Udaipur and Mt. Abu, Nov. 14-15
Got up real, real early to get the hell outa Delhi, and arrived in Udaipur, one of the most picturesque (and romantic, but I'm travelling alone!) cities in the desert state of Rajasthan, if not all of India. The terrain is similar to the Southwestern US desert, but different enough to be very unique. Immediately my body began to relax in the emptiness, spacious expanse of the hilly desert. And the air is clean!
Udaipur is built on a large hill that borders the eastern shore of Lake Pochala, a shallow and beautiful desert lake of 12 square kilometers. The buildings are mostly white and it reminded me of an Asian San Francisco, which is known for its hills and white stucco facades. The taxi driver took me through scores of windy, hilly streets till I reached my hotel, the Caravanserai (which is also my favorite Carlos Santana album). My room overlooked the lake and had a picture perfect view of the Lake Palace Hotel of Octopussy fame. It's a beautiful white structure seemingly floating in the middle of the lake, and you can pay up to 660 $US to stay there. Of course, that's no problem for James Bond!
The hotel has a rooftop restaurant that has an wonderful 180 degree view of the area, and quickly became a big hangout for me. The area has large hills that jut out of the landscape and tower over the lake, and from the rooftop you can see and hear the local women doing laundry on the ghats in their colorful sarees.
Udaipur is also famous for its huge City Palace, built and added to over the centuries by several maharajs. It has a maze of rooms, and beautiful mosaics, and miniature paintings, which Udaipur is also famous for, where the level of detail is extraordinary. The artists capture live chipmunks and pull the hairs out of their tails to use a brush hairs. Impressive stuff.
So in the afternoon I did a tour of the palace as well as the Gardens of the Maids of Honor, a summer garden only for the royal women, with fountains that work till this day using only gravity feed. Being an engineer, I thought that was way cool. The waterworks took 25 years to complete for this garden alone. I tell you, the Maharajs and Moghul emperors, although butchers at times, really spared nothing in building some of the most beautiful structures ever seen on this planet.
Stopped by a drugstore and picked up some major antibiotics for future reference on intenstinal problems. In India, all you do is tell the chemist what your problem is and voilah!, the drug of choice, no prescription needed. Cheech and Chong woulda had a field day in India.
So Udaipur, being mostly a place to hang and enjoy, gave me the time to just veg, but I did visit the impressive Vishnu temple next door called the Jagdish temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu as Jagganath, Lord of the Universe. Really impressive carvings throughout its 5-6 story height. Even though by now I've seen a lot of temples, they are still impressive. India pours its heart and soul into the design, construction and preservation of these temples, whereas the rest of life is a 'minimal is optimal' scene. On my last day in Udaipur I decided to have an astrological reading with the hotel astrologer. Many hotels in India come with an astrologer or palmist (or combination), and not knowing if the astrologer was any good, I took a chance. Hell, it was only gonna cost me 8 dollars!
So I have an appointment with Pandit Shashi Pandya, a man who was born into the brahman caste and represents a lineage of "Jyotishes" (Vedic astrologers), whose details have been handed down from father to son for untold generations. His whole life has been the craft of Vedic Astrology and Palmistry, and he says their is still so much to learn he can barely keep up. Being a student of Vedic Astrology myself, I understand - the Indians have developed such an intricate art/science, using their genius at mathematics, that it is really a bottomless pit of information.
It is unimportant as to the details of my reading, but one of his skills is to corroborate an astrology chart with the reading of my palm, which he did. But the best thing about the two hours I spent with him was the wonderful guileless sweetness and saintliness of this man - he truly balances out all the pain-in-the-butt touts, cab drivers and beggars that accost me daily. It was two hours of pleasure talking to this simple but learned man, and it added to my knowledge of astrology. Meeting someone like him really is a highlight of my trip - nothing great spiritually, but just an innocent, sweet man dedicated to his craft.
