Mumbai by Jet

Unfeasibly early start once again. The flight was due to leave Udaipur Airport at 8.20am, so we rose at 5.30am, our taxi arrived at 6.30 and we were there in plenty of time.

The security at the airport was the most thorough I’ve ever encountered, with two searches of hand luggage and a patting-down search, as well as x-raying the checked-in luggage. I had to demonstrate my mini alarm clock before I was allowed through.

The airport, being as far as I could tell domestic only, didn’t have much in the way of shops or other distractions so we watched the armed police wandering about while we waited.

When the plane was ready we walked over to board it (across the tarmac taxi-way and up the stairs).

The flight was pretty uneventful, just over an hour with breakfast of something unidentifiable.

Our landing in Mumbai was delayed by 20 mins due to congestion but we quickly reclaimed our baggage and headed outside.

The guidebooks said there was a taxi rank outside but we were immediately swamped by taxi drivers. We picked one who seemed to be at the front of the queue and he agreed to do the journey “on the meter”.

After a while, the driver asked us again where we were going and then didn’t seem to know where our destination guesthouse was. As we got down to the Colaba area he stopped to ask the way and after a few wrong turns we arrived at Bentley’s. The meter reading was Rs374, so we were a little taken aback when the driver asked for Rs650 saying that the extra was for air-conditioning. We argued for a while and we eventually paid him Rs550 just to see the back of him.

As we enetered Bentley’s we passed some workmen obviously carrying out electrical repairs. We were shown to our room (no.27) which was in a different block. The room was a bit grim. Small windows looking onto the kitchens of a neighbouring block, tiny shower/toilet room where the shower pointed directly at the toilet.
There a TV, though it had a habit of turning itself off at random intervals, about every 3-4 minutes. Not ideal but survivable.

We watched TV for a couple of hours and then went out for a stroll in Colaba. We passed all kinds of shops and streetside stalls selling a multitude of things including a good deal of touristy tat before reaching Leopold’s, one of the “traveller” hangouts. True to its reputation it was busy with lots of Westerners, though there were also plenty of young Indians in the drinking Kingfisher beer and eating fries.

We had a few beers and a bowl or two of free nuts, before leaving, heading back in the direction of the guesthouse. Another bit of a rest and it was evening and time to eat. The guidebooks recommended a Chinese place called Ling’s Pavillion, which was just round the corner from Leopold’s, so that was where we decided to go.

Walking along the dark streets of Mumbai was a little intimidating and we passed several scurrying rats, the size of cats. On reaching our destination, we were told that there was a 15-20 minute wait for tables, but we decided to wait. After only 4 or 5 minutes a table was ready, so we took our seats at a first floor table overlooking the ground floor with its stream full of fish.

We had managed to stick to vegetarian food at virtually every place we’d eaten (with the exception of Mahansar) but the menu here was sadly lacking in veg options. We selected the steamed veg wontons and Buddah’s Delight (mixed stir fry veg) along with another veg dish, the name of which escapes me. I had selected a peanut-based dish but the waiter said it wasn’t good (!).

Frankly I thought the food was very disappointing, the veg was mostly bland and tasteless and we both wished we’d gone for the non-veg options instead.

The bill came to Rs880, about 11 quid, the most we had paid for a meal in India, as far as I can remember.

Returning to the hotel, we passed many more rats, and hundreds of people sleeping on the pavements so that we had to walk in the road to avoid disturbing them.

We made it back to Bentley’s, and finding that the lift was locked walked up the stairs to our room.

Flicking the light on we were greeted by the sight of several cockroaches scurrying for cover. More were on the walls, on the wardrobe and in the bathroom. After a while it became clear that Vic was not going to be able to sleep in the room, so we had to consider alternatives.

We started calling round some other hotels and finally found one that answered the phone. By this time it was 2am and we both needed sleep. The hotel was th Taj President, part of the Taj Business Hotels group and well outside the price range we had budgetted for. We decided to go for it anyway, as we were too tired to find anywhere else. The hotel agreed to send us a taxi so we quickly packed our stuff back up.

