INDIA – Udaipur, Gangaur Ghat // Octopussy (1983)
The lake shore at Gangaur Ghat is the thumping heart of Udaipur. Coming here means seeing the city thrive in music, passion and color. But its magical appearance is threatened: of all things for the sake of tourism.
Why Bond was here
After James Bond (Roger Moore) gets hold of a faked Fabergé egg, he goes after a smuggling enterprise run by wealthy Afghan prince Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan) and mysterious occultist Octopussy (Maud Adams). The notorious team operates from the Rajasthani city Udaipur in western India. The city lies at the shore of Lake Pichola, a beautiful artificial lake that helped Udaipur earning the status as being “the Venice of India”. Thus said, Bond arrives in style: with a hydro helicopter that drops him at Gangaur Ghat – the lake bank at the city center. He is then greeted by Vijay, a local MI6 staffer disguised as a serpent charmer.
A ghat is usually a group of steps leading down to a body of water – be it a holy river or a lake. But more than that, it is the center of town – comparable to an Italian piazza. The locals come to the ghat to bathe, to wash clothes and most of all to catch up with the latest gossip. The ghat in Udaipur is named after the holy festival of Gangaur – a party dedicated to the woman and marital fidelity. Even the famous Maharaja row boat used in Octopussy (now property of the Taj Lake Palace) has its own Gangaur festival background.
As being such an important place for the city, Gangaur Ghat is close to the center of the old city at the northern tip of Lake Pichola. Following down Jagdish Chowk road from the City Palace complex it is to the left after the massive Jagdish Temple. Coming from the western area Ambamata it is just across the small bridge to the right. Ask for the Bagore Ki Haveli Museum, to find the way. The entry to the main ghat – the women’s area – is behind a big crested arch. The men’s bathing area is then to the right behind a small passage.
Good to know
When depicted in Octopussy, the Gangaur Ghat of Udaipur was as lively as one could imagine: woman washing clothes, men celebrating a Hindu festival, jugglers, vendors and serpent charmers all around. Though this image has been true over the centuries, nowadays it slowly vanishes. Devdan, a local restaurant owner, told us, the authorities forbid public washing and bathing some years ago – to prevent fights between locals and tourists.
The ghat has always been a meeting place especially for women to chatter and do their laundry – and also to get naked and take a bath in the lake. When tourism came to town, along came the insensitive photographers. When offended women attacked the picture snappers, the best idea authorities came up with was to rule out the bathing – instead of bringing some sense to the tourists. Luckily, Gangaur Ghat is still used by some families, who don’t care about politics – and thus fill the place with life. Indian boys try stunt jumps from the men’s area to the right, woman still soak their orange and yellow saris in the waters of Pichola lake. And if you’re lucky, a Hinduistic Krishna procession treks down from a nearby temple to do baptisms and joyous dances at the shore.
Best time to visit Gangaur Ghat is probably around December, when Lake Pichola is still full of water but already receded enough to release some of the marble steps of the ghat. In spring, the lake has dried out very much and in September – then after the Monsoon time – Pichola is so full, that the ghat is almost overflowed.
As Gangaur Ghat still is a touristic hub, the road leading up to the city center is filled with restaurants and cafés. Many rooftop spots offer daily Octopussy screenings after sunset. A good choice is “Shyam Café”, run by owner Kailash. From his rooftop – and with a long neck – every location from the movie is visible: be it the islands on Lake Pichola, the Jagdish Temple or the far away Monsoon Palace.
But the best place to visit is probably “Gangaur Boutique” run by tailor Rakesh Yadav (see him in our video interview above). His little shop on the right side of the road down to Gangaur Ghat – it’s next to the German bakery “Café Edelweiss” – has fine custom-made clothing. Within a day, Rakesh can tailor a noble kurta or a decent coat. His specialities are shirts and jackets with the Mandarin or Nehru collar – the stylish round collar so famously worn be James Bond villains like Ernst Stavro Blofeld or Kamal Khan. Rakesh can be reached via mobile or mail, oh, and he loves to bargain.
Some meters south of Gangaur Ghat is the Lal Ghat, another shore area of Lake Pichola. From here, boats departure for 200 Rupees for lake tours, including the magnificent Taj Lake Palace and the southern Jagmandir Island. Doing a short circle at Gangaur Ghat, the rides are also a good opportunity to see the steps from the lake side.
© 2015 Huntingbond (1,3, gallery), © 1983 Danjaq, LLC and United Artists Corporation (2)