Leaving the Ranakpur Jain Temple in our rear-view mirror, Uncle Krishana and I wended our way towards Udaipur, the final stop of my Rajasthani road trip. Famed for the City Palace, the second largest palace in the entire country, which looks out over the picturesque Lake Pichola, Udaipur is a Rajasthan “must”.
My visit did not go quite as planned.
As we neared the city, Uncle Krishana turned to me and mentioned that someone from his cousin’s family was getting married in Udaipur that evening.
Did I want to come?
Now, those of you who have been with me since the beginning of this journey may remember that my maxim for this trip was “Say yes to everything”.
“Yes. I’d love to.” I said.
Having arrived at my hotel, bemoaning the fact that I had nothing smarter, I quickly ironed a checked shirt and rendezvous-ed with Krishana to drive to the wedding location. As we drove, he gave me some background: the groom was a young man from a village to the north; it was an arranged marriage to a girl from Udaipur and the whole village was being bused in for the ceremony.
We arrived at a hotel that had been reserved in its entirety for the groom’s contingent. As we pulled in, so did a double decker bus and people poured out, dusty and tired from the long journey. 45 minutes later, some of the most dapper, natty dressers I have ever seen emerged from their hotel room chrysalises – the transformation was incredible!
During this metamorphosis, I was introduced to a somewhat nervous (nerves on your wedding day are understandable but now imagine you barely know your bride-to-be!) and very serious young man of 22, resplendent in traditional Rajasthani wedding garb.
We made the short trip to the wedding venue by car, however, being the man of the moment, the groom took a more exclusive means of transport….
Needing something slightly more manageable for the traditional ride to where the bride and her family were awaiting him, after a brief ceremony I didn’t quite understand but where sweets and cigarettes were passed around, the groom mounted a white horse and rode off to meet his destiny.
Whilst our hero is absent, I shall set the scene for the reception (the marriage itself is not a public part of the festivities). Uncle Krishana had explained to me earlier in the day that a parent has two major responsibilities to their children: a) buying/building them a home b) giving them a memorable wedding. This was certainly memorable.
Past the car that the bride’s parents had gifted to the groom as part of the dowry lay a tented entrance which opened out onto a vast field, split into three main tented areas (one for men who wanted to drink, one for those than didn’t and a separate tent for women). In total, the guests numbered close to 600! A band on stage in the “drinking tent” accompanied traditional dancers; endless platters of food were circulated by smart waiters and beer and whisky flowed liberally.
When the revellers approved of the music or dancing they would take a rupee note (or notes) and circle it above a performers head for luck before dropping it for them to collect. An hour or two into the celebrations, a performer came down from the stage, grabbed me by the arm and pulled me up onto the stage. Alcohol had loosened the bonds that keep me from dancing when sober and I proceeded to go “full Bollywood”. Rupee notes started to pour down on me, much to the delight of the performers, who pocketed them. The upshot of this was that, whenever there was a lull in action and the performers wanted the audience to “make it rain” I was dragged back on stage as the novelty act. I began to quite enjoy it and soon others were following suit.
And then later in the evening…..
I collapsed onto my hotel bed at some ungodly hour in the early morning, so only really noticed the beauty of my accommodation, Rang Niwas Palace, upon waking and wandering onto the verandah.
It is well known that time and tide wait for no man. This is also true of city guides so, with a slightly fuzzy head and 40%-proof breath I took to the streets of Udaipur with Bhupendra, my Udaipur guide.
Taking advantage of calmer morning traffic, we first visited the Saheliyon-ki-Bari – The Garden of the Maids of Honour. The gentle scents of the winter blooms and the crisp yet delicate morning air quickly dispelled the mists within my head and across the verdant lawns, revealing a tapestry of colour and contrast.
From leaves and petals to bricks and mortar, we left the gardens behind and sought out the City Palace, not that it took much effort to find. The gigantic, mainly marble, construction took 400 years to complete and takes a central position in the city. Even through stained-glass windows it affords unparalleled views of Udaipur.
Looking inside from out proved just as absorbing as looking outside from in.
The one remaining part of my tour (I had agreed with Uncle Krishana to curtail it somewhat so that we could return for lunch on day two of the wedding) was a boat ride on Lake Pichola. I strolled down to the quay past some elephants who were clearly irritated by the fact that their rear halves had got stuck in cement.
Once aboard, I took the obligatory selfie then settled back in my seat as we pootled (some boats scud, others careen, still more chug; this one pootled) along the shoreline, admiring the facades of the lakeside properties, some old and dilapidated, others flashy and newly-renovated.
Presumably so that the more prodigal amongst us could spend a small fortune on a cappuccino, we moored briefly at the Leela Palace Hotel. Whilst I didn’t spend money on coffee I did spend time on the views.
Back on dry land, I dashed back to my hotel to don my only other shirt and took a tuc-tuc to join Uncle Krishana at the wedding. Although this time it was lunch instead of dinner, the whisky was still flowing. After posing, slightly bemusedly, for a host of selfies with other guests, I was seated at a table with the village elders, and briefly became one of them:
As the newly-weds sped off into the distance and, after a quick game of cricket, I bid farewell to the younger villagers on their bus then had to take my leave of Uncle Krishana. In a few short days he had gone from stranger to friend and had, without doubt, made my time in Rajasthan more special and memorable.