Remember that sugarcane drink? Yes, it was a bad decision. We had been so very thirsty, and yet the smell of it foretold our current dilemma. We were finding that after we ate anything, our stomachs would rumble, and we had best find a toilet. It wasn’t too drastic yet, but we decided that we should probably find a doctor. We went in search of a small clinic nearby that a local person we had met suggested.
Walking through the maze of back streets in search of the suggested clinic was a different view of the city. Children playing between the cars and tuk-tuks that lined the narrow passages stopped to watch the strangers who had stumbled into their neighborhood. Where was this clinic? Was this the right street?
We arrived at the address but were concerned that there was no sign that this was a clinic. It appeared to be someone’s home. We knocked on the door. A middle-aged woman dressed in a sari answered.
“Hello. We are looking for a clinic, and someone gave us this address,” we said.
“Yes, yes. Come in and have a seat. The doctor will see you shortly,” she said, motioning us to enter.
The Home Clinic
The room was as you could imagine a home clinic waiting area would appear. Hospital-style light green walls, bench-style seating, a small table with a couple of medical magazines, a couple of plants, and a small, colorful shrine to Lakshmi in one corner. Lakshmi is the Hindu goddess of wealth, health, and fertility. As is typical in any clinic in the world, we thumbed through the magazines and waited to be called in to see the doctor.
Waiting for the doctor always seemed to take a long time, but it was actually only 10 minutes or so before he called us in. Ushering us into the examination room, we sat down and were plied with the regular questions. After we recounted our story of being terribly thirsty, knowing better, yet drinking the foul concoction anyway, he looked at us like the idiots we were. The doctor gave us some pills, telling us to be more careful and to drink Coca-Cola if we could not find bottled water.
We stayed a couple of more days to allow our stomachs some time to be dependable for travel. The medicine helped, but I wouldn’t say it cured us. Although the Indian food was not my favorite, I didn’t mind it so much. On the other hand, Donna discovered it troublesome for her system. She realized mashed potatoes and chicken in small amounts struck a balance with whatever was going on in her stomach.
“The name’s Bond, James Bond”
According to a Travel and Leisure magazine survey, Udaipur, India, is the 2nd most beautiful city in the world. Mexico’s Oaxaca City ranks 1st place in the survey. Famous for its lakes, beautiful palaces, mountains, and tiger gardens, Udaipur does live up to this claim. It is also famous due to being featured in the 1983 James Bond movie, “Octopussy.”
Originally called “Jagniwas,” the Lake Palace served as a summer palace for Maharana Jagat Singh II, the 62nd successor to the royal dynasty of Mewar. We had discovered that the Lake Palace was now a hotel and thought that it would be a great place to stay. Of course, it was way out of our price range, but we could still reserve a tour for later.
Donna found a nice room where we could still have a view of the Lake Palace in the distance. It was very clean, white stucco, and as basic as our budget. We had to climb several flights of stairs to get to it. There was a writing desk and chair, and the bed was just big enough for the two of us. The toilet was small but certainly took care of our needs.
We explored Udaipur, taking in the city’s architecture and venturing into the local markets. Donna found a nice little caf
e near our hotel. Situated in the shade of a large tree by the lake, it soon became one of our favorite places to escape from the heat of the day.
The Magic of Wishes
As you may be aware, wishes are powerful and are not to be taken lightly. They are basically magic spells. We find that many of our wishes are fulfilled, but one must be very careful about what is wished. The wording of a wish is most important. Sometimes, one wish can confuse or cancel out a previous wish, leaving a wish seemingly unfulfilled. The other thing to keep in mind is the universal powers that be have a sense of humor.
I made a wish at the beginning of our India journeys to have the opportunity to play a little sitar. By ‘little’ I, of course, didn’t mean that literally. I meant to ‘play some sitar,’ but surprisingly, the opportunity never presented itself.
After a long day of exploration, we were walking back to our room when Donna stopped in her tracks, pointing at a small shop window. Behind the dirty glass hung a little sitar. It was the smallest sitar we had seen before or since, at about two feet in length.
We entered the shop and enquired about it. It was a fully functional sitar with all the resonant strings. The price was reasonable, and within our meager budget, so we bought it. I had a lot of fun playing the little sitar and making up improvisational ragas and rock songs.
But You Are Rich!
Like everywhere in India, Udaipur has lovely temples, and like everywhere in India, there are beggars. At the beginning of our trip, we were warned while on Om Beach, “Never give to a beggar. No baksheesh. It will brand you as a sign for all beggars.” I don’t remember exactly what temple we were at, simply enjoying the art and architecture when a man came to us and demanded money. Normally, beggars manage a bit of humility. This guy just demanded it. Donna turned to him, saying, “No baksheesh. We don’t have money for you.”
