Saturday, 30 March 2013

Udaipur

We reluctantly dragged ourselves away from The Lake Palace in Udaipur this morning, it's an enchanting hotel set in the centre of Lake Pichola. Little flat-bottomed boats with scalloped Mogul canopies ferry guests backwards and forwards to the town. We got a wonderfully warm welcome back and they upgraded us from a standard room to a fabulous suite with a perfect view of the Royal Palace.

We had a lovely few days and I visited the school in Varvalia that the Ballymaloe Cookery School supports and the Seva Mandir Learning Camp where they teach children who have not had the opportunity to go to school before, reading, writing and basic math.

More kids than ever want to come, 200 is the max they can take at the moment but they are really struggling to cope because donations have been down for the past couple of years for a variety of reasons not least the recession in the US and Europe.

There's also a perception now that India is becoming more prosperous that the need is less but as ever a percentage of the population is certainly prospering but billions of others particularly the tribals are still living a medieval subsistence existence.

You can't imagine how thrilled the kids are to be in school, they can hardly bear to waste a second if some one visits. Pryanka Singh the lovely young Director may pop over to see us when she comes as far as London later in the year, if she does well try to do an event to raise funds.

We drove for eight hours from Udaipur to Maheshwar through fascinating changes in landscape. From our tourist jeep we saw everything from rice and barley to opium and chillies growing in the fields, lots of handmade bricks and smoking kilns, marble works, potteries making beautiful functional water pots. Sometimes the road was a state of the art new motorway and then suddenly it runs out and we were onto an indescribable dirt track with higgedledly piggedly road works everywhere. There were goats and cattle and sheep and camels and buffalo carts piled high with fodder or firewood.

Eventually we arrived in Maheshwar, to find that millions of people had descended on the town to visit the Temple to celebrate the Festival of Lord Vishnu and Pravadi so we couldn't get to Ayhila Fort which is just beside the temple. Eventually we were rescued and arrived back to this beautiful heritage hotel which we discovered last year thanks to some friends.

We are staying in the equivalent of the Ballymaloe Gate House, a little room over the Elephant gates very basic and a complete contrast to the luxurious Lake Palace but still lovely, we move into the house tomorrow.

Now I'm sitting on the upper terrace overlooking the ghats at the edge of the Narmada river, the second most sacred river in India, underneath hundreds of people are doing puja and bathing in the river to wash their sins away. Others are floating little candles in leaf baskets to bring blessings to their friends. In the distance the monks are chanting and in the distance some chap is belting out Bollywood hits to entertain guests at one of the myriad of weddings that take place in February which apparently is an auspicious month for weddings, it's really magical.

The sky is full of stars and I'm desperately trying to work out which is which with my new app.

Time to go to dinner.....

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