A different and an indifferent India…

Posted: May 10, 2010 in Travelogues
Tags: , , , , , ,

The man who drove us around in Udaipur told us a few interesting things about the royals in Udaipur and about the place in general – and none of it was complimentary. While speaking about the present royals, he snapped, “All blood suckers, especially the old man. If it was left to him, he would charge everyone money for just standing outside his palace!” he said a lot more, which I can’t repeat here.

So, as we walked around the City Palace, those words kept ringing in my ears! Incidentally, we paid 130 bucks to get in; another 50 bucks for the car park and was told I would have to pay another 200 just to take the camera in. I drew the line at that and was helped along by the friendly driver who said, there was nothing worth photographing inside, because all the antiques had been moved to the hotel, which had been carved out of a part of the palace. And he was right. The place was like any government museum and not worth the visit.

In complete contrast was the memorial of Maharana Pratap and his horse Chetak. The driver told us another story as we drove to Haldi Ghati, the scene of one of the most famous battles in Indian history between Maharana Pratap and Man Singh, a Rajput who sold his soul to Akbar. While successive governments over the last decade played politics over Maharana Pratap, a school teacher begged banks for a loan to fulfil his dream. One village bank finally gave him Rs 50 lakhs and this teacher launched the project – a memorial to the Maharana.

If you go to Udaipur, drive down to Haldi Ghati and see the memorial – a handiwork of love and devotion – constructed in three years and still coming up. My reason for mentioning this memorial is because not even 30 metres away is a wall that lies incomplete in spite of having been started a decade ago – a symbol of the dirty politics being played out between two successive State governments. And we were taught this lesson in school that Maharana Pratap belonged to India.

Frankly, considering its rich heritage and history, Udaipur is wasting away. The place is supposed to be a Lake City and yet the natural lakes are going dry and don’t even supply water to the city. Strangely enough the lake that supplies water to the city is manmade! And while the people cry out for water, the politicians engage in one-upmanship.

It’s a bit like the roads that we drove around on since we started our holiday. We all know that the roads underwent a dramatic change when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister. Sadly at a lot of places we found patchwork and incomplete highways. It is almost as if the Congress Government’s playing cussed and would rather not do anything because it would end up in someone other than the Gandhi -Nehru clan getting credit. The Congress government should know that whether they complete the highway projects or not, it will always be known as Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s dream project. And there’s not a damn thing they can do about it!

There had been governments before Vajpayee’s but no one bothered to bring India closer to its people. Look at how long it took them to make the Pune-Mumbai expressway one of the finest stretches in the country. Last week, as we drove to Chittorgarh, I couldn’t help marvelling at the expressway between Vadodara and Ahmedabad. In the last three years, I have driven around the good, bad and the terrible roads in this country, so this stretch was, I thought till then, the best road I had driven on in India.

So should I be thanking Atal Bihari Vajpayee for the state of Indian roads? Let’s be honest, if it had not been for him I don’t think a lot of (not too adventurous) middle class Indians like me would ever have ventured out to see the country by road.

Then there was Ajmer and Pushkar, which are a conman’s dream location. When we left for the Ajmer dargah we were told to leave everything, but the clothes we had on, behind in our room. By everything we were told it meant wallet, handbags, watches, rings, mobiles, necklace just anything. so that’s how we went.

At Pushkar, of course, it was a different story. From the toll gate to the temple every attempt was made to fleece us by extremely polite guides who were hand-in-glove with the so called Brahmin priests. They tried to wheedle us out of Rs 11,000 till they ran into another Brahmin – my wife – who knows a thing or two about saving and making money! They tried really hard, but gave up!

Before we left Pune on May 2, I hoped we would encounter some decently constructed roads that we could drive on without having to feel we were on an obstacle course. Except for the stretch between Sawai Madhopur and Ajmer, it’s been a pleasure driving in Gujarat and Rajasthan. We reached Udaipur driving on a four-lane highway in quick time. Let’s hope it stays that way. We leave for the Gir Lion Sanctuary tomorrow. After watching a tiger from just ten feet away at Ranthambhore, I am hoping the lions too will give us something more to remember this holiday.

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