Published: March 8th 2011March 6th 2011
After the last eight weeks of peaceful tranquility in the South, Rajasthan is like a shot of adrenaline. My first impression was that I was back in the Middle East. It has the same feel. I don't know if it's the dry air or the smell of spices or the bellowing of the call to prayer from the Muezzin, but it feels more like Egypt or Iraq than Kerala or Tamil Nadu.
Udaipur is beautiful, narrow winding roads and alleys tucked into a vast maze of buildings and shops. The people here are light skinned descendants of the Aryans (compared to the black Dravidians who live in the south), the Swastika is painted on walls and above doorways. Most of the men have gold earrings. The roads are so narrow and winding that there is a constant traffic jam as rickshaws, motorcycles, cows and people all compete for the limited space. I was so excited my first night that I left my hotel wandering through the passages and streets. I then realized I had no idea where my hotel was, that I hadn't really paid attention to what it looked like or what it was called. This is my nightmare.
It was way after dark and most of the shops were closed and the streets were empty. It was one of those moments where I was so happy that I was by myself and not traveling with anyone else. When you are alone in this position you can sit down and think "haha it is funny how dumb I am" and then go through the problem solving process of figuring out what you are going to do. If you are with another person it inevitably becomes a huge argument that is only indirectly related to actually being lost. I ended up finding the alley that my hotel was on well after midnight, I had probably walked past it ten times during my search.
My first day I went and saw the big palace. I find these things exhausting and only moderately interesting. There is something insincere about coming to India and seeing large ancient buildings which today are full of tourists. There was a group of women singing traditional songs and dancing and I felt sad that they do these traditional dances for western money, and not for their own value. It's the same feeling I get when I
do Yoga and see that all the other people doing it are western and the Yogi makes sure to count his money before we begin. There is something disingenuous about it. This whole paragraph is ridiculous, everyone should have the right to go and see and do these things and Indians should be able to make a living. It just feels like there is a wall between us that I don't know how to get around. One good thing about India is that the tourism is so centrally located in each spot that you can walk 5 minutes in any direction and be in a totally different world. The big lake palace was closed off because the King of Mewar's daughter was getting married there and they were partying hard all weekend.
Of infinitely more interest than the palaces was the spice and vegetable market. It was an orgy of color and smell and movement. Hundreds of shops and stands selling spices, pots, shoes, and every type of vegetable and fruit. A constant stream of people and dogs and cows, the smells of incense, spices, sewage and trash. People yelling over the price of large green cucumbers and bright
tomatoes; street sweepers crawling on the hands and knees using hand brushes to scrub the dirt and garbage into piles before setting them on fire; people stopping before one of the hundreds of small shrines and temples to pray or light incense, many draped with flowers around their necks. Everywhere the movement of thousands of people talking, smoking, laughing and spitting. A man pulled me into his shop and pulled out an airline reservation for Dallas Texas. He was going to visit his son who lives in Dallas and his daughter who lives in Southern California. As we were talking other people came up to buy things from his store and when they found out I was an American almost all of them had family in various parts of America. It's pretty incredible. Here we are sitting in a small poor shop the size of a closet frequented by lower middle class Indians in a small city and almost all of them have family living in America. I can't help but sit in awe as armies of well dressed bright eyed children march to school each morning, stopping to say hello and chat in perfect English.
I am so
glad I gave myself 5 months to do this. Last night I ate dinner next to a family who were doing a two week tour of everything. They were going to about ten different locations, all just long enough to get their pictures taken and get some food before moving on. They were exhausted and frustrated. They asked me what my plan was and were shocked when I said I didn't really know, that I might spend a week or ten days in Jaipur or Pushkar but I didn't really have a plan beyond enjoying each day. I feel like they would see more in two weeks if they went and stayed at the same spot the entire time. Go to Varanasi and really get a feel for it. That would be much better in my opinion than spending every night on a train or bus and not really enjoying your time.
There are more photos below