The Monsoon Palace

If I were to write of everything I have seen and done in this strange and wondrous place I would have to stop traveling now and simply write for months, probably even years, to begin to capture anything.

I would, like Proust, have to stop living entirely and just write. Just to capture the beam of light across the narrow stretch of lake between this shore and the one opposite me, a light that begins its reflection strong, turning a thick band of water brilliant orange, but then as it extends out away from that shore toward me, the light weakens and narrows like a straight road in the desert, shimmering as it comes to a point and then it begins to break up and ripple across the placid, but not entirely still, water which bends the light and makes it warble side to side until finally it breaks up into individual chunks of light dancing across the waves like luminous water striders in the still eddy of a river; even to capture one small, simple description like this (and we have not even begun to capture it, merely described it) would take hours if not days. Or perhaps to try and describe the emotional impact a simple tree can have silhouetted in a black shroud of leaves and branches against the vague slightly mauve last glow of light eking over the mountains in the distance. But even this simple scene calls up a hundred others, and each of those a hundred more.

Sunset Udaipur, IndiaI hired a rickshaw driven by a nice Indian man who spoke near perfect English and had clearly watched too many episodes of Pimp My Ride as evidenced by his tricked out rickshaw complete with recessed speakers in the back through which he enjoys blasting strange Indian dance music. I hired him, as I started to say, to take me up to the Monsoon palace at sunset. We started out in the early evening quickly leaving behind Udaipur and its increasing urban sprawl. The road to the Monsoon Palace passes through the Sajjan Garh Nature Preserve and there was a sudden and dramatic drop in temperature that made me question my decision to not bring my jacket, but then the road climbed out of the hollow and the temperature jumped back up to comfortable as we began to climb the mountain in a series of hairpin switchbacks.

Eventually we reached the summit and parked the rickshaw. My driver and his friend who had accompanied us were quick to point out that this was the highest summit around Udaipur, which is probably why Maharana Sajjan Sigh built his monsoon palace here. In India it pays to have a house in a high place so that when the monsoons come you can observe the torrential runoff from a safe distance (this is also the reason that Hindu temples are often very steep sided, architects found that the quicker the runoff the longer their work lasted).

Monsoon Palace Udaipur IndiaThe Monsoon Palace is at this point showing its age and the primary caretakers appear to be pigeons and some token gestures by the government, namely introducing UHF, shortwave and now cell relay towers on the rooftop. The result is somewhat disappointing after the City Palace and seems a good argument for the privatization of India’s landmarks. Yes, large portions of the City palace are now exclusive hotels, but at least they aren’t slowly crumbling into ruin.

The inside of the Monsoon Palace resembles an abandoned barn, bare floor and walls with pigeons roosting in the obviously modern steel girders that serve to reinforce the caving roof. The stark empty rooms and bare walls give no hint of the splendor that must have once filled them, the only hint of the palaces former grandeur comes from standing in the window balconies and admiring the sweeping mounta

Shadows Monsoon PalaceI went down out of the palace proper and sat in the courtyard looking up at the three stories of reddish pink stone that make up the various towers and rooms. As the sun slowly slunk behind the mountain range to the west the balconies and balustrades took on an increasingly orange hue. I struck up a conversation briefly with an American couple from Tennessee who raved about the camel markets in Pushkar and then I decided to go back up inside the palace.

The rooms were still bare and essentially stark, but the light of the setting sun now imbued them with a soft pinkish orange glow and standing in the window I looked back and noticed that even my shadow was slightly fuzzy with feathered indistinct edges. After taking few pictures and admiring the light for while I went back out to the courtyard and sat down to watch the color begin to fade from the walls. And as the sun finally disappeared behind the hills we headed back down to Udiapur.


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