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Udaipur's Backside

sunny 28 °C

After a few days in Udaipur we discovered that its opulent and impressive façade is barely skin deep. Just behind the whitewashed palaces, the ritzy hotels and the towering havelis that overlook the lake, lies a tight tangle of grubby streets teeming with tuk-tuks, stray animals and many who have to wash their hair under the street pumps…
But this city has been divided between the haves and have-nots ever since its inception in the mid-sixteenth century when, as the legend goes, the first Maharana of Mewar killed a hare here and god told him it would be a great place to build both this palace and his two others...
This immense City Palace was constructed for the privileged aristocracy in the mid 1500s on the backs of people enslaved by poverty… a common practice in the sixteenth century. And, today, as we tour the hard-scrabble backstreets just outside the palace walls, we see people and stray animals still scratching a living much as they did when this place was new, and we wonder what they make of the wedding taking place at the City Palace tonight. Here’s the mainstage for tonight’s affair …
And here’s the city’s vegetable market where, we were reliably informed, inflation has pushed the price of many products well beyond the reach of the masses…
This guy sells raw sugar...
While this lady's whole life revolves around a rickety handcart from which sells individual sweets and packets of tea and coffee for just 1 or 2 cents...
And these donkeys are still used as transport...

However, tonight, maharajahs, mega-rich movie stars and well-healed moguls of business and politics won't need donkeys. They will breeze in on corporate jets, helicopters and limos to dine on caviar and to quaff bucketfuls of champagne at the City Palace. And they will be seated on a massive platform supported entirely by a flimsy forest of scrap wood – a metaphor for their precarious position in society perhaps?
Surprisingly, the Palace remained open during preparations for this evening’s event, the first of the four day celebration of this particular wedding, and we watched as hundreds of lackeys raced to transform it into a glitzy Bollywood wedding chapel using thousands of metres of cloth, hundreds of crates of roses and orchids, (specially flown in from New Zealand), dozens of crystal chandeliers, together with sufficient stage lighting and sound systems to power a Celine Dion spectacular…

We have no idea of the cost of this one event, but weddings are huge money-spinners in India where conspicuous consumption and in-your-face flashiness have become the weapons of choice for the obscenely rich. Unsurprisingly, many might claim that the overt ostentation has been copied from the West, but one look at the Maharana’s monstrous mansions proves that such self-aggrandizement has been the norm here for centuries.
However, just as we wonder what the proletariat might make of the aristocracy’s profligacy, we wonder what the toffs might make of the shameful headline in today’s Times of India. “Eighty-percent of women in India cannot afford to buy sanitary napkins!”
We bet the bride at tonight’s wedding in the City Palace doesn’t have that problem, neither did one precocious ‘Indian princess’ we met at our hotel in Munnar. This young bride derisively complained that she didn’t have a flashy up-market camera because her insensitive relatives and friends had only given her gold as wedding gifts… What a bummer! But even worse, she protested, was the fact that she couldn’t wear the gold jewellery because it was much too heavy… Aw Shucks!

Posted by Hawkson 05:43 Archived in India

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They'd best beware. Don't get the women mad. Remember the March on Versailles? Madame Defarge?
"Let them eat cake." equals "The gold's too heavy."

by R and B

Once again Jim and Sheila many thanks for this journey you have taken us all on. A chance to look at our humanity, history, and survival. It is greatly appreciated

by Sue Fitzwilson

Love the photo of the flimsey forest of scrap wood and pithy comment on the state of the uber rich. I wonder if the notion of karma is what keeps all this contrast spinning and not collapsing in fierce retribution. Gold too heavy indeed.

by Tom

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