Posts Tagged ‘Rajasthan’

North Tour: Jaisalmer and Jodhpur: Rajasthan, I’ll be back

April 18, 2011

Saturday, 5 March

JODHPUR TO FIROZPUR: RK, our tour guide, is Rajasthani. We asked him today what part of India he most likes to visit, and he gave us the answer you’d expect. Rajasthan.

But there really is something about the state I’m departing that separates it from the others we’ve visited in India. For once, I don’t feel like an animal in a zoo. We’ve had pictures taken of us, but at a frequency that pales relative to cities on the South Tour like Hyderabad and Kanyakumari. After 21 straight days of going out in Nagpur and hearing “foreigner” at least nine times, not one day on this tour have I heard the magic word more than six times.

In the streets of these J-color cities – Jaipur pink, Jaisalmer golden, and Jodhpur blue – there’s a crowdedness absent of its normal tension. With the exception of a shoe-wallah in Jodhpur, the shopkeepers have been relatively friendly and fair, conceding attention when passersby are clearly uninterested in becoming clients. “Come look my shop,” such a common refrain on the South Tour and in Nagpur, hasn’t been uttered to us by a single hawker on this trip.

Rajasthan is one of the places to which I’d like to return someday, and the views we were presented with today did little to deter me from wanting to come back. Another palace, another fort – each so beautiful I could have spent days inside and out, drinking in the landscape, architecture and beauty.

On the South Tour, we sometimes tired of visiting temples, their creativity fading into monotony. Not so here. In places such as the Maharengwar Fort, time stands still. Manmade spectacles abound in Rajasthan, the remnants of times when ramming down a door with an elephant was an effective way to invade a city.

Perhaps Rajasthanis in these places have just gotten used to foreigners. Or maybe the treatment of tourists is why they keep coming back.

Someday, I hope to come back too.



North Tour: Jaisalmer: Once upon a camel

April 17, 2011

Friday, 4 March

JAISALMER TO JODHPUR: Riding a camel isn’t like riding a bike. It’s not like riding an elephant. It’s not even that much like riding a horse.

I’ve ridden them all in India, and something about camel riding is just different.

Perhaps it was the setting of our rides this evening: barren wastelands of sand and dust, a bit too interspersed with bush and weeds to fit the Saharan stereotype, but nonetheless quite devoid of oases. Perhaps it was the length of the journey: over two hours allotted for two rides – much more than was given when I rode an elephant and a horse on separate occasions this year. Perhaps it was the camel’s distinctive rocking gait, one that requires an abundance of leg strength – especially when that gait turns into a trot.

It’s not for everyone.

But if you like riding a camel, you’ll probably love it.

The sun set just before I embarked on my second camel ride Thursday evening, and it rose just before our ride this morning. We saw both sunrise and sunset in the desert, the sky’s great ball of fire intensifying the thin shadows in the sand. The landscape, dotted with footprints, tents, and a few other creations of man, was just another average, everyday, mind-blowingly breathtaking sight. We actually missed the start of sunrise this morning, choosing to return down the sandy plains early due to the chilly desert wind. Never did I think I’d ever leave a desert because it was too cold.

But our other experiences from the last two days have more than made up for today’s deficit of early morning beauty. I was so tired during last night’s dance and musical performance that I dozed off with my Cubs hat over my eyes. Minutes later, I was awoken when my hat was stealthily stolen by Amanda. Soon thereafter our group was dancing and singing Munni Badnaam in a circle with a guy wearing makeup and a dress.

I guess those five minutes of sleep helped, because I had the energy to get through the songs intact. Having not been to a legitimate dance or party since discotheque night in Goa, the surprise dance was a welcome one. Another outlet for my dance-frustration had been found.

We slept in the desert last night. Sand was our floor and canvas tents were our ceiling and walls, yet none of us awoke scorpion-, spider-, or snake-bitten. Before calling it a night, we laid on the ground in a group and just gazed up at the stars. Though our knowledge of the sky’s constellations was far from complete, we found The Big Dipper, The Little Dipper and Orion. Like on the houseboat in Kerala, the visibility of the stars was striking, providing a rare kind of sought-after solitude. For twenty minutes, we just laid in the sand, staring.

I can think of only one word to describe the view, the same one I can use to describe many things on this tour. Beautiful.

The day after, too, was full of moments I never want to forget. A goat, which strayed into our path this afternoon, was allowed to wear my Cubs hat – the significance of which only Olivia was able to comprehend. (Have I single-handedly lifted the Billy Goat Curse? Oh yeah, I don’t believe in it.) Ten of us sat on two pedal-boats in a spectacular Jaisalmer oasis while Nikolas and I pedaled for half the group. (It would have been a more difficult task had I not been so practiced in giving exchange students rides on non-motorized vehicles.) For dinner, we went to an Italian restaurant where I ordered a pancake with Nutella but was instead brought a (delicious) crepe. Not that I’m complaining.

What I want to remember the most, however, is Thursday night’s camel ride.

With the camel walking, not running, our bottoms weren’t yet worn out, and our pace was slow enough that we could enjoy the view. With Anaïs and Amanda on camels in my wake, I looked up at the sky in foreshadow of midnight’s stargazing. We’d just had an outstanding recess in a particularly epic sandbox – posing for pictures while jumping in the air, chasing each other shoeless around the desert, and running down the dunes so quickly our legs would become too fast for our bodies and we’d faceplant quite comfortably in the soft, cool Rajasthani sand.

