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Published: June 12th 2006
Bottoms and Cows
Laneways at Jaisalmer Fort
The New Raj's of Rajasthan
We didn't know quite what to expect from India. Leaving the comfort-zone of a relaxing 3 days in Hong Kong, we felt a mixture of excitement and intrepedation about our next 5 weeks - Deli Belly, Touts, Chaos, Forts & Temples and a 45 degree heat wave were the main snippits of information we were armed with.
Well, there's nothing like taking a path less-traveled...
Our first 2 weeks in India were spent primarily in the state of Rajastan on a pre-organised driving tour. And having our own car, driver and accommodation sorted in advance was a brilliant way to get us in gear for the weeks ahead.
So, what kind of experience did we have in the former warrior state of Rajastan? Yes, it sure was dusty, hot and at times, quite dirty and intense, but straight out of the starting blocks, we were hit by the colour, family spirit, romance, and fantasy we had found in Rajastan. And of course, there were the people we were able to meet and talk to - open hearted, warm and proud. Colour
Our first day was spent on
a city-tour of Delhi, hurling from monument to monument. We zipped through tree-lined boulevards and by about the 3rd stop, Dom & I both turned to each other in confusion... Was this it? Was this the Delhi that people had warned us about?
So far, all we could tell was that there a lot of trees, quite a few parks and most remarkably - a sea of bedazzling colour. The sky was as blue as a summer Sydney day, the parks were well kept, and at each stop families dressed in the most vibrant and beautiful Indian traditional dress were spending their Sunday picnicing under trees.
Perhaps having come from grey China had something to do with the impact....
Anyway, Udaipur, our next stop only reinforced this impression - our hotel was a sparkling white, persian influenced, former estate house and the city itself was based around its turquoise blue lake. At sunset, we couldn't help but think we had entered some scene out of an Arabian warrior/romance film! Family Spirit
Here at Udaipur, we had an unbelievable opportunity to spend an evening with an Indian family - and not just a nuclear family
At Rohet Garth
Family estate near Jodpur, where we stayed.
- all 500 of them!
With the sun just setting, we strolled the streets, browsed the stores (picked up a great bright
organge Indian shirt!) and stumbled across a courtyard and band. Thankful for having seen the film 'Monsoon Wedding' I quickly realised by the audience's attire that we had accidentally stepped into something akin to a Wedding! (later learnt it was actually an Engagement Party).
Just as I had grabbed Dom's arm to alert him to my suspicion, a teenage boy stepped towards us crying "COME IN! COME IN!" He ushered us into the courtyard, pulled up two white chairs and then it was on.... Dom was swarmed by a group of boys and I was swarmed by a group of girls. Where were we from? What were our names? Was Dom my brother? Wouldn't we like to have a dance in the middle of the crowd? Won't we stay for the feast at dinner?
And all answers were in the affirmative - except for one which I think you'll all be able to figure out. 😉
The rest of the evening was spent in a similar swarm during the roof top Indian banquet. My
new teenage female friends had immaculate English and we discussed all sorts of topics like age of marriage in our countries, career prospects and of course, vitally important issues such as our favourite musicians (theirs was Michael Jackson!). Another group of girls, slightly younger (maybe around 10ish) were delighted with my earlier dance moves, and insisted I repeat my performance every few minutes. Eventually when we did leave the party, they farewelled me with a smashing rendition of the the Templar bum wiggle.
Whilst Dom also had his group of male buddies, guiding him on all the delicious dishes and chatting about the cricket, he also happened to acquire one particular male admirer - 3 years old, he didn't leave Dom's side all night! Even after collecting his own dinner, he then waited at least 5 minutes for Dom to collect his own from the Buffet, before trotting along behind him so as to be able to take a seat together.. Schucks!
Anyway, with this experience on only Day 2 in India, we were feeling very much like we were in fairy land. Fantastical Cities
Another stop on our itinerary was Jaisalmer - a place
like none other I have seen in my life. During our long drive west, the landscape got more barren, more red - until eventually we came upon the desert city, daunted by it's towering 'living fort'. Our hotel was outside town and we spent our first evening with dinner by the pool, looking toward the sunset descending over the red city before the the sparkling evening lights and cricket ground came to life. When it's over 45 degrees, I'd be playing cricket at 9pm too... Proud People
In Jaisalmer, we spent an afternoon wandering the dirty and crowded lanes of Jaisalmer's fort - hard to believe that people still live here, where there is little plumbing, the electricity works on generator, and for the kids, well playing badminton between human refuse of all kinds isn't exactly my idea of fun... But anyway, after a few hours, we took to a roof-top cafe for a much needed rehydration break and here we met a wise old music man, who swooned us with 300 year old Indian folk songs and chatter. Before we knew it, we'd spent over an hour with Wise Music Man on the roof sharing stories
about each other's lives, his views, his family and even India's recent military history with nearby Pakistan.
However, possibly one of the most impressionable experiences we had with the Rajistanis were the Vishnoi People whom we visited on a jeep safari near Rohet in central Rajistan. They've managed to hold onto their culture and still build their homes from mud & cow dung, are self sufficient from the land, are isolated by no connecting roads or villages for kilometers and interestinly, were apparently one of the world's first group of conservationists. (have recently managed to save a local antelope breed from extinsion). We met the head of the family, an old and worn man in a beautiful white turban, cloth outfit and round spectacles. He sat patiently with us for minutes whilst our guide explained his family's life and choice to live untouched by the modern world. We were struck by the pride, patience and kindness he and his family greeted us with. Forts, Forts and More Forts.....Until...
Needless to say, any trip to Rajistan can get a bit 'Forty' after a while, and unfortunately by the time we got to Jodpur, Jaipur and then Agra,
we were having a hard time diferentiating the forts, temples and palaces. Combined with particularly expensive entry fees, camera fees, harrassment from touts, guides and shop keepers, it's fair to say we were ready for the Taj Mahal.
As corny as it may sound, the Taj really was spectacular. We motivated ourselves for a 5:00am rise in order to get the best opportunities for the sunrise view.. And it was amazing - we had to drag ourselves away.
At the foot of the Taj is a buzzing area of shops and restaurants - and we continued our series of unforgettable Rajistani sunsets at a rooftop cafe, taking in the wite marble turning into a black silouette against the sky.
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