Wednesday, April 24, 2013

U: Oh, the places you'll go!

U is for Ubud and Udaipur

This is my contribution to the A to Z Blogging Challenge, in which I'm focusing on overseas destinations I've visited. Five to go!!

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia (August 1989)

Whenever I'm asked that classic question "where in the world would you like to be right now?", I often answer "Ubud, Bali." I'm sure I've glorified it in my imagination from what it was actually like, but it is unforgettable.

Ubud is in the middle of the island of Bali, an artist conclave regarded as Bali's cultural center. Actually a conglomeration of several interconnected villages, Ubud goes back to the eighth century, when a Javanese Hindu priest named Rsi Marhandya came from Java established a shrine there. The name Ubud originated from the ancient Balinese, Ubad, which means medicine.

Monkey Forest Road in 1989

Monkey Forest Road now
Judging from all the photos I see on the Internet, Ubud has been discovered, sadly, over the past 24 years. TripAdvisor has 329 hotels listed, and many of those look to be resort types. Maybe I wouldn't like Ubud as much any more...perhaps I should keep it idealized in my mind!

View from our table at the Lotus Cafe--gorgeous dining!!
We escaped to Ubud after staying in Kuta for 3 days. We were grateful to leave the drunken-soaked beaches, but getting to Ubud took us five different bemos--we were cheap! Most of the budget hotels were on the Monkey Forest Road. We enjoyed eating in Ubud--at places like the Cafe Wayan (still operating), where we had sauteed chicken, a chicken and papaya salad, and brown bread with honey. The Lotus Cafe, which overlooked a beautiful lily pad water garden, inspired us to name our to-be child "Lotus Blossom" until he finally appeared many years later and got a proper name. At the Ibu Rai Restaurant, we dined on grilled sea bass and spaghetti Neapolitan. We had grilled snapper and chicken tikka in the Puri Garden restaurant.

Here's where the idealism comes in: That first evening I felt really ill, convinced it was caused by the smelly mosquito coils we were forced to burn in our room to keep the mosquitos away. We were kept awake by mosquitos buzzing and hovering, flying in through holes in the window screens. Dogs were howling and cocks were crowing...that's what happens when you stay in cheap guesthouses! Ubud is also very remote--when we tried to call Air India, the telephone office told us that they didn't have a Jakarta phone book, and the only way to get hold of the phone number was to call Denpasar, who would then call Jakarata, who would find the number. This would take about 2 hours, if we would "like to wait." We declined and returned the next day.

Beautiful bamboo street decorations in an Ubud village
The breakfasts were wonderful in Ubud as well--more fruit salad with lime and coconut, banana pancakes, omelettes, and coffee. We moved to another room with more secure window screens, but the shower in our new room didn't work.

On one of our long walks

Right before it started pouring!
It rains a lot in Ubud. We spent a lot of time reading, writing, and wandering in art galleries, shops, and the beautiful green landscapes. One afternoon we took a walk into the rice paddies and were soaked by a sudden, violent rain shower. The rice paddies were flooded and sprouts of rice burst through the murky water. Ducks waddled in large groups after the duckherd who carried a pole with a flag attached, looking amazingly like a Japanese tour guide! We passed women bathing in a stream, beckoning us to join them. When we declined, they all roared with laughter. Nearly everyone we encountered was friendly, shouting greetings in Indonesian and English.

Ubud musical weather vane--these sounded wonderful!
I loved the culture and sounds in Ubud...from the bamboo wind chimes and singing weather vanes outside of every restaurant and home, to the proliferation of art everywhere, to the wonderful dance performances we saw, one by a village troupe, protesting against nuclear armament.

Heron in Petalu Gunang
One evening we walked to the Petulu Gunang village, past the Future Peace Art Gallery, where we met artist Madi Kertonegoro and we bought one of his books, The Spirit Journey: Stories and Paintings of Bali, with an intro by Alice Walker, who had discovered him in Ubud.

In Petulu Gunang, which was more bustling and busy than the other village we walked through, we saw bare-breasted women walking about and many people bathing or fetching water. Beautiful white herons were flying in to palm trees to roost, because the village is a heron sanctuary.

