Published in Sunday Herald Travel, Deccan Herald on November 25, 2012
A typical Rajasthani home is split into several levels, each having a function of its own or serving different members of the family. The mezzanine is often offered to the elderly as these keep warm in winter and cool in summer. The steps are narrow and sturdy, with narrow close walls, cosy and utilitarian, serving the purpose excellently. Along the way are strategically placed tiny windows (called jharokha), through which the ladies of the house can conveniently look down on to the street below. The larger ones with seating facilities are the gokharas.
The facade has the prettiest little main window, with a carved floral design, with two miniature windows on either side. The roofs have wooden rustic beams fitted and filled in with smaller pieces of wood that lend strength to the structure and help keep the interiors cool. The levels are so arranged with a central opening that you can look down into the lowest level, the courtyard, which makes both light and ventilation abundant and communication surprisingly easy!
The old city of Udaipur is utterly charming and begs to be explored. Replete with centuries-old buildings, the pathways wind up and down gradients lined with enticing curio shops and shops selling local handicrafts, leather goods, silver trinkets and the like, which do brisk business.
The hot kachoris of the old city of Udaipur are to be tasted to be believed. The kadai full of bubbling oil with the golden crisp kachoris are a sight to gladden even the most cynical of eaters. There is an ever-present reverent crowd waiting (and drooling in anticipation) for the kachoris to be swept out, briskly punched in the centre, and filled with syrupy tamarind and green chutney.
It is not merely a gastronomical delight but a holy passage of the morning. You pay Lord Jaggannath Rai a visit and attain nirvana at his feet via the kachoris. All distinctions of community, creed, language and region are swept aside unceremoniously in this single-minded quest of the palate.
At the City Palace, I come face to face with Rana Pratap Singh. In the museum are his chainmail, several paintings that speak of the incidents in his life, his legendary valour and his pride for Mewar, his garnering of Bhil warriors after his defeat at the hands of Akbar’s forces in the First Battle of Haldighati and the subsequent defeating of Akbar’s forces led by Raja Amber at the Second Battle of Haldighati. The Kingdom of Mewar has the glory of having never bowed down to any foreign power. As a mark of this honour, all temples, towers and domes of the kingdom carried the swarnakalash.
Maharana Pratap ruled Mewar from 1568-97, refusing to accept Akbar as his ruler. As I move through halls and courtyards with mirrored ceilings and around floral pillars, I see the queen float by in her regal attire and the powerful stride of the king and the ring of his voice, as the courtiers bow deep in respect and awe. I stand there entranced as the palace transforms slowly…the floral patterns take on brilliant hues, the mirror work grows lustrous and full, the arches take on a creamier sheen.
The curtains shimmering with mirror work and tassles sway gently in the breeze…faint strains of music float in the air to the sweet scent of kewra and chameli. Muted sounds of anklets fall in rhythm as the maids go about the palace looking to the comfort of their royal masters.
I am jerked back to reality as a family passes by in loud chatter and am reminded yet again that there is a certain sanctity that is attached to the past, even more so when it is places such as these where our glorious history has been handed down to us for our safe keeping and reverent admiration and that a certain quietness of demeanour is vital.