Day 343 of 400: City Palace of Udaipur – India
After breakfast on the rooftop of our hotel, we got in the cab with the driver who had brought us from the airport yesterday, he had set rates which seemed legitimate. We first stopped at a small garden which had a couple old fountains and courtyards to walk through. On our way out, a vendor sold us a memory card for our camera which ended up being a huge deal in comparison to the prices we pay in the US.
Our next stop was the City Palace of Udaipur. The driver drove through the cobblestone streets of the main village pointing out the various lakes which this city is known for and parked very near the main gate entrance. The area was very busy…tons of little shops with all kinds of crafts and people negotiating prices. There were many tuk-tuks whizzing back and forth in the small streets and of course cows walking around…not a big fan of the poop piles laying in the street where we walk!
As we were buying our tickets to tour the palace, we were approached by a local who spoke very good English, he wanted us to pay him to give us a personal tour. Giff really didn’t want to because many times the self-named guides are not so great…and also hard to understand, but this guy’s English was very clear and he seemed genuine. We decided to give him a chance…it was a cheap price and we will learn more from a local.
As we walked up the main gate entrance, we noticed there were three separate walkways which led into the main courtyard, all big enough to fit an elephant which is what they used in war back then. The guide immediately pointed to an area to the right where they use to have elephant tug of wars for entertainment, as well as where the elephants were kept. He showed the thick metal hooks in the ground where they were chained. The City Palace complex is made up of 11 palaces created by various rulers over the years but all in similar styles. They are made of granite and marble and consist of European, Chinese and Medieval architecture. There are multiple courtyards, pavilions, terraces, rooms, gardens etc all with their own beautiful details such as mirror/tile work, unique paintings, antique furniture, porcelain and crystal figures, the well-known and popular miniature art and views of the entire city with its mountains and lakes surrounding the palace.
We took our time with the guide who explained all kinds of things we would not have known if we were on our own. The hallways and entrances to rooms were narrow and short not because the people were short but actually strategically designed so if the enemy got through the gates…they could not come running into the rooms. Also, people had to bow their heads coming into the King’s room…these short entrances made one duck their head.
There was also lattice-work like we had seen in other palaces for the women to be able to watch what was going on without being seen, this palace had a women’s chamber as well. It was very interesting to listen to the stories as the tour guide would tell us about the paintings on the walls. He also pointed out the large sun-god statue made of gold which they prayed to daily.
We were very happy we decided to pay for the guided tour…the self-guided tours are informative but you can’t ask questions the way you can with a local. It was also nice to have him take some pictures of us throughout the complex. As we were finishing up…he said we should also stop by the shops inside the palace walls…it only had a few and those few had to be certified by the government to sell their goods. We agreed to check it out so first started with the scarves vendor. He had us sit down and gave us a cup of hot chai to sip on as he taught us about pashmina scarves and how they are made. He had videos showing the local people making them by hand and explained how the dyes are all natural. He even had a picture of the actual goat where the material comes from. These goats live in extremely brutal weather up in the mountains and therefore have a very special coat to keep them warm. As they get rid of that coat…they leave balls of their fur on the thorny bushes which are then collected and turned into clothing. There are only a certain amount of these goats and a certain amount of locals who know how to turn those strands of hair into a beautiful scarf which takes months to complete. The prices can therefore be crazy…but are top quality. He had us feel various scarves/shawls noting which ones had a mix of materials making them cheaper than the 100% pashmina wool. He spent a lot of time with us and taught us a lot, but we didn’t buy from him because we knew his prices were probably much higher being within the palace walls for tourists.
The next vendor had some tailor-made clothing which we walked right past…we had already done that in Vietnam. The last vendor had all kinds of their famous miniature paintings. One of the artists was there making one as we watched. These paintings are very unique to India and specifically Udaipur, a tradition dating back to 6-7 century AD. The best work has the most detail…it takes the longest to create, every detail is painted…feathers on a bird, buttons on a shirt etc. The paintings are tiny and the paintbrush used has sometimes only a single hair from a squirrels tail. The real ones use all natural colors to paint…minerals, vegetables, precious stones, pure gold and silver. There are many new “artists” creating these look-alike pieces…but one can easily tell a good piece from a fake. A magnifying glass needs to be used for the really good ones to see each and every detail clearly. The scenes painted are traditionally from Rajput or Mughal history and legends. We looked at a few pieces and asked if we gave them a picture of ourselves with a specific background could they paint it into a miniature painting. They said yes and we exchanged email addresses for a possible future sale. Giff and I were thinking one of the Machu Picchu pictures would be really cool in this miniature art form.
We paid our tour guide and thanked him for his time. We walked back outside of the Palace Gate and found ourselves in the middle of town. We spent the rest of the afternoon looking in little shops as we bartered for better prices and admired some of the old architecture amongst the chaos. We walked up the steps of one of the temples taking pictures and peeking in as much as we could without having to take our shoes off to go inside. It was chilly outside and many people were wearing their locally made shawls over their head. As we were walking, we were approached by someone who chatted with us for a bit and then asked us to follow him to his school of art where both “master” artists and students had their work on display. We hesitatingly agreed and followed him down a street and into a small alley where a big sign read, “School of Art”. We walked up the steps and into a small room where several learning students were sitting on the floor painting with natural colors. The guy showed us how the paints were made and had us peer over the shoulders of these artists to see what they were creating. He then walked us into a tiny room full of miniature paintings…they seemed pricey and ranged in quality. Some had a lot of details and others were really just paintings. We purchased a small piece highlighted with real silver and had three animals on it symbolizing love, strength and luck.
The guy who had brought us into the art school also asked us to follow him to a pashmina shop for “real” pashmina…we told him we needed to get going but would stop in for a couple of minutes (are we suckers or what?). The shop was small and full to the ceiling with scarves/shawls of all sorts. The shop owner talked with us a bit about the differences and pulled out some of their 100% pashmina…their top quality. The scarves were delicate but super warm and extremely soft. We said we needed to think about it but that we would be in town for a few days…these were not your typical shawl…they were expensive even in US terms.
We left the shop and walked back to find our driver who was patiently waiting for us. We got in the car and he pointed to a shop which he said was his friend and had the “real” miniature paintings in Udaipur. We had been shopping and were ready to find some food but since the driver waited all day for us…decided it couldn’t hurt to go look. The driver seemed genuine and really wasn’t pushing us as much as giving us an insider tip. We got back out of the car and walked into the shop packed with paintings. There were various levels of quality and as we looked around…the owner saw that we really were only interested in the good stuff. He went into a special drawer, turned on a light and got out a huge magnifying glass. We sat down and he showed us a couple really amazing pieces…one was smaller than the other but both had so much detail…the magnifying glass really brought the painting to life, we hadn’t seen anything like this Both pieces were made by an old-school artist who is older now no longer making these pieces as it takes a lot of focus and a lot of time. These use to be made on ivory but since ivory is now illegal, they use a mix of bone and plastic to create a hard smooth texture. Giff and I were both impressed by this piece and could tell the shop owner got really excited to share it with us…then we started to talk price. Giff is the pro-negotiator and I sat back and watched him at work…he got him to go down about 50% and then the owner said no more…he was willing to let us go. We decided to do it, it will be a really cool genuine piece to have in our home. We paid him, he carefully wrapped it up and we were on our way.
We had a long day and were happy to get back to our palace hotel. We decided to order room service while we watched TV to unwind. We ate until we were way too full…the food in India is really flavorful and delicious!