One man asked if we'd like to take a look at his house--he was a woodcarver and the head of the village, I. Nyoman Kelincet, and also a dancer in the performance that night. (Right there in his studio he danced for us in his sarong! Mike bought a beautiful wood carving of a mother and two children, the one I liked the best. I couldn't help but wonder where it would end up...because with six weeks to go before our separation--him back to England and me to Oregon--we still hadn't discussed our future together.

After we bought the carving, Nyoman invited us for coffee, which we drank while sitting on an open deck amidst squawking chickens, grinning, children, and staring topless grannies. From our seats we could see the herons above in the trees. Nyoman chattered on about how he wanted to go to England to carve.

My favorite photo from Indonesia, which hangs on our living room wall
(These were the children at the dance performance in the village)
That evening we sat on the steps of the temple, wondering if we'd be the only ones in the audience. Soon other people started arriving and some little children next to us (see photo above) were playing a sort of "London Bridge Is Falling Down" in Indonesian. Backed by a Gamelan orchestra, the dancers told a story about Shiva creating the world and all living creatures, which were then persecuted by human beings. The king of the trees and animals (played by our friend Nyoman), now sick with grief, appeals to Shiva for help. I'm not sure how I followed the plot, but I did detail it in my journal somehow!

Women carrying offerings on their heads
On our last full day in Ubud, we went down to the Monkey Forest, where Balinese women in their finery were bringing offerings on their heads. The monkeys were amused by the foreigners giving them attention.

My handsome boyfriend in Ubud
In spite of my Bali belly and the rain, I have fond memories of our week in Ubud. It had a wonderful, laid-back, artistic vibe. I hadn't even remembered the rain...must be because I'm an Oregonian!

Udaipur, India (September 1989)

We arrived in Udaipur after an overnight train from Jaipur.  We took a rickshaw and then a boat to the Lake Palace Hotel, where we didn't have reservations but thank goodness, they had a room available.

Lake Palace Hotel
The Lake Palace Hotel is one of India's finest historic jewels. This is what the hotel website says about its history:
"Glowing moonlight. Gentle lakeside breezes. A whole entourage (of) courtesans. What young prince could resist? Certainly not Maharana Jagat Singh II. Legend has it that the young prince indulged in moonlight picnics with the ladies of the Zenana on the lake island palace of Jag Mandir. A pleasurable pastime - until his father found out. With that option closed to him, there was only one solution. He built his own pleasure palace on a different island in Lake Pichola. Begun in 1743 and inaugurated in 1746, the new palace was named Jag Niwas after his highness Maharana Jagat Singh II, 62nd successor to the royal dynasty of Mewar.

Jag Niwas, now Taj Lake Palace, is one of four lovely islands in Lake Pichola. And each island has a story to tell. Mohan Mandir is the place from where the king would watch the annual Gangaur festival celebration. Arsivilas used to be an ammunition depot and later was used as a helipad by the royal family. And of course, Jag Mandir is the location for the original pleasure palace of Maharana Jagat Singh I.

The Royal Dynasty of Mewar had palaces to spare. In addition to Taj Lake Place there was the City Palace, which used to be the official residential palace during winters, the hill top Monsoon Palace also known as Sajjan Garh, and the aforementioned Jag Mandir.

What may have begun as a prince’s rebellious gesture was turned into one of the most romantic hotels in the world by Maharana Bhagwat Singhji in 1963. Then in 1971, with its legacy of hospitality, Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces was the perfect choice to carry on the royal tradition of the luxurious Lake Palace, Udaipur. The palace’s decadent reputation was cemented when the James Bond film 'Octopussy' was filmed on the premises. Taj Lake Palace was the secluded lair of the film’s eponymous Bond girl."                                          

What better place for a proposal? We had planned to stay in the Lake Palace for two nights, but Mike surprised me by adding on a third night. While we waited for our room to be ready, two women in extravagant saris put fresh flower leis over our heads. Our room was not huge but had a beautiful view of the lake and the city palace on the shore.

View from our room
We spent our days in Udaipur soaking up the beauty of the lake, swimming in the pool, sitting by the lily ponds in courtyard, and reading and writing in the sumptous library. One evening we took a sunset cruise on the lake, past the city palace and houses and temples built right on the water. People were bathing or swimming in the lake, some trying to swim out to our boat. The lake is so exotic--on one shore is the huge city palace complex, next to hills of white-washed houses and temples, making the city look Mediterranean. We stopped at Jag Mandir, on a nearby island, with its wonderful elephant guards. Our guide told us that Shah Jahan hid there and got his inspiration for the Taj Mahal. That night Indian dancers in saris performed in front of the lily ponds.

