Thursday, December 01, 2005

Silly Trousers

I have managed to add another iconic James Bond location to my tally by visiting Udaipur, where many of the scenes from Octopussy were shot, with its stunning palace sitting in the middle of a lake. It's possible to visit the palace as well as it is a hotel, but far beyond the reach of my humble budget, so I will probably have to settle with gazing wistfully from the shore and watching the film at one of the countless guesthouses that show it every night.

My travels around Rajasthan have gone on for longer than I had thought (so nothing new there then) as every little town is a gem. After Jaisalmer my next stop was Jodhpur, home of the eponymous trouser worn by posh riding freaks the world over. I was half expecting everyone in town to be wearing them and so was slightly let down by reality, although I did get to see a pair on a guide in the city fort, which, despite the situation being contrived, made me feel better. The fort is one of the most impressive I have seen to date. It is built on an outcrop of rock that juts some 100m above the rest of the city, with huge ramparts that made it impregnable during its 500 year history. The architecture beautiful and very well preserved, and from the battlements you get an unparalleled view, above the soaring hawks and onto the Blue City (as Jodhpur is called) below. It gets its name from the many houses that are painted bright blue. Apparently this used to be the colour of the upper-caste Brahmins, but now everybody seems to have got in on the act. They say the colour keeps the houses cool in the scorching Rajasthani Summers and even repels mosquitoes. Whatever the case, they look beautiful.

From there it was on to Mount Abu, a pleasant hill station retreat, where I could get away from the hustle and bustle of Indian cities. I got to wander around the lovely boulder-strewn hillsides and scout around for wildlife (apparently bears and panthers live in the forests, but all I saw was a chicken). But what really made my visit worthwhile were the Jain temples. Jainism is one of India's religions, though one we hear little about in the west, despite its strong influence on the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi and Buddhism as well. The Jains are big-time animal respecters (all of them are vegetarians and they usually refuse to wear animal products, such as leather, as well) with the more devout sometimes even wearing face masks so as not to inhale any insects. Anyway, to know more about Jains and Jainism click here. Now I've seen a good many temples, churches and mosques on my travels and so have perhaps become slightly blase, but these just blew me away. The buildings, some almost 1000 years old, are made of white marble, and covered with the most intricate carvings I have ever seen. Almost every inch of free space is taken up with complex geometric patterns, animals or dancing female figures (from viewing the sculptures I have come to the conclusion that Jains like their women busty, see below).

As a slight aside, Jains are sometimes misunderstood in the west because their holiest symbol is the swastika (which, incidentally, can be translated as "little good luck charm"), which is ever present in all their temples and shrines. It's a shame that such an ancient symbol was hijacked by the Nazis and now is inexorably associated with them.

No comments: