“You are not a tourist, ease up”, said a friend after one look at my itinerary for Udaipur, my hometown, a city I visit every few months. It almost sounded like a bad thing. Was I being told not to change from my usual lazy, procrastinating local self into a discoverer, explorer, foodie and photographer? I was confused. As I prepped for the trip, folks back home were relieved that I didn’t sign up for the package deal (pun intended) – sunhat, camera around neck and the crazy map-in-hand walk. My “let’s make the most of the time” frenzy was acceptable as long as I kept it in check. “I’ll try”, I say. And then go on to see- Neemach Mata Mandir, Shilpgram, Menar Bird Sanctuary, Khmepur Haveli, Dungarpur, Desert safari- in one week. “I tried”, I say, sheepish!
It is at the Sahastra Bahu temple where my explorer- fever finally makes sense.
Dedicated to Vishnu, Sahastra Bahu, meaning one with a million arms, is locally called Saas-Bahu – The Mother-in-law – Daughter-in-law temple. Funny! Udaipur’s twisted take on the name and the relation as one with a million (reasons to be up in) arms, I think. Just 22 kms out of Udaipur, the site borders green marshlands with date palms giving a unique oasis-que feel to the hilly landscape. The name and scenery have my interest piqued.
I learn that the temple is on the Archaeological Survey of India’s list of heritage monuments. Yet, rushing tourists enroute to Nathdwara and Eklingji are mostly who I find here. With a pose and a click, they move- in and out in 20 minutes. To a structure standing around since the 7th century, this could seem a tad rushed. But then again, as Indians we are spoilt for choice of intricately carved temples across our country. One such as this, with large parts of its craftsmanship eroded can fail to hold attention for long, especially if one is checking it off a sight-seeing list. But who am I to judge, tourists at least make an appearance. Locals hardly ever come by. Heck, it’s my first time here in all these years!
I am happy the tourist-curiosity finally gets me here and being a local gives plenty of time to sit back and take it in. History isn’t my strong point, so imagination comes to help. I watch long enough and each temple element begins to fire a story. Like a stoic general, the isolated pillars demand more than just a second look. They command respect for their resilience, for not collapsing like the walls around them; for standing up to wind and war for the last 2000 years.
Like an aging beauty, the carved walls press for more than just attention. They wait for appreciation, for adoration of their fading elegance, for love that once changed their plain faces into masterpieces.
I imagine how the temple must have once stood, in eternal pride, protected by Kings prostrated on by devotees, patronized by artists. It stands now, idol less, in near ruins, with little to offer but a peek into history and some pretty pictures.
Soon, the impermanence of it all begins to hit hard and close. I recognize that no matter how self-important I feel today, my super successes, and even my fantastic failures will one day be lost to the forces that have always been – of wind and sand, of water and land. Yet, for the most part, I live deluded, frog in a well, unwilling to step out of my emotional and physical comfort zone.
If the ruins could leave me a life message this might be it.
Like a local, don’t be bound
Not in body, nor in mind
Embrace your world, as a tourist does
Open to adventure each day, that comes
And there, on the steps of the Sahastra Bahu temple, my explorer- fever finally makes sense.
I am happy that I am here, not just as a tourist in a new town, but better still, as a tourist in my own town.
Not transforming for a temporary, alternate reality, making the most of each day, for a few days; but seeing my own familiar world with new eyes, loving it with new passion and making the most of each day, every day.
I smile. Being labelled a tourist, feels like the best compliment ever!
This is a personal account of my journey to the Sahastra Bahu temple and the part of me I found there.
For history enthusiasts, more factual information can be found here:
About the Author:
Somya Deshpande, is a Communications professional living in Mumbai. Udaipur is her maternal hometown and growing up she spent many a summers here walking the streets of the old city. Her special bond with Udaipur continues and she visits every few months to connect with family and herself. Somya is a travel and fitness enthusiast, trekking is her passion. You can read her experiences on her blog www.onthehighroadblog.wordpress.com.
Get in touch with her at firstname.lastname@example.org