Jag Mandir
From the Jag Mandir

City Palace (from boat tour)

View from top of Jag Mandir

Mike on top of Jag Mandir

Jag Mandir

Lake Palace at sunset
The next day we took a boat into the city. The only bad thing that happened in Udaipur was that Mike had money stolen...we were in a tailor shop and Mike accidentally left his money belt in the dressing room. When he realized what he had done, he went back to find a young clerk rifling through his money belt...and his money was gone. We had just been to the bank, so we knew that 800 rupee were missing (about $15, now). The clerk swore on God, his mother, and his father that he hadn't taken anything, but it was clear. The shop owner was adamant that nothing had been taken, that nothing like that could happen in his shop. Well, another clerk discovered the the owner's bag! (Probably the clerk figured that would be the one place no one would look!) It was very upsetting, because then the owner proceeded to slap the clerk around. We were relieved when the money was found so we wouldn't have to go to the police...and we ended up buying a kurta for Mike and a skirt for me, because Mike didn't want to leave behind any bad feelings! I'm sure we paid way too much for them, too! It shows what suckers we were that after that happened, the guy who had taken us to the tailor shop lured us into his art shop...we were in shock so we went and wasted an hour listening to another long sales pitch. I guess we should feel lucky that this was the only actual theft we experienced in India (not counting the constant feeling of being cheated out of our money, or rickshaw drivers or hotel owners inflating charges).

On our final full day in Udaipur, we booked our seats to Jodhpur and stopped by to tour the city palace (after getting cheated by a rickshaw driver), with its gorgeous views of the water and collection of paintings, some very gory.

City palace

Inside the City Palace

City Palace
That evening we went up on the roof for sunset. Now the hotel has a rooftop restaurant, but back in 1989, there was nothing on the roof. Our romantic scene kept getting interrupted by other people who had also discovered our rooftop haven. One Australian woman even interrupted our snogging to ask where the swimming pool was! We stayed up there until the sun went down, clinging to each other with the realization that we had less than two weeks left together. Every time I thought about that I had to hold back the tears. This is what I wrote in my journal:
"Then, Mike asked me to marry him! I was very surprised and couldn't quite believe it (I still can't!) and of course I said yes. I've known for awhile now that Mike is the only man I ever want to share my life with. We were both feeling a bit spacey with elation and kissed and clung until we went downstairs--me still in a state of happy disbelief. Not that it was totally unexpected, but it just makes me so happy that it seems like a dream."

View from the roof
We ordered rum punches from room service to celebrate, toasted to the future, and kissed some more. Then we went to the hotel restaurant for a nice, romantic dinner. Instead of purchasing engagement rings, instead we went into the hotel art shop to buy a beautiful silk painting of an Indian wedding procession. I had it framed on our first anniversary, and ever since then it has hung on our living room wall.

Indian painting hung in our newlywed apartment, around 1990-91
(with my sister and her now-husband)
Happy and engaged to be married! (on the dock of the hotel)
After reading back over my journal yesterday, last night I watched my now-50-year-old husband do our six-year-old's bidding. Nicholas was Indiana Jones, and Mike was "Mutt." He's such an amazing husband and dad, able to connect on such a pure level with children. He does this way better than I do. I'm the cuddly mom, the one who has heart-to-heart conversations with the kids, and Mike is the fun parent...the one who acts in their plays (while I watch) and makes silly jokes. And he's still a romantic at heart! Our relationship has matured since 1989, like a fine wine. I knew then I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him, and now I'm only more certain. I can't imagine my life without him. I'm so lucky!
Mike in his kurta (City Palace in the background)
Thank you for popping the question in Udaipur, my sexy kurta boy!

Visit here to read my A-T posts. Tomorrow, back to Canada for V!


  1. "Kurta boy?" Sounds like the title of an Indian Shades of Grey...

    1. Haha--I like it! That's now your new nickname...

  2. Oh my word. What a wonderful world it is we live in. You may know, I'm a bit of a fan and a friend of your husband, and it is truly a treat and an honor to witness this evidence of you journeys together. Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. Matthew, thanks for visiting--I'm so glad you liked my story!