Wednesday, February 21, 2007

India - Next Stop: Udaipur

Wednesday morning arrived as expected, but we just weren't ready for it. We woke up a bit later than we had planned and ended up rushing to get ready to leave. We had a nice brunch with Sudhir and Aruna, covering varied topics from checking with the Hyatt about cancelling one night’s stay through chai recipes.

Sudhir personally dropped us off at the airport on Wednesday, check-in, and checking our bags all went smoothly. The domestic airport itself was not terribly impressive – it was fairly small, with unfortunate smelling restrooms and a complete lack of anything grand (rather odd for the Capital); however, it was reasonably smoothly run (not exactly efficient, but still adequate).

Slight digression:
It is always interesting to see how men and women are still treated quite differently in many respects. An excellent example is that security checkpoints (including tourist sites as well as airports) always have two separate lines for the genders. The women’s area is always segregated and covered by a screen, whereas the men are left out in the open.

The flight departed a little late, but this was also not an issue since we were probably no more than 30 minutes behind schedule.

The real issue arose upon our arrival in Udaipur. My luggage came through with a chewed up handle, which is fine since I brought along a relatively old suitcase. Melanie’s suitcase, which is a very young-looking 2.5 years old, came through with one of the wheels nearly ripped clean off the bottom-side of the luggage. When we complained about this, the young lady behind the counter offered me two options (1) let them fix it, although it would take more time than we had planned to spend in Udaipur or (2) accept their compensation of 300 Rupees, which was more than enough to get the bag fixed myself in Udaipur. I gently but firmly disagreed with this for the better part of 20 minutes before I finally insisted that they put me in touch with their manager.

He came out quite shortly and, upon hearing the details of our predicament, promised that he could ensure that our bag would at least be usable prior to our departure on Friday evening and perhaps even more thoroughly fixed-up before we left Jaipur. This sounded far better to us, so we agreed to let him come over to our hotel after his shift was over to personally pick up our luggage and take it over to the repair shop, and make sure that it was finished by Thursday night. More on this later.

Once we had reached this point, Melanie and I finally went outside to meet Doulet (our driver) – fully 1 hour after we had arrived. We started to explain our predicament to the driver, and he was very empathetic and offered support and advice. He then asked how long we planned to stay in Udaipur and upon hearing 2-days; he informed us that this was far too short, and that we would be sad to leave when the time came. We quickly saw why he said this as the many beautiful lakes started to come into view as we approached the city.

Over the course of the 40-minute ride from the airport, it came up that Doulet is also a tour guide, and he offered to take us up the mountain that evening to see the Monsoon Palace – apparently a great place in Udaipur to see sunsets. He seemed to be a fairly low-pressure sort of guy (very important to both Melanie and I after Delhi and Agra) so we figured we would give him a shot with a 2 hour excursion - after we had checked in and freshened up a little from the trip.

As we pulled into the driveway of the hotel, my jaw literally dropped when I finally got my first look at the hotel. Before the trip, I had found and booked the Udai Kothi hotel online after significant amounts of research at various opinion sites as well as the two main guidebooks we used for planning this trip (Frommer’s and Lonely Planet). Still, I somehow still expected the reality of the hotel to somehow not live up to the charming but claustrophobic photos and high praise that we consistently found. We were incredibly pleasantly surprised to see that it was in fact even better than it looked and sounded online.

First off, we were greeted with marigold leis as we arrived in the lobby – always a good sign. Then, we were taken quickly and efficiently up to our room, which turned out to be quite spacious and charming. With its four post covered bed, not one but TWO seated reading windows with views of the lake, and a reasonably sized bathtub! It all looked new and clean enough to make you just want to fall down to your knees and worship your preferred deity upon walking into the room.

After giggling for a while and thanking our lucky elephants, we went back downstairs to interview our guide. We hopped into his auto rickshaw and proceeded to get to know him better. Turns out that he has traveled quite a bit within Europe, spent 10 straight months of his life at the Dalai Lama’s temple in northern India, and was in generally a heckuva person. During the ride up and down the hill, Doulet came across as a very nice, reasonable, well-informed, pretty well connected person, so we made arrangements upon our return to the hotel to meet the following day for a full day’s worth of services.

Oh yeah, and the Monsoon Palace itself was kind of run down and looked more like a neglected Tuscan fixer-upper than what we had imagined, which was more along the lines of the gorgeous Indian monsoon-season getaway for the local King (AKA Maharana). Still, the views and the sunset really were truly beautiful, although we would see even more spectacular ones over the next couple of evenings.

After that, we went back to our hotel, where we had arranged to meet up with Angela and Chris again for a nice dinner at the Udai Kothi rooftop restaurant. Again, we had a very pleasant time with them, so we were sure this time to more carefully exchange contact information and we will most likely be staying in touch once we are all back to our respective homes.

As far as the restaurant was concerned, it was up on the rooftop with a very nice view of the lake. The weather just happened to be perfect while we were there, and the lake was full, so we ended up dining here for both of the nights we stayed, and we really enjoyed the food (although I advise against getting the rasmullah for dessert).

Just to get back to the more disappointing aspect of the day, the Jet Airways regional supervisor (Ashish) was supposed to come by our hotel and pick up our luggage this evening while we were at dinner, but this did not happen that night. This left us just 1.5 days to find a solution whilst avoid getting screwed.

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