11 February 2020
The Hindu religion dominates this part of India. Our guide, a young Hindu man, told us there are three main Hindu gods, but beneath them stretches a huge family tree of gods estimated to number about 33 million. I asked him if their names were all written down somewhere. He said no; in any case, no book could be big enough to list them all. Moreover, it is unlikely any one person knowns them all or even where to find them. I don’t know how he arrived at 33 million, but he was adamant that this was the current number. Apparently, it is written in Hindu texts.
Rajiv is 22 and is engaged to a girl he met by accident at a wedding. Normally, parents arrange marriage for their children who accept that they may never love their spouses. Our young man was an exception, although he still had to seek approval from both families. His courtship was mostly conducted by phone. They occasionally meet in secret where they talk, but no physical stuff. They will marry in two or three years when the groom’s bank account has grown sufficiently. Then they will go to live in his father’s house which already holds a battalion of relatives. He is studying to join the police force in the specialist tourists branch. Being a guide with good English should get him in.
The Queen’s Garden is the only park in Udaipur that charges admission. It used to be closed to all but the queen and her ladies in waiting – who would frolic about in the greenery. All the gardeners were women too – and still are – but rather than hoe they now form up in smiling quartets and charge for photographs. The gardens have two impressive fountains and the famous Viagra Tree of Udaipur, pictured.
Knowing the Indian penchant of testing machines beyond their use-by dates, we took a chance on the cable car that climbs a mountainette from where you get a second-to-none view of the city, lakes, palaces and houses. The tallest building stands out at 15stories; the rest max out at two or three. We looked down on the kings former Pleasure Palace sitting on an island in the remarkable hand dug lake – one of an interlocking system of five that flow in sequence. When the king felt a trifle randy, he would summon the HMAS Orgasm and go the island where a selection of ladies awaited his majesty’s pleasure.
After the cable car returned without falling into the ravine, it was time for us to go into town. With a straight face I asked our guide if the Old Fruit and Vegetable Market, which we intended to visit, sold old fruit and vegetables. “Oh no sir, it is all fresh,” he replied seriously. “Nothing old. Only the name of the market.” We joined the honking motorbikes and mini vans, brilliantly sareed women, road repairs, all mixed in with clothing, dust, spices, barrows of vivid vegetables, tiny lemons, mountains of chilli and everybody in what looked like a frenzy. Yet there is an order to all this. Somehow it works, underpinned by friendly good humour. This is where the locals shop, and they understand the chaos code.
The one item you will never see in an Indian food market is beef. It is illegal to sell it in India. The cow is sacred because it is a micro-receptacle of the Hindu gods, all 33 million of them. Our hotel (currently voted by Conde Nast as the best leisure hotel in the world), and whose menu goes on for many pages of delicious options, never mentions beef.
Hotel toaster report
Since the Leela is now voted a world 2019 best leisure hotel, I entered the breakfast dining room with high expectations of its toaster. It would surely be a bejewelled work of art topped by a silver elephant expelling perfect toast in record time from beneath its raised trunk. But bitter disappointment awaited me. There stood a battered Jaipur Juggernaut, its front scratched, and topped by a collapsed chef’s hat. Almost in tears I put in two slices and waited, but they failed to reappear. They had finished their journey stuck deep in the outward-bound tray slide, joining other slices that would never see the inside their disillusioned owners’ mouths. I had to use tongs to get my two slices out and they were barley warm. I spoke to a distraught toast captain who was going to resign if the manager didn’t make an urgent replacement. Derek Bedchamber will be horrified when he reads this and may need therapy.
We declared a rest day for our last at the Leela Palace, but our plan was short lived. The chef, who had taken special delight in cooking for Michelle, made her a couple of dishes yesterday that changed the course of our rest day. She awoke this morning complaining of severe stomach cramps and found it hard to walk. He pulse rate had gone wild too. She rose from bed and immediately brought forth an award winning, out of control, fire hydrant-worthy throw that covered the floor, the wall and me – as I sat at my computer. She had food poisoning. She finished the expulsion in the bathroom basin – which immediately clogged up. Being a qualified cat poo cleaner I tried to turn my skills to this situation but it was beyond me. We called housekeeping and a team of uniformed cleaners arrived continually whispering their sympathy, along with a plumber and a housekeeper who became mother and brought Michelle lemonade and other upchuck cures. The staff couldn’t have been more helpful as they went to work restoring Michelle and our room to former order.
Tomorrow, assuming Michelle continues her recovery, we’ll set out for Jaipur. If we stay here, I’ll have to have my hip replacements repossessed.