Udaipur – City of Murals

IMG_0352Across the street from the Mahendra Prakash Hotel on Lake Palace Road is the Gulab Bagh, a 100 acre garden. There is a mile or more of wall separating it from the street, and many sections of this wall have been painted with murals. The quarter mile length of murals across from the hotel are the most beautiful.


Udaipur is known as a place to buy miniature paintings. There are many art schools here. A guide told me that is why there are so many murals in Udaipur. It seems logical, but who really knows.


For more photos of the murals on Lake Palace Road, visit the Travels in India Facebook page.


Birthday Party

mohit A-ssNirmal’s son Mohit turned three on May 1, 2015, the day before I got here, but he waited until my arrival to have the party. We talked about the party at the Mewar Haveli Hotel restaurant while we waited for my room to be ready. He told Rafiq and I that he was planning a large get-together with maybe around 120 people.

“Oh, no!” was our immediate simultaneous reaction. You have a big party, and you end up doing nothing but working to serve the guests. No time to enjoy yourself. Nirmal finally settled on around 20 relatives to invite.

The party was to start at 7:00. Pushker came to the hotel to pick me up in an auto rickshaw at 6:45. We were the first ones there. Rafiq and wife Shahi came shortly after, and Madu, a good friend of Nirmal’s also showed up. I was really glad that the party had been scaled down. Most of Nirmal’s relatives don’t speak English, and I was exhausted after the 30 hours of travel to Udaipur from Washington, DC. I knew I wasn’t going to be an effervescent party guest.

At around 8:00, I asked Nirmal, “Where are all the guests?”

“They are coming,” he replied.

They are not, I said inside my own head.

“Indians don’t come on time,” he continued. “You say seven o’clock and it could be eight, eight-thirty, and nine before they come.”

“Then you should have told them six.”

“I should have told them six,” he agreed.

It didn’t matter. They didn’t come.

I gave Mohit a copy of The Cat in the Hat, the only gift I’d had time to wrap before Pushkar picked me up. A typical American three-year-old would have had the wrapping paper torn off in a split second. In fact, Mohit’s two-year-old cousin was happily reaching out to do that honor because Mohit seemed to be frozen in time and space. He didn’t want to open the present, but he didn’t really want his cousin to do it, either. It took about an hour for the unveiling to take place.

“Ah, a book,” Rafiq said when he finally saw what it was. “Kids don’t care for books.”

But I had brought a copy of Horton Hatches the Egg the year before, and I was told that Mohit loved it. He did seem interested once he started paging through it and seeing the illustrations.

They brought out the birthday cake about an hour later, sang the birthday song, and Mohit blew out the candles. Apparently it’s traditional to feed each other a bite of cake. Mohit offered me a piece in his tiny hand after much coaxing by his parents. Even though he had seen me many times talking on Skype to his dad, he was very shy and didn’t want to approach me. I tried not to intimidate him by avoiding eye contact. Nirmal said it wasn’t just me, Mohit is shy around all strangers.

I asked Rafiq when would the presents be opened. I learned that in India presents are not opened in front of the guests. I also noticed there didn’t seem to be any presents other than the ones Rafiq and I had brought. Snacks were brought for the guests. We ate and chatted.

Nirmal’s stepmother noticed how tired I was. She asked if she could oil my hair and give me a head massage. She doesn’t speak English, so Rafiq interpreted. He said the head massage would lift the tiredness and give me energy. I never have to be convinced to get a massage, especially a free one, and happily consented. I was treated to the best head massage I’ve ever had. She used almond oil, which smelled wonderful. She worked on my head, neck and shoulders for about 20 minutes. And sure enough, a short while later I did feel less tired and more refreshed.

It was getting late and time to go. Tradition or no tradition, I wanted to see Mohit’s reaction when he saw the stuffed toy horse I’d brought him.


Nirmal had told me how much Mohit loves horses. I thought that maybe the toy horse might elicit a reaction other than the terrified frozen stare I’d seen most of the night.

I took his gifts from my bag — the horse puzzle, the toy laptop and the little stuffed horse — and put them on the coffee table. I hadn’t had time to wrap any of them. The horse was in a clear plastic bag, and I had tied a gold ribbon around it. All of the adults cooed over the toy horse.

toy horse

The two-year-old cousin was excited and tried to help Mohit yank off the plastic bag, but Mohit refused. He didn’t seem to care much that the cousin grabbed the toy from him and began to play with it. Interesting, I thought. I bet all that will change once I leave.

Sure enough, I got an update from Nirmal the next morning. “Mohit loves that horse,” he said. “He won’t let anyone touch it. He slept with it last night.”

I laughed. “Did he ever take off the plastic?”

“No, he refused. He wants to protect it.” Nirmal smiled. “You won’t believe. He talk about you a lot. He asked me last night for each present, ‘Marie brought this for me?’ I say yes. He thought about it for awhile and say, ‘I like Marie.’”

I returned to Nirmal’s home that evening so we could all go out to dinner. Mohit hid when he saw me, but I saw him playing with the toy laptop on the bed.

Nirmal’s wife Bharti smiled. “He love the laptop. He sleep with it last night.”

I was glad he was having fun with his toys. Maybe next year he’ll come out of hiding when I visit.