Later on that night I run into him on the streets of Udaipur, and he takes me to meet his family and to give me some book recommendations. His wife is extraordinarily beautiful, and he tells me when his oldest son reaches 5 years of age, he will begin his education in astrology and palmistry, following in his old man's footsteps, like so many generations before. There are countless family lineages in India passing down this information, and each family has something unique to offer, to give you an idea of the breadth of this subject. In any case, if you are ever in Udaipur, have a reading with Pandit Shashi Pandya through the Caravanserai hotel. Phenomenal value for 8 dollars.
Speaking of temples, perhaps the most extraordinary of temples, in the architectural sense, may lie in the only Rajasthani hill station called Mt. Abu, a four hour taxi drive from Udaipur. The Jain Delwara temples, from all descriptions, sounded so magnificent that I booked a day in Mt. Abu.
Driving through the Rajasthani desert with Ratan my driver, was an extremely pleasant experience. For one, Ratan drove like a westerner, not a crazy taxi driver, and had a safety margin that may have even exceeded mine.
And the terrain of the Rajasthani desert was beautiful and varied - sometimes it reminded me of the US Mojave desert, sometimes the high desert east of Los Angeles, but unique also. Of course, you don't see camels in the US desert. And the women wear a most beautiful kind of vest, full of sparking mirrors and assorted shiny object in addition to the bright colors of the saris.
Arising of a Non-Dual State
At one point about halfway there, the sense of inherent pleasurefulness gave way to a heartful swooning. In a few moments I found that the ordinary sense of "self" was being extinguished, giving rise to a yogic state of non-dualism. How this was occurring, and it is difficult to explain, was that a point on the right side of my heart, which IMO, is the source of "I-ness", began to "unravel" - it appears to me that the "experience of self and other is bound by a contraction of energy at a very deep level of being, and this contraction appears to be centered at this point on the right side of the heart. It is as if, unconsciously and continuously, we are spinning into the "knot" of self. But at this moment, this knot, experientially gave way, analagous to the unwinding of clothing that one wringing out of water.
And in this "unwinding", the sense is that the self is drained through this point in the heart. This results in an "experience" of "no-boundary" - the assumed hard division of self and other gives way, and the sense of self expands to the surrounding environment. In a sense, I was the taxi and the surrounding air speeding by. There is a loss of a bodily sense in this time also, to give the feeling that I've "spilled" into everything.
This kind of experience to me, is an example of how the self-sense is truly a knot, and that the non-dual state can penetrate into ordinary waking consciousness. But it is a "state" and it came, stayed for a while and then left. But this happens to me on occasion, for reasons unexplained - in this moment, why in the middle of a bouncy taxi cab ride is beyond me. But there was a quality of utter stillness reflected by the desert in the preceeding hours. To me, it is great that this happens, but to me it simply is an extension of a process that has come into my life several years ago, and continues to move into my being in its own timetable with its own set of logic.
The Jain Delwara Temples
I arrived in Mt. Abu, a stayed in the Palace Hotel Bikaner HOuse, which reminded me way too much of the Savoy Hotel in Mussourie. Again I may have been the only one staying there, eating alone in a huge dining room. Just too weird. But Mt. Abu, being approx. 1200 meters above sea level will be that last cool place, temperature wise, that I will encounter in India. Enjoy it while I can.
We picked up a guide along the way, a sweet old man who looked a whole lot like Shirdi Sai Baba. Our first stop was the Jain Diwali temples a few miles up the road from my hotel. They did not disappoint.
The Jains are known for their extreme asceticism and vow of ahimsa or non-violence. They take it to such an extreme that Jain monks wear surgical like masks so as to not breathe in bugs, and have these little brushs to brush the street in front of them, to prevent squashing bugs. Little do they know, inside we're all highly potent bacteria killing machines. The Jains are very strict about entering the temples also, saying no pictures, or touching of the opposite sex, arm in arm, or arm around waist is strictly forbidden. And they say women in their "monthly course" must not enter or else they will suffer. Boy, are these guys strict! I'm not sure how women breaking the rules will suffer.