Making our way out of the room we passed the room boy asleep in the corridor outside the room. We walked down the stairs and across the road to the reception area where we paid our bill for the night. No one asked why we were leaving a day earlier than planned, or why we were leaving at 2.15am.

The taxi from the Taj President turned up and whisked us away to the luxury of the hotel.

This was a different class (and four times the price of Bentley’s), the room was air-conditioned, had a bath and shower, mini-bar; in fact everything you would expect in a good business hotel any where. By UK standards it was a bargain at 60 quid a night, but that was more than 3 times our total budget for each day, a figure we had remained close to ( though never quite achieving) throught the trip to date.

We slept well that night, not waking until well after 9am.

Last Day in Udaipur

We had a few last things to sort out today, such as picking up my shirts and repacking the bags.

We popped down to the tailor after lunch and picked up the shirts. One had some flaws in the fabric so I got bit knocked off the price.

On the way back up the hill, Vic popped into another tailor and arranged to have a couple more lightweight tops made (Rs200 each).

Then we dropped in to the “head office” of the One Stop Shop and checked out their internet machines. They’re all Windows XP so had drivers for my card reader. You’ll see that I’ve managed to upload all my blog entries to date, which is a relief as I was more than a week behind.

After this we’ll go back and pack (and, no doubt, re-pack).

More Shopping

Up early to catch breakfast before it got too hot on the roof terrace, and then down to the “one stop shop” to check for emails from the hotel in Mumbai and to sort out some banking. The hotel didn’t have any rooms available so we had to try to find somewhere else. We also needed a printout of the confirmation of our sleeper train to Goa. Printing involved saving the web page to a floppy disk and then the shop owner running up the hill to the “head office” to print it out! Unfortunately even this mechasim wasn’t working as he couldn’t get the file to save to the floppy, so we’d have to come back later for our printout.

We returned to the hotel and succeeded in booking a hotel for Mumbai and one for the first few days in Goa.

In the afternoon we popped out for a snack of veg and paneer pakoras before heading back to the tailor to pick up our clothes.

On the way we called in at a jewellers where Vic replenished her jewellery stocks (two pairs earrings, necklace, two bracelets, and a ring ).

The clothes were all ready and very well made. I was persuaded to get a couple more shirts made but resisted the pressure to get some trousers. There was going to be enough luggage pruning going on as it was…

City Palace and Shopping

Lazing about for the morning and then off on foot to the City Palace, to be greeted by hordes of school kids leaving the adjoining school. Dodging the countless offers of guides we made our way inside.

The palace is made up of several smaller palaces built over the last 500 years, and is still the home to the current (76th) Maharana of Udaipur. The building is a maze of stairs and doorways, designer to cnfuse any attempted invasion and also pretty successfull with visiting tourists.

Some of the rooms are extensively mirrored, and lit by coloured glass windows creating a wonderland-like effect.

It was nice to see that extensive refurbishment had been carried out on the palace and that the work was continuing with some paintings being restored in one of the courtyards.

After visiting the Palace we decided to take a look around some of the shops nearby. We ended up at Monsoon Collection on Bhattyani Chohatta, which will make made-to-measure clothes as well as sell ready-made clothes along with bed covers and wall hangings. Vic arranged for two pairs of trousers and two tops to be made and I was persuaded to go for a made-to-measure linen shirt (Rs350, about 4 pounds for the shirt). Following all that we headed back to the hotel to try their home-made vegetarian thali for dinner. After very nice meal we retired to our room.

The Lake Palace at Udaipur

Another fairly quiet day. We started with a fruitless search for one of the Rough Guide’s recommended eateries, and then walked over to the Lake Palace hotel to see if we could get in for a drink. Walking past the camels and ponies waiting outside, we walked up the hotel steps and into the bar. The hotel seemed to be populated by groups of Westerners on package tours and charged the sort of prices you would expect (Rs300 for a Corona beer).

After that we made our way to another lakeside eaterie, the Ambrai Restaurant. All the lakeside tables were reserved so we selected a table under a tree a little way back. We ordered a beer from the disinterested waiters and sat back to enjoy the atmosphere. Sadly, the atmosphere consisted of the smell of the staff toilets which wafted over us, and several insects and spiders which dropped onto us. We quickly finished our beers, paid and left.

