Day Thirteen: Ohhhh-Dai Pour Some Hot Oil on My Forehead Please!
Today was one of those days when everything flowed.
It began with an early morning start and a short walk up the hill to the City Palace. We decided to give ourselves a break from the camera and hire a guide to take us through the largest palace of all of Rajasthan. Similar to England, India still recognizes the symbolic power of the King though the royal family does not hold any political power. The King and his family live in a residential part of the City Palace compound, and have turned the rest into a public museum. So much of the beauty had to do with the craftsmanship of the marble (imported from Italy), geometric glass patterns (imported from Belgium), and stainless steel glass and tile work (from England), which influenced every corner of the interior, laid out in the King and Queen’s separate quarters. You can apparently even rent out the former Queen’s courtyard for around $45k, and the royal family will still use the palace grounds to host their children’s weddings.
After taking in a whole history lesson, we decided it was time for some wandering. We made our way over back across the bridge to Chand Pol to get our caffeine fix at a cute little coffee shop on a quiet narrow street with the occasional motorbike and napping dogs under the shade. A guy with a long gray ponytail and purple button up t-shirt named Dave started talking to us, and we soon learned he was originally from California and had been living in India for the past 7 years. He was retired and working for an NGO in the state south of Rajasthan. Filled with funny stories, facial expressions and much good practical advice, we found ourselves chatting with him for hours and hours.
It’s also worth mentioning that the electricity had been out since 9am (apparently a daily occurrence) and wouldn’t be coming back until later that afternoon, which made the time go by much more slowly. Since we’re a week out from Diwali, the city is trying to conserve its electricity for the ten day festival, hence the frequent outages.
Because Dave has come to Udaipur 5 or 6 times a year for the past seven years, he seemed to know everyone in town. We learned that back in his flat in the south of Rajasthan, he pays $100 a month in rent and literally has a guy for everything – a hash guy, a water supply guy, a rickshaw driver, a pharmacist – and the list just goes on and on. Wylie and I are planning on doing the same once we’re in the north, so meeting a friendly hippie like Dave was definitely a good omen.
We finally parted ways. Dave told us to go around the corner to look for the artist with paintings of men in turbans – apparently his miniature paintings were the real deal of Udaipur. As we walked, we stumbled on an Ayurvedic massage center that has been opened by a former Doctor of 35 years. One of the treatments called Shirodhara involved receiving a steady stream of hot oil on the third eye, and this one seemed to call our names. We booked our slots for 4pm to give ourselves time to wander around some more and hopefully find that artist.
We wandered down a few streets and still, no artist. We figured we really just wanted those massages now, and headed back to the center. Upon getting there, I realized I must have been blind because right next door to the ayurvedic center was that exact artist shop with the turban art hanging on the window! And better yet, the artist was helping his uncle, the Doctor communicate with us since his English was much more fluent. Thank you universe J
The massage was so interesting. Not my favorite thing in the world, but as I laid horizontally, the steady pour of hot oil on my third eye activated the subtle energy field emanating only a few centimeters off my forehead. The Indian therapist would occasionally rub my forehead and gently scratch my scalp as the oil poured into my hair and dripped through into a bucket underneath. After 30 minutes of pouring, she spent another half hour giving me a head massage. The oils which come from the south of India (Kerala), are made entirely out of natural herbs. They’re meant to help strengthen your hair and prevent hair loss in the future. The whole treatment is designed to alleviate stress and anxiety among many other things.
With giant oily buns sitting atop our heads, Wylie and I decided to hop next door to spend some time with the artist, Lalit (which mystically translates to “art” in Hindi). Having come from three generations of artists, Lalit has been painting since the age of six and learning from his grandfather. He was currently running an artist cooperative of 48 artists which basically is set up so that every sale benefits the entire group, not just the individual artist him/herself. Also, we learned that he was currently working on a book called “The System of Castes,” which depict men in different colored and patterned turbans indicating their caste in Indian society (soon to be released under a French publisher). Unlike the stereotype of the vendor that wants to lure you in just to make a sale, Lalit was different. He seemed to hold a genuine interest in sharing his work with us with the intention of purely connecting.
The electricity was still out, and luckily I had a headlamp in my bag. I busted that gear out, and was able to pour over all these beautiful miniature paintings of peacocks (national animal of India, symbol of love), elephants (symbol of prosperity), camels (also the symbol of love), and horses (symbol of power). I was completely enthralled with the peacock depictions on silk, particularly one that was handpainted in this unusual teal, which was created from the combination of naturally-derived lapis lazuli, zinc, and charcoal powder.
Lalit briefly went next door to his friend’s restaurant to fetch us some chai tea (freshly grounded cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, hot water, sugar and milk) while Wylie and I sat joyfully paralyzed by all the amazing art we wanted to buy. After a few hours, we made some exciting decisions, and will now have the lovely challenge of making sure our purchases (wrapped in cardboard cylinders) don’t scare off TSA agents who think we’re carrying pipe bombs J
After art buying and feeling pretty legit, we decided to treat ourselves one more time to a fancy dinner, this time at a place recommended by Lalit called Harigwar. We sat on the second floor balcony facing the lake sitting cross-legged on soft cushions. I ordered a corn and spinach paneer with tangy masala and again, we ended the night with our favorite dessert, Gulab Jamun.
As if the day couldn’t get any better, we remembered that at 9p, a nightly saatsang with music and song would be happening at the Janglish Temple (a Vishnu temple, honoring the Lord of Preservation). We stopped back at the hotel first to rinse off the heavy oil still coating our heads, accepting it might be days until our hair’s texture returns to somewhat normal.
At 9pm, we entered the temple. The energy was lively and welcoming, with men sitting on one side and women on the other. Colorful saris and smiles emerged as we sat down with the rest of the group. The songs were accompanied by tabla drums, bells, a violin and harmonium. We soaked in the sounds for some time and it was so beautiful to see the older Indian women leading the group, comfortably sitting on the ground with childlike effervescence.
On the way out, we received holy water to pour over our heads and tikals to dot our third eye. I don’t think my third eye has ever been so happy J