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Published: August 16th 2008
027 - India - Rajasthan
07/30/08 - 08/17/08
Colorful Rajasthan NOTE: Remember to check the links at the bottom of the entry.
The timing of our visit to India fell smack in the middle of monsoon season. For this reason, we decided to focus our efforts on the colorful, desert state of Rajasthan. Here we would navigate the congested pink bazaars of Jaipur, philosophize with a chillum smoking gurugi of Pushkar, fight off chapati eating monkeys in Bundi, and soothe our weary bones at a palacial hotel in Udaipur.
Our first stop was Rajasthan's capital 'Pink City' of Jaipur. The nickname comes from the fact that many of the buildings are painted pink (by local mandate). Raj, the guy we met on our flight to Delhi, arranged a nice room for us in a hotel, and took us around the city on one of the days. Raj is a successful exporter of tourist merchandise (T-shirts, hats, ties, etc.) and lives a comfortable life in the heart of Jaipur. Unfortunately, and as is the case throughout India, his success highlights the stark differences between the rich and poor of the country. Coming from the middle-class-heavy United States,
this juxtaposition of success and poverty makes for an eye opening experience. Raj took us to his main office and to a couple of his wholesale and retail stores. At each place, his 'assistants' would answer to his every beckoning, whether it be fixing his chai (tea), driving him around town, grabbing merchandise for inspection, or running general errands. His hospitality towards us was exceptional, however, and he treated us like long-time friends.
With Raj and his friend Umesh, we visited the Tiger Fort that offered splendid views of the city. Another day was spent on a walking tour around the pink city and the central palace. One of our favorite sites was an observatory called Jantar Mantar that had dozens of gigantic instruments used for calculating celestial positions, as well as the largest sundial in the world. I think this will inspire us to put a sundial in the backyard of our future house! In general, Jaipur was a big city, and had a bit too much chaos and a 'Delhi-like' feel for our liking. Still, it was nice to get a local's perspective and we did get a good historical backing of Rajasthan here.
effort to get away from the hustle and bustle of big cities we headed to Pushkar, a small town surrounding a holy lake where many Hindu pilgrims come and bathe at the sacred ghats (steps leading in to the water). Whereas Jaipur has a population of almost 3 million people, Pushkar has less than 15,000, but still offers many of the comforts (decent guest houses, restaurants, and shops) that we've come to appreciate as travelers. After over a week in the country, this was the first place we were able to relax and take in all of the beauty of India without having to worry about pushy touts and swindlers on the streets. We took a three hour camel 'safari' and got to try our skills with these interesting animals (they ride similar to horses) while exploring the country side. We also met three female travellers and hiked up to the Savitri (Brahma's wife) temple to get some fantastic views of the town and the lake.
On the way to the Savitri temple we met a vibrant Sadu gurugi (holy man) named Balakmath (nicknamed Baba) who was traveling from Punjab. At 25 years old, Balakmath, like others in his
faith, lives a simple life without the burdens of money and other materialistic needs. His 'passport' consists of giant wooden rings that pierce the middle cartilage of his ears and identify him to others of his following. He sleeps for free at temples and meets with other gurugis to speak of life and faith while smoking chillum (a tobacco marijuana mix) from a pipe. I really took a liking to Baba because his was one of the first Indian perspectives that wasn't focused around money. He would say, 'God has given me everything that I need: two eyes, ears, a nose, a body. Why do I need money or anything else?'. We met up the following day and visited a festival just outside the city where another holy ghat was located. Hannah placed some flowers in the water and was blessed by a Brahman while Baba and I conversed. Afterwards, we said our goodbyes to Baba and wandered around Pushkar taking in the charm of this small holy town.
Our next Rajasthan stop was the small town (population less than 100,000) of Bundi. The town is best known for its baoris (step wells used for bathing by the town's
inhabitants) and its mountainous Bundi Palace that towers over the city. This giant palace is a bit run-down and while portions of it are open for public view, the majority of the edifice acts as a shelter for bats and pesky monkeys. One night while we were eating dinner at our hotel's rooftop restaurant (that faces the palace) a medium sized monkey jumped out of nowhere onto our table and proceeded to steal our last piece of chapati before vanishing back to his sanctuary! The whole maneuver was stealthfully executed in less time than it takes to say, 'Holy monkey shits, did that just happen?!?!'
While in Bundi we took a sightseeing day trip to the Queen's baori and the 84-pillared cenotaph, as well as the Bhim Lat waterfall located about an hour's drive from the city. We met some cheerful ladies hand washing their clothes at the lake nearby the Sukh Mahal palace and spent a few minutes smiling and conversing with their non-existent English skills. I also joined a pickup game of mardhar (an interesting cross between dodgeball and street bowling) and got some sweltering exercise with the local kids.
From Bundi we took a brain-jarring
overnight bus to Udaipur. We arrived absolutely drained and spent the first day resting at a converted palace hotel that came recommended from another traveller. Being low season, and the fact that the hotel was not in the Lonely Planet guide book, we got a huge discount on the room and had the entire staff waiting on us hand and foot.
While in Udaipur we explored the Jagdish Temple and the City Palace which offers amazing views of nearby Lake Pichola. Udaipur was the shooting location of the James Bond film, Octopussy, and many of the restaurants have nightly screenings of the movie on request. It was pretty cool to watch the movie and point out the sights we had just seen. Interestingly, things don't appear to have changed too much in Udaipur from when the movie was filmed. On one of the days I checked out a neat vintage car collection, including the 1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom used Octopussy. If you're into vintage cars, here's a link
to some pictures.
After Udaipur, we jumped on a bus attempting to go visit one of Hannah's friends, Anvi, in Surat. Unfortunately, the monsoon rains wreaked havoc on the roads and
many of the railway routes were flooded. An otherwise 8 hour journey threatened to become a 24 hour one, and we called it quits halfway through and grabbed a flight to Mumbai.
Mumbai is the New York City of India and people walk around here with a purpose. It is the center of Bollywood and there is plenty of big business to be done here. The prices are at least two to three times what they are in other cities but there are plenty of Western comforts here. We did a little sightseeing but mainly came to Mumbai to run a few last minute errands before leaving the Asian continent and heading to Africa.
Next stop, Nairobi, Kenya!
The colors of Rajasthan are best described through pictures. Click here
for a photo collage of Rajasthan.
Not everything in India is peachy keen! Click here
for Hannah's opinion on some of the more challenging differences between our cultures.
for some vintage car photos from Udaipur.
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