And indeed, Udaipur is romantic! Andy and I are staying in one of numerous havelis (or mansions), created over 300 years ago by a wealthy merchant class and painted with extraordinarily colorful murals of peacocks, elephants, Rajput warriors and maidens. Scalloped arches that are delicate and frothy like a meringue cookie swoop to the sky in every direction from the multileveled havelis, and window alcoves with wrought iron cushion beds beckon from every corner. And we have acquiesced...dining and resting in many a pillowed place!

Udaipur is also where the James Bond flick Octopussy was filmed over 20 years ago, and you can't venture anywhere in the walled city without forgetting it! Nearly every hotel and guest house has a sign featuring a nightly "Octopussy" show and around 7:00pm, the strains of James Bond's theme music reverberates through the ancient city. Never, ever before have I heard Rita Coolidge so loudly and clearly crooning about "We're an all time high...We'll change all that's gone before". Wow.

Luckily, it's easy to get lost in the rich cultural legacy of Rajasthan. This is India's Camelot, the land of chivalrous warriors who believed in death before dishonor and demanded it of their entire clan. Men rode off to battle the Mughals in saffron-colored robes while women and children lit themselves on fire rather than risking subjugation. Until reality caught up with them in the late 20th century, the Maharani lived luxurious lives in mirrored palaces with hand maidens and more. We've seen the Rolls Royce they used to take out tiger hunting!

Waking up to the remnants of this lifestyle is like a fairy tale -- where else can I open my eyes and see a painted ceiling and look out my colored-glass window to a monsoon palace?

At least every Maharaja enjoyed his culture too, and filled opulent halls constantly with the local art forms of puppetry, dance, acrobatics and music. We saw an amazing, complex puppet show with vividly painted marionettes that juggled, charmed snakes, flipped their skirts and more. Later we watched a performance of old clan dances involving ladies clapping 13 cymbols on their body while crunching on a sword in their mouth, or my favorite, the lady in vivid green, gold and red who danced with ankle bracelets and 13 pots stacked on her head!

The landscape of Rajasthan is mostly desert bare and to survive stark surrounding and extreme sunlight, the Rajputs decorated everything in vivid colors. My kind of place! Weapons, clothing, camels, you name it and it's got color, sparkle and shine. Most all of the men here wear earrings on both ears, and there are turbans and moustaches galore. The women wear jewel-toned saris and are adorned in bangles, baubles and beads--bare wrists are considered inauspicious so there's lot of gold and enameled jewelry on every limb. Again, a concept I can get my head (and accessorizing) around!

Somehow, this fanastical landscape is just what I imagined in India and wanted to glimpse on our trip. Whether it was Octopussy or not, I don't know, but I am SO excited! It feels like we've stepped back in time. Well...as much as is possible in a heavily touristed Indian location with livestock, poverty and touts. Looking up in Udaipur has dire consequences (think cows in a walled city), and there is begging which you know, from the look in their eyes and the look of the harsh landscape, is just not desperate--it's necessary.

Nevertheless, in Udaipur it's just not difficult to imagine a grand romance between Maharaja and Maiden involving fortresses, dynasties, elephants and exotic headgear. Floating palaces and fireworks reflecting in the lake at night, remnants of Rajput artisans around every corner and the suave shadow of 007. Sigh...

While I can't bring myself to say this is an "all time high", I will say that theme song has an element of truth to it and we're reveling in the romance and realities of Rajasthan.

2 Comments:

Blogger jskalet said...

sounds like an incredible place!!

8:28 PM  
Anonymous Mommy and Daddy Moore said...

A "Camelot" of a place for you to visit and for us to read about! I love knowing that the James Bond theme song was sung often (as those movies are part of our history.) Only James Bond would have a movie entitled "Octopussy!" I can just hearing him pronouncing that too!!!

11:46 PM  

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