Play It Again, Sanjay

IMG_9991 ss

In the city of virtually no nightlife, Udaipur does have cinemas, although I’ve only gone there in the afternoon. Celebration Mall, Udaipur’s first and largest indoor shopatorium, has a PVR cineplex offering quite a cushy moviegoing experience. The seats are large, overstuffed recliner-types with cupholders. Each seat has its own armrests, so there’s no elbow jousting with whoever is seated on either side of you. Some of the seats even have electric reclining adjustments, making it as close to watching a movie lying down as possible. It also makes it easy for me to take a nap if I don’t happen to care for the movie.

To get in, you go through a security check at the mall entrance, then another one at the cinema entrance where they check your bag for cameras so that idiots don’t record the film and post it on a torrent site. I’m a tourist, and I always carry a camera, but after Nirmal spoke nicely with the security guard, she let me in with it. So as not to get her into trouble, I was unable to photograph the theater lobby.

The Udaipur moviegoing experience was much more relaxed than the one I had at the Raj Mandir Cinema in Jaipur. There the Fascist usher insisted that everyone sit in their assigned seats, and a mountain of trouble was heaped onto the heads of anyone caught not in their proper seat. In Udaipur the ushers just waved you in the general direction of your seat and let the patrons sort out any conflicts in assigned seating.

After the movie trailers, there are two public service clips. The first one attempts to educate theater goers on cell phone etiquette, specifically, don’t use your phone during the movie. It’s completely ineffective. Blabbing loudly on cell phones during the movie happens a lot, much more in Indian movie houses than in the U.S. It’s the one thing my friends do that I wish they wouldn’t. But nobody wants a nursemaid as a friend, so I kept my yap shut about it. Hard to convince them not to do something that pretty much everyone else around them is doing, no matter how annoying it is.

The second is an aggressive anti-smoking video showing graphic photos of blackened and diseased lungs. I couldn’t even look at it. It is also ineffective, as Indians smoke like chimneys, including two of my three friends.

In 2005 the Indian Health Ministry, recognizing the influence actors and actresses have on popular culture, banned the showing of smoking by characters in films. They hoped that by eliminating the glamorization of smoking by movie characters, it would reduce the popularity of smoking by citizens. It didn’t work. People smoked as much as ever, and moviemakers railed against the ban. The ban was overturned by the Delhi High Court in 2009. What remains is the compulsory showing of the anti-smoking video at the beginning, the intermission and the end of films.

We saw two movies when I was in Udaipur last time:  Jai Ho and Gunday.  Jai Ho I couldn’t make heads or tails of, and everything about it was over the top. A great big thumbs down on that one. Gunday had a storyline that was much easier to make sense of, despite the fact that I don’t speak Hindi. There were two amazingly excellent child actors who ran the gamut of emotions quite believably rather than simply being put there to be insufferably precocious. Cinematography, excellent. Costumes, choreography, songs, all excellent. Production values, excellent. Characters and storyline fairly good, although it basically glamorized criminals. They weren’t really bad criminals, of course. They were only thieves, and they only killed a couple of people who kind of had it coming, but they redeemed themselves by giving tons of their ill gotten gains to charity. I object to that premise but overall, I still liked the movie.

Some Bollywood films I enjoy, although many I don’t. They typically run an exhausting three hours, an hour longer than the average American movie. While U.S. movies are more apt to fall into a defined category, Bollywood films try to be all things to all people, which I think is a mistake. Even action films will have singing and dancing (which in an action film is terribly out of place), comedy and a smattering of tear jerking. The comedy is forced and often slapstick, a problem I also have with the majority of U.S. comedy movies. I also don’t like having my action movie hero boo hooing all over the place to show us how sensitive he is like in Gunday. He should get mad, he should get even — and then some — and that’s it.

But what I really can’t buy is that Bollywood heroes are often fighting 137 enemies at once, each of which will politely wait in line to have a go at him instead of rushing him in a group and tearing him to pieces. He of course beats the crap out of each and every one of them. Oh, come on! U.S. films have the hero only fighting five to seven enemies at a time and beating the crap out of all of them. Much more believable…

Udaipur – City of Murals


A home in Naga Nagri.

City of Murals should be Udaipur’s official nickname. It’s more fitting than Lake City or the Venice of Rajasthan. There are only five main lakes within Udaipur’s city limits, but there are hundreds — maybe thousands — of murals. I haven’t seen such a proliferation of murals in any other Indian city.


Painting a mural in front of
a new hotel in Naga Nagri.

Murals aren’t just a quaint custom of the past in Udaipur. New ones are going up all the time on homes and commercial buildings. Murals aren’t found only in more prosperous areas. I’ve seen them all over the city, in modest neighborhoods as well as more opulent ones.


A week later, the finished work of art.

The one thing they have in common is that they are painted in the traditional style, depicting scenes from the Mughal age.


On the opposite side of the doorway from
the elephant is this beautiful scene.


At Sunset Point: in need of a touchup.

Once murals are painted, it doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s priority list to keep them maintained. They seem to show the wear and tear of weather and pollution rather quickly.


On a wall in Lal Ghat.

This one, next to the Mewar Haveli Hotel in the Lal Ghat area, looked newly painted in 2007. Only five years later, the effects of sun, rain and auto exhaust are evident.


At the City Palace.

The murals at the City Palace were in excellent condition. Maybe they were recently done, or perhaps they’re better cared for because they are part of an important tourist attraction.


On a wall at Ahar Cenotaphs.

I hope the custom of mural painting never goes out of style in this city. It’s one of the many things about Udaipur that I love.