“But you are rich!” he countered.
“No, we aren’t!” she exclaimed.
“Yes, you are! You are Americans, and all Americans are rich!”
Donna decided to reason with the man, “Are all Indians poor?”
“Well, no.” He conceded.
“Then, by that logic, all Americans are not rich.” Donna said.
“But you are! You have traveled to be here,” he whined.
“Yes, but you have no idea how very little money we have! One night in the Lake Palace is more than all the money we have! We came here with so little money, I’m not sure if we will have enough to leave!”
“But you are rich!” he continued whining.
Realizing that he could not grasp the concept, we said, “Sorry, no baksheesh,” and turned to leave. He followed behind us for a bit but soon gave up. Perhaps he found another tourist.
We went shopping for some presents to send back to the family. Two beautifully decorated shoulder bags were a particularly good find. We also purchased some patches of hand-woven material with outstanding Rajasthani applique designs. For some unknown reason, I bought three primitive arrows with terribly sharp heads.
It had been a nice day out. We were jabbering away, talking about India, when I got a stupid idea that seemed funny to me at the time. I held the arrows up to my side and jokingly played the scene from a cowboy movie as if I had been shot with the arrows. “Indians!” I called out to Donna. This was when I made a misstep and stumbled. The very sharp arrows poked right through my shirt, lightly stabbing me in the side! Ouch!
Donna turned to look at me and said, “Well, that was dumb.” She then turned back to the stairs and kept climbing. The wound was not too nasty and certainly not as bad as it could have been. When we returned to the room, we doctored my side. Donna then had me remove the arrowheads from the shafts and I wrapped them in some newspaper. I don’t think I ever saw them again.
The Tour of the Lake Palace
We had reserved tickets to take a boat ride out to the Lake Palace for about five dollars each. This was more than the price of our room, but well worth it. Fortunately, entry to visit the Palace was free. We departed the jetty, leaving the slightest ripples behind us as we slowly moved toward the palace across the calm, glassy lake. Due to the reflection in the water, the palace seemed to float like a majestic white cloud in the sky.
As we approached, we could see two guards with embroidered umbrellas waiting for the arrival of the boat. Another guard tied up the boat as we docked. We were welcomed with a scattering of rose petals, which made us feel like royalty as we entered the palace grounds.
To say the rooms were lavish would be an understatement. Intricately carved wooden furniture and luxurious silk fabrics adorned the interiors of this stunning heritage palace-turned-hotel. Taj Lake Palace has 65 rooms and about 18 grand suites, with every room offering a lake or garden view. Its courtyards are lined with columns, pillared terraces, fountains, and gardens. Of course, butler service is offered in every room.
There are also two exclusive restaurants and a premium bar on the hotel premises. Unfortunately, we could not have afforded anything on the menu. As we toured the palace, we drank in the extravagance of the centuries-old facility. No wonder this palace was chosen to be the lair of Octopussy. Its history is quite something.
Lake Palace History
The Lake Palace was built out of white marble by Jagat Singh between 1743 and 1746 on the four-acre island of Jag Niwas in Lake Pichola. He felt that the City Palace was too public to invite the beautiful young ladies of Udaipur with decadent, moonlit picnics. Therefore, a palace in the center of Lake Pichola would offer a lot more privacy.
During the famous Indian Sepoy Mutiny in 1857, several European families fled from Nimach (262 km to the North) and used the island as an asylum Maharana Swaroop Singh offered them. To protect his guests, the Rana destroyed all the town’s boats so that the rebels could not reach the island. By the latter half of the 19th century, time and weather took their toll on the extraordinary water palaces of Udaipur. French writer Pierre Loti described Jag Niwas as “slowly moldering in the damp emanations of the lake.”
By the 1950s, the palace was described as “totally deserted, the stillness broken only by the humming of clouds of mosquitoes.” Finally, in the 1960s, Bhagwat Singh decided to convert the Jag Niwas Palace into Udaipur’s first luxury hotel. Didi Contractor, an American artist, became a design consultant for this hotel project. By the 1970s, it got a five-star rating.
Back to Reality
The time came to leave the luxury of the Lake Palace and return to our plain little room at the top of the stairs of the hotel. We unceremoniously boarded the boat and were shuttled back to the jetty. We walked to our favorite little caf
e and sat at the table situated in the shade of a large tree by the lake. Donna ordered grilled chicken and mashed potatoes. I had the same. Life was good.