My fingers burned and my palms were glued to the rusty metal handle as I held tight, afraid of being tossed from the doorless auto rickshaw during the bumpy ride. My purple shirt had turned black as it clung to my sweat-drenched body. Air was filled with the aroma of sweets being fried by the roadside and the noisome smell of polluting scooters. As I drank in colorful frescoes painted on passing walls and antique stalls selling puppets and leather purses, the rickshaw swerved to dodge cows wandering on the narrow, crowded streets. I enjoyed the thrill of being close to people rather than being enclosed in a car separated by a metal door. Life in Udaipur, India wasn’t just passing by me…I belonged in it.
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Screeeech! Suddenly, the rickshaw halted at the gates of City Palace. I rushed to stand in the shade of a tree while my parents haggled over the rates of a tour guide. When planning a visit to India, be sure to write “haggling skills” on the list of things to bring.
As the bright sun beat down and the mercury levels skyrocketed, the tour guide beckoned us to follow him. He was dressed in thin, white cotton shirt, brown trousers, and flimsy black sandals that seemed to have been part of his feet his whole life. Judging by his unkempt hair and drawn face, I was falsely convinced that he did not have much knowledge about City Palace. I expected to see ruins because a 400 year old architectural marvel was unfathomable to me. I dragged my feet toward the wide entrance of the grand white palace built on a hill.
Surprisingly, upon entering the palace, I found the air distinctly cooler because of strategically placed large fountains and marble and granite flooring. Tall white walls with wide windows provided a soothing breeze from the adjoining Lake Pichola. The palace was built as a summer residence for the royal family when there were no air conditioners.
Soon, we entered mor chowk –the peacock courtyard where guests were entertained under starry night skies. Three peacocks, constructed with colored mosaic tiles, proudly stood against one wall. These metallic-colored peacocks, along with stone-studded jewelry and tiny circular mirrors stitched onto hand-crafted bandhni attire of the guests, would shimmer in the moonlight. The tour guide explained that the royal family displayed its opulence in art work, embroidered silk clothing, jewelry and architecture.
In the afternoon, as our stomachs growled, we sat on stools under open umbrellas in Palace Café in the corner of the main courtyard. As I skimmed the menu, one description caught my eye: samosa- a delectable fried pastry filled with spiced potatoes, tender peas, and chopped coriander. I decided to order it and hoped the food was as delicious as the vivid description promised. When my teeth sank into the flaky covering, I was delighted by the piquant spices and well-cooked vegetables that surpassed the menu description!
Afterwards, we walked along the main courtyard which was lined with small stores selling handicrafts. We purchased wall décor, intricate jewelry, and wood carvings as souvenirs.
Later, we headed to the roof top of the palace where the sun was hiding behind the Aravalli hills, casting a flaming orange hue on the still waters of Lake Pichola. Before the palace gates closed, there I was, wanting to memorize every detail that my camera could not capture. If I had retained the wrong assumption that I formed while standing under the shade that morning as my parents conversed with the tour guide, I would have missed an enriching experience.
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