There are five separate temples in the complex, two of which are the main attractions. Inside both of these two temples, the entire insides are covered with white marble carvings in every conceivable square inch of the temples, which are about 200 by 100 feet. Imagine a very complicated Tibetan thanka, carved out in three dimension, and repeated on every section of the wall, every column, every inch of ceiling, all in white marble. Goddesses and gods of every kind, Krishna, Durga, Saraswati, to name a few. There were numerous scenes of playing, fighting, all aspects of life, but outside of a little breast fondling, nothing in overt sexual scenes, as found in other temples. But I've noticed that all Goddesses, regardless of the religion or sect, have gravity defying C or D cup breasts without exception. Being a guy, this I've noticed.
Around the perimeter of the temple are numerous little chambers with locked doors, containing gold and brass replicables of the 24 "tirthankars" the lineage holds of the Jain religion, the last one being Mahavir, who was alive at the time of Buddha. It was rumored that Mahavir would send people over to check out what was going on with the Buddha, and recognizing a superior teaching, none would come back.
Just to give you a sense of what these temples took to build, one of the two main temples cost, in today's dollars, almost one half a billion US dollars, and all it is is a 200 by 100 foot stone structure. Each square foot took a long, long time to carve. The temples were served, and there was a blessing force there, but nothing extremely potent for me. Nonetheless, the architecture was the most incredible pieces of work I've ever seen.
At the end of the day, we went to "Sunset point" a place where people can go watch the sun set from a rocky western outcropppiing. But there were so many people and so much horseshit from the horse rides (at full speed through a crowded walkway no less), that it was one of the most disturbing sunsets in my life. And the indiscriminate littering, ugh!
The AchalGhar Shiva Temple
About 10 km outside of Mt Abu. is a small town called AchalChar which holds several temples. One of them is the Achaleshwar Mahandeva Shiva temple, which is unique in that it has no Shiva lingam, just a yoni hole in the center of the temple that supposedly has no bottom. It also contains a special multi-colored stone that is supposed to be the toe of Lord Shiva (Hindu mythology is rife with body parts of the gods and goddess strewn about holy sites all over India.
The temple is guarded by two large stone elephants, and like all Shiva temples has a Nandi bull outside the temple, facing towards the temple center. The Nandi bull is what Shiva use for travel, and it waits for Shiva to come out. This bull is particularly spectacular, as it is almost life size and made of gold, brass, silver, copper. A magnificent bull.
We were allowed by the temple priest to enter the inner chamber, and sure enough there is a cave for the yoni, and on the side of the wall, about 6 inches down, is the beautiful stone which is his toe. I sat down in the inner chamber to catch the vibe, you might say, and meditated for about twenty minutes. This apparently pleased the temple priest, as when I going to leave, he adorned me with a sandalwood marking that all Shavites (devotees of Lord Shiva) have on their forehead - four horizontal marks across the forehead and one vertical at the third eye. By the time he was done applying the marking, I must have been wearing two pounds of sandalwood paste. But I felt real cool - perhaps with this marking, now I'll get some respect around here! In the midst of my meditation, a man was playing bhajans in praise of Lord Shiva, which was a nice touch.
Afterward we went onto to another set of Jain temples nearby, at the top of a hill having spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. The Jains give their tirthankars are really unique look on their gold/brass statues, but too bad I couldn't record it in a photograph.
Being all templed out, I had lunch, said goodby to my guide and Servedio, Phil Servedio, like his predecessor James Bond, having fulfilled his secret mission for her majesty's secret service, began the long car ride back to the Udaipur airport, on my to Bombay/Mumbai, the most western of all India's cities.
Outside of seeing a bull trying to mount a cow in the middle of the Udaipur main street, my drive back to Udaipur and the plane to Mumbai was thankfully uneventful.