Hello again from beautiful Udaipur, which is another gem of a city in Rajasthan state. I really wasn't expecting it to live up to its billing as India's most romantic city, but in my 2 days here I have found myself surprisingly agreeing with the tag. Although I haven't seen much of India, I would be shocked if there was any other city as peaceful, tranquil and romantic in this generally chaotic country.
After just one night here I found myself feeling much more at ease. We had dinner at one of the town's many rooftop restaurants overlooking tranquil Lake Pichola. Most of the buildings here are a brilliant white and in the evening light it looked spectacular. Over dinner we managed to squeeze in a showing of the first half of the Bond movie Octop**** (which I've realised this blog automatically blanks out but I'm sure you know which film I'm referring to). Large swathes of that film were set in Udaipur and it was good to recognise the locations. Bond for instance disembarked his boat at the ghat by our hotel, was involved in a richshaw car chase in the street immediately behind our hotel, and was imprisoned in the city's large palace. The city still prides itself on being an international film location and many businesses are named after the film, with nearly all restaurants advertising evening showings of it.
The palace was where we headed the following morning, where we were met by a local guide. As with most entry fees for tourist attractions here, Indians paid far less than foreigners and there was an additional and substantial fee for cameras as well. Generally speaking, foreigners pay around 4 pound for entry to attractions, whereas Indians pay less than 15p - quite a difference! The lakeside palace was the former residence of the Udaipur Maharaja, and was a cross between a fortress and palatial home. The guide talked an awful lot about the history of the place, but my attention span soon wavered for his lengthy speeches. I found myself wandering off to admire the views of the wider city (population 1 million), and of Lake Pichola, which is very photogenic. Two further white palaces exist on the lake, the most spectacular of which is now a 5 star hotel off limits to most tourists. I will be taking a boat trip around for a closer viewing at sunset this evening though.
Following the near 2 hour tour we were then taken off for a painting demonstration, which was designed to encourage us to sign up for a painting class - something I of course did not do. The pictures were really good though and had they been less than 40 pounds (for a small image) I would definitely have bought some. The paintings were all done on silk, making them appealing portable as you could roll them up. Its a shame they were so expensive, but they do take a lot of work. The artist then impressed the girls by drawing intricate images on their fingernails, but still nobody signed up for the class.
After that we were left to our own devices for the rest of the day. I immediately headed off to one of the many internet cafe's in town to check the Lincoln score, where I was greeted with the infuriating news that British Airways (who I fly home with from Delhi) are striking smack, bang on my flight date, and for 2 days after. My relaxed and chilled vibe evaporated in an instant, and was replaced with fury and stress - especially when I read into the reason the cabin crew are going on strike; I do not agree with them at all. The fact that my flight was booked by STA travel as part of a round the world ticket makes this doubley stressful for me. Any changes I make to my flight itinerary must be done through them, and email is the only way I can contact them over here (after 27 hours they are yet to respond to my first email). I don't know where I stand with regards to a refund, or a flight change, and I'm currently exceptionally stressed over a situation which has the potential to hold me up for days (when I really want to come home on the 28th), and cost me hundreds of pounds. Had I booked this flight myself as a standalone flight, I would have taken advantage of BA's offer of a full refund and gone and booked myself on the reasonably priced Jet Airways flight to London leaving the same day. But being at STA travel's mercy, I face either not being able to get on that flight because of ticket constraints with my round the world ticket, or the flight becoming booked up whilst they get their act together. BA publish their cancellations tomorrow, and even if my flight is still scheduled to go ahead I won't be convinced it will until we actually take off from the runway. At the moment though I am fully expecting it to be cancelled anyway. Its already been an almighty stress and has preoccupied my mind for the last 24 hours. I will never fly BA again if my flight does not take off.
I spent most of the afternoon looking at options for flying on the internet, and also uploaded some photo's. In the late afternoon we all took a taxi up to view the sunset from the spectacularly located Monsoon Palace, which is a now derelict white structure built on the highest hill for miles. This was another location used in the Bond movie and is so called because it is where the Maharaja would spend the monsoonal months, away from the floods below. The 360 degree views from the palace were incredible, with the white city of Udaipur in one direction, and a chain of mountains stretching out for as far as you could see in the other. Its a miracle the property now been left to ruin given its location. A small coffee shop is the only enterprise up there, and the palace itself is now the domain of somewhat vicious monkeys, as well as hordes of chipmonks. Its a small building but it would make a great hotel, even if it is a bit far out of town up a winding mountain road.
In the evening we dined out at another rooftop restauarant, but as is common in India, the food disappointed. I am not sure whether I will ever order meat again here. The animals are all so thin and that is reflected with the amount of meat you get on the bone - and all meat here is served on the bone. You can barely scrape an ounce off most of the time. Many restaurants are vegetarian because most Hindu's are, so maybe I will stick to vegetable based curries. Veg or not, the curries I've had are mainly very weak and pretty tasteless.
Today I've had a wander around the rest of the town. Being a Sunday the streets are considerably quieter traffic wise, so its been nice and peaceful. There is also considerably less shopkeeper hassle here than in Jaisalmer. Most shopkeepers will try to greet you, but from within their shop as opposed to in the street. They're not hard to ignore. One thing that has caught my attention walking round is the plight of a pair of beggars who I've seen on numerous occassions. There is a blind old man constantly saying "namaste" with his hand out, and he is at all times accompanied by his cute and young grandaughter, who assists with the begging and guides him around. She is by his side at all times, which I find moving. I never give to beggars as it is wrong to encourage their actions (this is the advice given by all responsible travel agencies), but its hard to see what else this pairing could do. A blind man in India has no hope of ever finding work, and there is nothing in the way of government support for the disabled here. That said, I still haven't given them any money!
Tomorrow morning we have a horrendous wake up time in order to get to the train station in time for our 6.15am train to Pushkar. We will then spend 2 nights in Pushkar, which is one of the holiest Hindu cities in India. I'll hopefully update from there, by which time I should have more clue about when and how I'll be getting home. How ironic is it that in all my time in strike ridden countries such as Chile, Bolivia and Thailand, I've never been affected, and its my sole journey with a British company that looks like throwing a spanner in the works. Not happy.