Udaipur India: When Akbar Met His Match

on Friday, 20 September 2013. Posted in India Travels

We arrived in Udaipur, Rajastan 2 days ago, and found our hotel, the Hotel Baba Palace, right across from the Jagdish Temple in the middle of town. What a lovely view we thought and so conveniently located.  We didn’t think that at 5am in the morning when the loudspeakers came on and the morning prayers pounded into our subconscious and then our consciousness as we lay there in the gloom.  Then this morning it was 3.30am as all the dogs in the city seemed to be underneath our window howling for about an hour.  And by 7am it is horns, people, shouting, cars, rickshaws and whatever else making as much noise as possible, all trying to be heard and seen in the maelstrom that is India.

Today is especially lively as hundreds of poor people – I presume they’re poor as they are begging for food outside the temple – are making a lot of noise and the police are trying to keep them in order. They look like they’ve come in from villages outside town and it must be a special occasion as people are giving them food and they are making such a racket.

Yesterday, I got so fed up giving people things - mostly money, it has to be said.  We hired a taxi and did a day trip to visit some sites outside town. We went to a beautiful temple - from the 7th century – which was in the middle of nowhere. It was made of marble and beautifully carved. There was some “erotic” sculptures, similar to those at Khajuraho, the most famous site of Indian erotic sculpture. The Mughal emperor Akbar came across this site and many others in the 15th century and was rather aghast and so attempted to destroy or deface it, but luckily some naughty scenes remain as do many other exquisite pieces of sculpture.

It was great to get out of town and take in some Indian countryside, albeit, a kind of scrubby semi-arid scenery. Then it was to Eklingi and a great temple which is still visited every week by the current Maharana of Udaipur, a dynastic lineage going back many hundreds of years, whose role after Indian Indepence in 1947 became more symbolic then holding any real power. However, their position in history has been very significant. (keep reading).

We went to this sweet little museum at Haldighati, a place famed for where Maharana Pratap in 1576, kicked major ass and beat famed Mughal warrior Akbar (him again), with help from local tribes people and other nobles in Rajastan.  Even though he was Hindu and Akbar was Muslim, there were Muslims and Hindus on either side but Pratap prevailed in many battles and prevented Akbar taking over the state of Mewar, now a province within Rajastan. This is one of the most important points in Indian history as it represented a successful struggle against a long line of Mughal emperors coming over from Afghanistan, with Akbar perhaps being the greatest. Apparently even Akbar shed a tear when he heard of the death of Maharana Pratap. Rajastan has always been famed for its warriors and the Mewar regiment of the Indian Army has a serious reputation as fearless soldiers. 

The museum was celebrating this history and even had a little audio/visual demonstration, with a life size model of Pratap and his horse, which was injured in the battle by an Elephant wielding a sword and who died after taking Pratap to safety. In the model the horse’s ears, tongue and front leg moved simultaneously. It was very ‘sweet’. The son of the owner of the museum talked to us and asked if we could help publicize the museum with the travel guides as few foreigners come here. However, on reading a brochure about the place, we saw that the President and Prime Minister of India had visited the place and so I’m not sure what else we can do.

Then it was on to the next stop, the Monsoon Palace, a wild and beautiful palace built 1100 feet above Udaipur and designed to be a summer palace and hunting lodge for the Maharana and his family.  However, after twelve years of building it, they realized they couldn’t get enough water up there and abandoned it. The Maharana used it to hunt tigers, which must have been still in the region in the late 1800’s. Apparently, George V, grandson of Queen Victoria hunted tigers in 1911, when he came to India and held a big court of all the Maharajas and Princes in India for a Durbar to meet the King. The Maharana of Mewar refused to attend, even though the King had a lot of respect for him and had sent him two horses two years before. How ungrateful is that?

Our final trip was a rather kitsch government run art and crafts center, which was meant to example local traditions, but in the end acted more as a way of getting foreigners to be hassled to buy stuff from local people selling saris, miniature paintings, jewellery and the like.  Even a group of local dancers and musicians asked for money after doing a desultory dance.

By that time, I had given enough money to all the guides we had met on the way and didn’t want to give any more to anybody. One thing about India is that if you have money, you are generally encouraged to give more of it away. It’s a strange law of nature here. They are very good at getting you to part with your money. The day before, we bought a couple of scarves from a person who I realized after was from Kashmir, and I noticed quite a lot of other “sellers” from this region of India (and Pakistan!). Kashmiris have always been famous business people and could sell you the shirt you’re already wearing. Well, this guy was like that. Why the hell I bought a scarf I don’t know. It’s only afterwards you realize you did something you didn’t really want to do.

Today, we did the obligatory tour of the City Palace, built on the side of the lake, which was fabulous, with many paintings about our man Maharana Pratap and other Maharanas over the centuries. This was followed by a boat trip out to the middle of the lake and the famed Jagmandir Palace, which is now a totally upscale hotel, costing over $500 a night, and a fantastic spar which we looked around.  Apparently Shah Jahan (builder of Taj Mahal) took refuge here when exiled by his dad, and it was said was inspired by the roof of one of the buildings here when it came time to build the Taj. It was great just to be there and take in the vista, such a scenic and serene place, such a contrast to the hustle, noise, dust and general mayhem of the main temple and surrounding small streets, choked with traffic, people and obligatory wandering cows.