22.12.2009 - 29.12.2009
We went more upmarket for Christmas and New Year starting with our lake view room at the Jaiwana Haveli which also had the best view of the lake and the floodlit island palaces from its rooftop restaurant - the perfect spot for a sunset beer and poppadums. It was very civilised waking up on Christmas Eve and watching hot air balloons crossing the lake.
There's not a huge amount to do in Udaipur - another temple and palace to visit and a restored haveli (with strange polystyrene models of the Eiffel Tower etc). We also went to Shilpgram a very disappointing craft village with strange tranvestite dancers and not much else.
We walked around to the other side of the lake and saw pied kingfishers feeding a baby which encouraged us to do a bird watching trip where we saw a lovely white-throated kingfisher and green bee-eaters as well as lots of water birds on the lake.
We did the 'must-do' sunset boat cruise and nearly had a drink in the palace hotel sunset bar but were put off by the bagpipers.
We also did a really good cookery course making chai, pakora, dips, curries and breads - run by Shashi, a really enthusiastic teacher who barked instructions at us - stand up, sit down, you roll the dough etc.
We had some good food including vegetable curries for Christmas dinner - didn't manage wine but had two beers!
We left Udaipur for an epic journey to Aurangabad starting with a 5 hour bus journey to Ahmadabad where we had time for dinner (generally service is really slow but as we were killing time before our train it was astonishingly fast) then an overnight 11 hour journey to Jalgaon. Arangabad and Jalgaon which are 160km apart are famous for the caves of Ajanta and Ellora - both World Heritage sites. Our plan was to go straight to Aurangabad by bus and just visit Ellora but we were persuaded that it would be criminal to miss Ajanta as it was on the way. It woud have taken too long by bus so in the spirit of treating ourselves for Christmas, we booked a car to take us to the caves and on to our hotel.
Should have stuck to plan 'A'. Going to Ajanta was like Alton Towers on August Bank Holiday - absolutely packed. The last 4km is by bus up a hill - the queue looked long but if we'd known it would take 2 hours to get to the caves we would have given up then - as it was we walked down the hill to avoid more queues. The 30 caves were excavated between the 1st century BC and the 7th century AD and comprise Buddhist cave temples and monasteries with wall paintings. The temples are hollowed out of granite cliffs in a horse shoe shaped ravine and it is very impressive and picturesque but we were fed up when we got to the caves and not really in the mood to appreciate them especially as we were being pushed and jostled by the crowds on the steep dark staircases. Colin even started berating people for using flash photography despite endless requests from the guards not to as it harms the paintings.
The driver was equally unimpressed when we got back four hours later (little did he know how we'd rushed round the caves and raced down the hill) and drove like a madman to Aurangabad overtaking on blind bends especially ones with signs showing a bus and car in a head-on collision. But we survived to reach the haven of the Lemon Tree Resort - a large hotel set around gardens with a pool. We had booked a special package to include all food, a tour of the Ellora Caves and a shoulder massage each. Every one seemed to be on some sort of package which varied slightly (we were on the New Year package, we went to the caves with Bill who was on the modified New Year Package so our entrance fee was refunded but his wasn't) this caused the front desk endless problems. Apart from that it was great relaxing, swimming and watching Slumdog Millionaire on DVD in preparation for Mumbai.
We set off early to Ellora before the crowds which was much better. As Wikipedia says - "Ellora represents the epitome of Indian rock-cut architecture. The 34 "caves" – actually structures excavated out of the vertical face of the Charanandri hills – being Buddhist, Hindu and Jain rock cut temples and monasteries, were built between the 5th century and 10th century. The 12 Buddhist, 17 Hindu, and 5 Jain) caves, built in proximity, demonstrate the religious harmony prevalent during this period of Indian history" and they were very impressive.
We also visited the Bibi-qa-Maqbara (aka the mini Taj or Taj of Deccan) where Sue left Colin looking after the bag and shoes while she went in to the mausoleum and came out to find him mobbed by boys wanting their photos taken with him. Colin then came out to find Sue holding a baby for more photos - we thought we would never get away but one of the guards blew his whistle obviously thinking it was all a bit unseemly.
We left the Lemon Tree reluctantly to get another overnight bus - to Mumbai for New Year.