Friday 23 October 2015

Jaipur Some Sugar On Me

It seems like I'm falling back into old habits again. To quote the late Douglas Adams, I like deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by. Once again, I'm writing about events long after they happened. Or am I? I had to just check the calendar on my phone and its hard to believe that only two weeks* ago I was riding a camel through the Indian desert. It seems like it was months ago but it was only two weeks* (and 10,000kms) ago. It feels like a lifetime ago and maybe it was. Maybe it was an entirely different life. But anyway, I digress. This isn't going to be another rambling, philosophical blockbuster. This is a straight, like-you-learned-how-to-do-in-year-two recount about what was probably the highlight of my India trip; Rajasthan.


Rajasthan is the largest state of India (in terms of land), located in the north-west of the country. It's famous in India as being one of the more rugged and rural parts of the country. The Rajasthan tourism board, for example, advertises the state as "real India". As I mentioned in the previous two posts, we arrived in Jaipur (the capital city of Rajasthan) late at night on my birthday, which we celebrated by hitting the hay hard. All of us had to be back in Mumbai at different times to keep our various NGO's happy, so time was of the essence and there was none to waste.


The following morning we all set out to make the most of our day and see as much as possible. Some people were leaving for Delhi (and a flight home) that night and most were leaving the night after. Four of us were heading home the night after that one. That day we managed to squeeze in the Albert Hall Museum (our first and only museum of the trip, full of artifacts not only from India, but from around the world since the building was once used as a guest house for foreign visitors), the Water Palace (an underwater, 5-star hotel, currently under construction by the government), Jantar Matar (an incredible outdoor observatory from 1718, complete with instruments to measure everything from the time to star and moon-signs), the pink city and the Amer fort.


When Albert, the Prince of Wales visited India, the ruler of decided to paint the city of Jaipur pink, which is supposedly a very hospitable colour. The locals liked the idea so much that the old town is still painted pink to this day.


The Amer fort was the most impressive part of Jaipur, however. The Amer fort was built in 1592 around the town of Amer and was also the seat of government for the Rajput Maharajas. Although the palace has everything you could ever need (including hot baths and saunas, sprawling gardens, beautiful temples, a hall of mirrors and Hindu artistry coming out the wazoo), the best part is still the view from the walls out over the surrounding countryside. This is another one of those, 'I'm just going to let the pictures do the talking' moments.


That night, as some people made their way home and others made their plans to leave the next morning, the four of us who were left decided to do something a little different. By speaking to the hotel receptionist and the swarm of rickshaw drivers outside, we managed to organise, though a friend of a friend, to travel out into the Rajasthan desert and camp the night under the stars.


The following morning, as everyone else headed back to Delhi for their flight, Madison, Rose, Brittney and myself headed out into the desert, to the town of Pushkar where we met a man named Balu, his nephew Vikram and their farm-boy Ashok. Balu apologised that it was the wrong season for camping (we would get eaten alive by bugs) but offered us to stay with his family at their farm instead.

Also this happened. This is what all of India is like, all of the time, always.

A two-hour camel ride through the desert later, we arrived at their family home. It was truly a family home because there were twelve people living there. From the ninety-nine year old great grandmother to the small children, everyone seemed genuinely friendly and happy to have us there. For a night, it was like we were truly adopted into the family. The living conditions were rustic but not uncivilised. It was typical India; kind of like what you expect, but different. There was a western toilet (of which they proudly boasted), for example, but no toilet door. There was electricity, but only after a certain time at night, wherein all the lights in the building would come on. Also, there was an Australian woman named Claire living with them, as she apparently does for 6 months of the year, every year, for the last ten years.

Playing games in the dark
The view from the roof
The roof where we slept


The house was small, considering twelve people lived there. It consisted of two main rooms and a kitchen, but most people slept on cots outside anyway. Balu was right, the bugs were everywhere but we still slept on the roof under the stars anyway. We ate dinner and talked with the family and once the sun set, there was a spontaneous dance party on the roof. Staying with their family was the most authentic part of the whole trip and it was definitely my highlight.


We all headed back to Jaipur the next morning feeling like we had created and left behind a little bit of home overnight with that strange family, in that strange house in a desert in a strange country. Madison cried again, but this time it's true and I'm not lying to embarrass her. Rose and Brittney had to travel back to Dehli but since Madi and I were the only ones clever enough to just fly out of Jaipur (duh?), we had time to kill wandering around the pink city. Obviously I didn't see enough of Jaipur to properly compare it to any other city in India, but I definitely preferred it over Mumbai. It was just that little bit less crowded and noisy and humid. Plus, the pink was quite hospitable.






*it was two weeks when I wrote this. It's probably closer to 14 weeks by now.