Something about that camel ride was special. The sky darkened over the course of the ride, fading from pale blue to dark blue to black. Occasionally our guides would mutter amidst themselves, and our camels felt the occasional urge to sneeze off the flies blanketing their necks. Otherwise our ride was tranquil, its peace uninterrupted but by the predictable dull clang of our camels’ bells.

It was the kind of moment I came to India for. And the kind of moment I live for.

I was living. Somewhere in the Rajasthani dunes, life was just as I wanted it to be, and in the moment, nothing could have made it better. Forgive me my simile, but while I was atop the camel, I may as well have been atop the world.

That’s why I’m so happy in India.

Because I’m living the moments. And I’ll always have the memories.


North Tour: Jaipur: What language is that?

April 17, 2011

Wednesday, 2 March

JAIPUR TO JAISALMER: India is a land of many languages. But even though it has 29 languages with at least 1 million speakers, those aren’t sufficient for its exchange students.

Despite having just three different mother tongues, the 13 of us use at least ten different languages. We’ve increased our use of Hindi at least fivefold since the South Tour, our vocabulary now extending beyond bas (enough) and chalo (let’s go). Select Marathi words such as fukta (only) have made their way into our conversations. Because of the efforts made by some to stretch their high school knowledge, Anaïs can occasionally communicate with some of us in French, and the three Germans have no trouble speaking their native tongue amongst themselves. We’ve used Spanish, Italian, Sanskrit, Korean and Japanese with various degrees of fluency and success. And of course there’s English – the Indian variety, at that.

So what do you call the language we speak? Fre-Ger-Spa-Ita-Kor-Sans-Jap-Mar-Hinglish? Spicy English? Or my favorite: The exchange student language for dummies properly perfectly itself only?

Whatever language we use, we can always understand each other, even if our lack of knowledge in one language creates more confusion than comprehension. So as not to take tension, one of the activities I do whilst one of us is speaking non-English is speak a made-up language with Serenity, Jordan, and whomever we’re not driving out of their mind. We’ve yet to decide on a name for it, but it has many kha‘s, badada‘s and words fun to say, such as chalakamata.

It’s harder than you’d think to carry on a fake conversation, but I think we do quite well. While conversing with Serenity at the Hawa Mahal, one half of a couple we passed distinctly asked the other “what language are they speaking?”

Good question.

As for the settings in which we had such conversations, they once again proved spectacular – or whatever the accompanying synonyms in Exchangese. I’d already seen three majestic forts since coming to India, but I took no issue with visiting a fourth today. Both that and the Hawa Mahal gave us great views of Jaipur and the surrounding area. The 12 km long “Great Wall” of India adorned the surprisingly lush countryside, and we spent the better part of the afternoon hunting for bargains in its wake. Finding souvenirs in Rajasthan has not been a difficult task, and while I already have three keychains, a decorative string, and a mini-wire bicycle to show for it, that’s still less than the haul most of the others have added to their suitcases already.

Today, too, was a good one.


P.S. See the glossary for more information on how we speak!

North Tour: Jaipur: A pretty cool place

April 17, 2011

Tuesday, 1 March

JAIPUR: The thing that everyone seems to forget about deserts is that at night, they get really, really cold.

Falling asleep at 1 a.m. without a second of sleep debt is harder than you’d think. So when that sleep is interrupted by chai-wallahs a mere three hours later, it’s a disorienting and disgruntling experience.

My first thought when I woke up this morning: “Why am I awake?”

My second thought: “Wow, it’s really cold.”

You don’t need air conditioning in this weather, but at least AC Sleeper cars come with blankets. Most of us having forgotten our own, we used scarves, hats, jackets and each other’s body heat to help out our metabolic systems. The chai actually warmed us adequately, but in doing so it became impossible for us to sleep. By 4:30 or so, we realized any attempt to fall back asleep would be fruitless, so we kept each other company until arriving in Jaipur around 6.

I guess we got off to a pretty good start in acquiring sleep debt.

But who needs a full night of sleep with the first day of sightseeing ahead?

From camels to snake charmers, Jaipur is the kind of city that makes you think of Indian stereotypes. Perhaps it’s because of them that so many foreigners are attracted to Jaipur. There’s no scarcity of outsiders here, either in the monuments we visited or on the streets we’ve driven by. We sprinted to the back of our bus and gawked the first time we spotted a non-Indian walking the Jaipur streets. (Our reactions to seeing foreigners are no better than those of Indians, na?) It didn’t take long, however, for us to realize spotting them would not be a rare occurrence.

Actually, Jaipur probably attracts so many foreigners because there’s so much to see here. Our sightseeing began with a huge wind palace – not as monumental or large as Mysore’s, but impressive in its own right. We found an assortment of impressively accurate astrological equipment at one site, including the world’s largest sundial (adorned with about 100 live pigeons).

At night, we ate a traditional Rajasthani meal and watched several performances – including dances and puppet shows. Once, I was called on stage to dance. I flailed my arms and shook my body in the least awkward dance I could muster. At the very least, it was an outlet for some of my dance-frustration.

Our tour was not off to a bad start.