Just close to the hotel is a little “one stop shop” with internet access. We popped in there to sort out a flight to Mumbai for Saturday, and a train to Goa on Monday. We booked the train on the web, and the guy in the shop sorted us out with plane tickets as well as organising a taxi to take us to the airport. We also emailed a hotel in Mumbai to see if they would have a room available.

New Room

We moved to a more expensive room with a large cushion bed next to a large lake-view window as well as a proper double bed (Most places seem to just push two singles together).

Monday was the first day that I started to feel better, with my stomach calming down and the cough which had developed from my sore throat was finally in abeyance.

We didn’t venture out very far and just took it easy to aid my recovery.

Ranakpur and Udaipur

The journey South to Udaipur was likely to take 4-5 hours so we set off at around 10am. After a few hours the landscape changed from the flat, dry terrain we had become used to, to a distinctly hilly and green one. with the road becoming ever more winding Shortly after this change, we arrived at the Jain temple complex at Ranakpur where we stopped for a visit.

The Jain religion seems to have been a precursor to Hinduism. The sun was so strong that the white marble steps at the entrance to the temple were almost unbearably hot on our bare feet after taking off our shoes to enter the temple. We were greeted by the high priest who daubed a yellow mark on our foreheads in exchange for a donation. The temples were beautifully carved from white stone, with each of the 1,114 pillars having unique carvings. The idols in the temple all have mother of pearl eyes, making them shine out from their dark, recessed alcoves.

The car park was also the haunt of some white-furred and black-faced langur monkeys, who seemed to delight on sitting with the luggage on top of jeeps and vans with their long tails hanging down over the side.

Another hour or so saw us reach the outskirts of Udaipur. After stopping to get directions to Lal Ghat a couple of times we reached our hotel, the Kankarwa Haveli which is right by the shoreline of the lake.

Udaipur is famous for the white palace in the middle of Lake Pichola, which was also used as the backdrop in the James Bond film “Octopussy” (not seen it myself). Due to a rather dry year, the water level of the lake is very low, so that the Lake Palace is no longer in the middle of the lake; it now sits on the shore and is reachable by foot.

The hotel is another excellent one. Our first night was spent in one of the cheaper rooms, which was quite frankly excellent value for money.

There’s a terrace on top of the hotel with great views of the lake, Lake Palace (now a Taj Group Hotel), and the City Palace which towers over the city. Further away you can also see the Monsoon Palace at the top of a nearby hill, which was abandoned on completion when the builders realised it wasn’t possible to get a water supply to it, and what appears at first to be another vast palace but which turns out to be the two Oberoi hotels which were recently built.

Jodhpur Fort and Palace

A pleasant breakfast preceded our 10am departure for the Meherangarh Fort which commands a formidable position atop a hill to one side of Jodhpur. This was the traditional home of the Maharajas until the Umaid Bhawan Palace was built in the 20th century.

Entering the palace, our entry fee included an audio tour held on MP3 players which could be carried around the next. These gave a very clear and atmospheric description of the various parts of the fort and the exhibits held within. The full tour takes well over an hour and takes in some spectacular views over the blue-painted city of Jodhpur.

Our next stop was the aforementioned Umaid Bhawan Palace, much f which is now used as a luxury hotel, though it is also still home to the Maharaja.

We entered the hotel and were directed to the “coffee shop”, actually a terrace at the back of the hotel looking over the grounds with views towards the fort on the otger side of town. There is a Rs330 per person cover charge which is offsetagainst anypurchases made. The Palace was certainly very grand (prices to stay there range from $200-$750 per night) and by some careful eavesdropping of conversations at other tables, it became apparent that a film crew were currently staying there. Chatting with a waiter later on revealed that the film starred Omar Sharrif and was titled something along the lines of “One Night with a King” or maybe “King For One Night”.

We had a small lunch and a couple of drinks (the Palace Colada was particularly good) and Vic wandered the grounds a little taking photos.

We then returned to the hotel for an afternoon and evening of relaxation.