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Published: January 10th 2012
SEVEN HOURS LATER WE CLIMBED OFF the overnight train into another unfamiliar world. It is a testament to how long we have been travelling that we are no longer frazzled by the process of arriving in a strange city at an ungodly hour, haggling over a price of a rickshaw and barreling off in the chosen vehicle down some dark, foreign alley in search of a hotel. It is precisely these experiences that make me realize how much faith in the world and in humanity traveling requires. In these first moments in a new city you are like an infant - lost, helpless and completely dependent on others to help you. Somehow though, it always works out.
The state of Rajasthan is one of the oldest developed regions of India. It has an incredibly rich history of fierce Rajput warriors who supposedly originated from the sun, moon and stars and wealthy Maharajas dating back over 1,000 years. Almost nowhere is this history more visible than in the city of Jodhpur with it’s mighty fort, medieval bazaars and decadent palaces. The city is most famous, however, for the light blue color that covers almost every building and wall. The color was
originally used to mark the house of Brahmins (the highest caste in Hinduism), but it is now used by practically everyone as it is cooling against the hot sun and it also helps to repel mosquitoes. Towering over the maze of blue is the mighty Mehrangarh fort, like an angry father shaking his fist. Down below, in the area known as the Old Town, a maze of bazaars spills out in all directions around a central clock tower. There are separate bazaars for silver, silk, spices, and handicrafts among others. Right in the center of all this chaos there is a tiny, hole-in-the wall restaurant that sells the most amazing makhania lassis (a yogurt drink) of all time. Despite it’s lackluster appearance it is renowned all over Rajasthan for it’s delicious recipe. Of course we had to try it. It did not disappoint - the cool saffron and rose flavors were the perfect treat on a hot afternoon. It was enough to get a girl hooked on lassis for life.
We filled one of our days in Jodhpur by wandering through the majestic fort, which made for a really interesting lesson in Rajasthani history. For the first time we
decided to partake in the audio tour which really enhanced our experience as it explained the story behind what we were looking at. To enter the fort you have to pass through seven tall, forboding gates. As you pass through the second gate you can see several round circular imprints in the stone which were made by the impact of cannonballs several centuries ago. A few feet ahead, just through the third gate a cluster of tiny handprints are imprinted on the wall. These are the marks of Maharaja Man Singh’s widows as they passed through the gates the last time before they threw themselves on his funeral pyre. This practice, known as sati, occurred throughout much of India in the past. Although it was officially outlawed in the 1980s it still occurs on rare occasions. Once through the seven gates you reach a large complex of luxurious palaces and halls. There was one entertaining hall that was particularly extravagant. It was covered in emeralds, rubies and other jewels from floor to ceiling which sparkled in the afternoon light. We also got to tour the palaces where the women used to live. From these chambers the women could peer down
into the courtyard below through small carvings in the stone in complete privacy – no one could see in from the outside. There was also a museum which hosted an amazing display of armor, antique paintings and paloquins and howdahs – intricately carved carriages which were set upon the top of elephants to cart around royalty.
Our stop in Jodhpur was rather brief. We only stopped to break up our long train journey south. After a couple days of sight seeing we hopped back on the train and continued on in our quest for the palm trees and blue seas of Goa.
We made another brief stop over in Mumbai, which was also an adventure of sorts. As we glided down the coast the landscape changed dramatically. The arid scrubland gradually gave way to watery marshes and palm trees, and the air became thick and humid. As we neared Mumbai a sea of silver tin roofs came into view that extended into the horizon for miles. Clothing hung out on lines, naked children scampered around in the dirt, and barbed wire lined the top of walls and barricades. Directly next to these make shift tenements were
the tall, stream lined, modern buildings that we are so familiar with in the developed world. They seemed out of place here juxtaposed next to the sprawling slums.
Upon arriving at the train station we went through the usual routine of bargaining to get a rickshaw to our hotel, only to find out later that we paid at least twice as much as we should have (this happens constantly). We got to the hotel and immediately discovered that it was actually part of a Hare Krishna ashram (religious center). All the men had shaved heads save for a little tuft of hair in the back of their scalp that stuck up rather funnily. They greeted us and bade us farewell by smiling and saying “hare krisha” as if it were the literal translation of “hello” and “goodbye”. We went and got lunch at a small local place which was filled with Mumbaikers eating thali (a traditional Indian dish consisting of naan, rice and several different types of curry). It was a nice to eat at a traditional place after all the tourist meals we had eaten in Rajasthan.
That night we decided to venture out on the town.
The area of Mumbai we were staying in, Bandra West, is famous for its upscale dining and nightlife. I was eager to partake in a bit of luxury since we have been living it up backpacker style for months now – always wearing the same, wrinkly clothes and being very conscientious of spending. I dug to the bottom of my bag, found a mostly clean dress, put on my single pair of earrings and even applied a spot of make-up! I felt like a new woman. We took a rickshaw down the exquisitely opulent shopping lane to a swanky Mediterranean restaurant on the top floor of a shopping center, called Sheesha. It was beautiful! All around us mosaic glass lanterns danced in the wind and the florescent bulbs of the city twinkled below. It was such a treat to be surrounded by such luxury, and on top of that the food was incredible. It was literally the best meal I have eaten in India so far. I had my usual fresh lime soda, with butter naan, savory chicken kebabs and a rich, spicy chicken curry. It was absolutely divine and we ate until our bellies were round and full.
Before heading home we decided to wander around for a bit, since the street was wide awake with life. Across the street, a sign caught my attention “Chocolateria”. We couldn’t resist – if you know me at all, you know I am an absolute chocolate fiend and while we have nibbled here and there the good stuff has been hard to come by. It was like walking into a paradise designed especially for Claire. The list of chocolately goodness was miles long including shakes, coffee concoctions, dozens of hot chocolate flavors, and oodles of rich cakes and sweets. If I didn’t know any better I would have thought we were in the United States. The décor was chic, the people were wearing Western clothes, and many of them were even speaking in English. There wasn’t even a hint of the sewer smell that seems to permeate every nook and cranny of India. We ordered a spicy hot chocolate, which was so thick that it was essentially melted chocolate, and a three tiered mousse souffle. It was the very definition of indulgence. Just then, right in the middle of this decadence I looked out the window and saw a little girl
wearing only a filthy, torn shirt curled up on the hard cement without even a blanket or pillow to cradle her tiny little head. My chocolatey bubble burst. I was suddenly plagued by the argument that I routinely have with myself day in and day out. “Should we buy her something to eat?” And the inevitable response – “If we give her
something we will be instantly surrounded by other street children asking for the same which would quickly snowball out of control (I learned this the hard way). Furthermore, community leaders and non profits consistently request foreigners not to give anything to beggars as they believe it only aggravates the problem… But yet, she is hungry, and that hunger is very real and very present.” I sat pondering these thoughts as I slurped down the last of the rich liquid. Eventually we skulked away back to our hotel, feeling a mix of chocolate induced bliss and unrelenting guilt. And this my friends, is Mumbai.
To see more pics from this area check out my husband’s photos at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thejarvisproject
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