Sunday, November 09, 2008

Greetings From Udaipur

As I sit down to write this, an elephant just walked down the street past this cyber-cafe. Now that is remarkable for two reasons: first, it was an elephant, for crying out loud. We have seen lots of dogs, goats, and mainly cows in the roads, but this is the first elephantwe've seen go by. Second, the streets here are very, very narrow, so getting an elephant (or a car) down one of these streets is no small matter.

We read an article in the paper on the flight from Mumbai to Udaipur where a Russian dignitary described Indian drivers as "very skilled" - and they are - in that they navigate a road network without any kind of lanes, street signs, or anything else to direct traffic. The first reaction any American has coming to an Indian city (Mumbai and Udaipur have both been like this) is that it is truly a crazy driving situation. Driving here makes China look safe and boring and the beltway look like the Queen's tea.

With that in mind, Udaipur is an amazing city - the palaces are all fantastic - I'm not quite sure what to say about them. The city itself looks quite idealic from across the lake in the evening. The streets of the old city are a bit daunting - narrow, crammed with people and shops and cows and motorcycles and an American, it is a constant assault on the senses. Fortunately we started in Mumbai with our friends, which helped a lot. Compared to Mumbai, Udaipur is not so crowded, and our friends live in Mumbai and were able to give us a lot of situational awareness.

As we travel around India, I am constantly reminded of China - while they are very different, they are perhaps more like each other than either is like America. The density and crush of people, the buildings, often packed so close together, often barely standing. I will have to describe Mumbai in a separate post - it is its own beast.

A final note: it is heartening that everyone here knows Obama. :-) It is great to have a president that I do not have to be embarrassed about when traveling.

No comments: