Keeping a daily journal of our trip got a bit cumbersome and boring, so here’s an overview of the trip post-hoc. This posting summarizes Rajasthan. I’ll do the rest of the trip later, and then post in greater detail regarding the most interesting topics in the coming days.
- Albert Museum is neat. You get a sense for how old India is when you stand in front of an unprotected statue from 8 BC. In the US, this would be behind bulletproof glass with Argon gas protecting it, but in India, it’s just another piece of history.
- Amber (pronounced Amer, and having nothing to do with the color) fort looks amazing. It’s one of three forts protecting Jaipur (though Amber used to be the main city in the area until Jaipur was built). It’s also the largest one. There is a palace per season for the Maharaja to move between.
- Our first exposure to Mughal architecture. The Mughals, while taking over most of northern India, made peace with the people they ruled (except for the Maharana of Udaipur, who fought to his death). You see this mix of cultures in the architecture—flowers from the Mughal side and elephants (Ganesha) from the Hindu side.
- We learned about vegetable/stone paintings. By crushing stone and mixing it with vegetables, you can make paint that survives far longer than traditional paints. You see this on walls and cloth, and the paintings come in many deep colors.
- Jaipur is known as the “Pink City,” and it is! The walls in the old city are all a pinkish color, including more modern stores that have developed in the marketplace.
- The city palace is a nice museum. The coolest two things were a man in a Santa costume that had not an ounce of fat on him and very pink skin (on his mask), and two humungous jugs made of silver that a Raja brought with him on a boat to the coronation of one of the kings of england so that he could carry water from India to maintain his purity while abroad.
- We saw our first lake palace here—literally a palace on a lake—a beautiful sight at sunset, with malaria-carrying mosquitos as a special gift!
- Do not go to Juntar Muntr without a guide. It’s a set of amazing astronomical instruments from hundreds of years ago, but the inscriptions are horrible, and so you have no idea what they do without an explanation. Nice park to sit in though—I shook a few hangs and posed in pictures with people who wanted pictures with an American.
- We went to our first Hindu temple, which also featured statues of Jesus, Moses, and a few other homeboys on its outside. A.J. was surrounded by some teenagers, who treated him like a movie star and practiced their English on him.
- At night, A.J. and I tried our luck as aimless wandering in the streets, only to find out that aimless wandering is not only fruitless, but also scary!
- Hung out at a neat Jain temple in Ajmer - already posted an entry on this.
- Didn’t go to the main attraction in Ajmer since the car wasn’t allowed near it for some reason. The main attraction is a Dargah, which is a Sufi Muslim tomb.
- The old city has a cluster of buildings with bright blue exteriors. The Brahmins (holiest caste) used to live in these houses, and as a side note, the blue somehow acts as an insect repelant?
- I liked the Mehrangarh fort here a lot more than Amber fort. The audio tour (included in the greatly inflated non-indian fee for entry to all historical sites) was much better than that in Jaipur as well, so I’d highly recommend seeing this one. Also cool was the fact that people live on the grounds of the fort, which may have made them uncomfortable to have us walking around their homes—I can only hope that they are used to this. I saw my first cat!
- The temple where the Ranis (queens) were cremated sits near the fort, and was not only beautiful, but featured a large mom-and-puppies family, as well as a crapload of pigeons.
- While walking through the temple, my stomach felt funny, but I thought nothing of it.
- We had our first seriously scarly Thali (very cheap, but very unsanitary), and I drank a salt lasi which was warm and not a good idea given the state of my stomach
- After lunch, we went to a park and walked around. It was very relaxing, and our first experience with greenery since arriving in India. We had more than our fair share of stardom. One girl shook Meredith’s hand and spoke to her in Hindi, not responding to us while her friends egged her on. Then her friends came and spoke to all of us in perfect English and took pictures with us. We were invited to play cricket by another group. Some parents wanted us to take pictures with their kids, and then asked us for money. We saw monkeys (common throughout the trip). Some kids just followed us around saying “hello! hi!” which we repeatedly responded to. As we left the park, we were accompanied by kids playing various instruments with the hopes of getting money.
- Umaid Bhavan Palace is a neat palace/hotel built during a drought by a Maharaja who figured he might as well build himself a palace in order to give people jobs. A true public servant, and an excellent example of how to get us out of our current economic hardship:).
- Between the palace and the hotel, I became violently sick. By the time I was at the hotel, I was a gonner. By 10 pm on new year’s eve, I had passed out only to be woken by the loudest explosions I have ever experienced. Thinking we were being bombed, I was a bit scared, but once I heard the venga boys in the background, I realized that India doesn’t have fireworks, they have M-80’s. I’ll write an entry on getting sick, so fear not!
Jain temple in Ranakpur
- With the help of Meredith, I managed to stand up and get dressed, eat toast, and sit in the car for the entire day on the way to Udaipur. We stopped at an awesome Jain temple, which has 1444 columns in it, all of them unique.
- At breakfast, we met Karim, an Iraqi who is doing his Ph.D. in Delhi. He had a long discussion with us about what Americans thought of Iraq, and asked us to pose with him in a picture, and then got our contact information so that we could have dinner in Udaipur. The whole time I tried to keep my toast down and not faint. Being sick sucks.
- Jainism is a nonviolent religion that branched out of Hinduism—the most devout Jains will put a cloth over their mouth and sweep the ground in front of them so as to not kill insects.
- I used my first squat toilet at the temple. Indian toilets are basically a hole in the ground (with plumbing). The best feature - no toilet paper. You pour water into a bucket so that you can pour it after your hand after you clean yourself. A rule of thumb: clean with your left hand, eat and shake hands with your right. To clear up any mental images you are forming right now, realize that we knew this, and brought toilet paper and purell with us.
- We stopped at a buffet restaurant (note: this is not common, it’s a tourist trap). The food was apparently good, but I sat in the car and ate toast.
- The trip from the restaurant to Udaipur was through a nature preserve in the mountains, and was very enjoyable and beautiful.
- Lacking sustenance, I finally learned about fruit juice. For a day, I enjoyed toast and mixed fruit in a juice box. It was like mana Nirvana.
- Udaipur has an even nicer lake palace than Jaipur. Sorry Jaipur.
- We went to Jagadish temple, which is dedicated to Vishnu, one of the three (of thousands/millions) major dieties in Hinduism. We were tricked into our first guide here, but he was very good, so we didn’t mind. We learned a bit of trivia about Hindusim, including a very sketchy reason for why there are so few cats (our guide said that since they are near the bottom of the reincarnation hierarchy, the are bad luck, and are thrown in the forest—REALLY!?!?). Neat acronym: GOD - Generator (Brahma), Observer (Vishnu, who preserves), Destroyer (Shiva, who transforms/reincarnates). Ganesha is the elephant god (son of Shiva and Parvati), whose raised trunk represents good luck and welcomes you. He travels on a mouse - how could you not love that?
- The city palace was really interesting. We got a guide there because it was cheaper than an audio guide. Our guide has an amazing quaf and hairdye job. He also invited us to dinner at his place. We were almost game, but then Saje snapped us back into reality, and we decied to avoid being kidnapped in exchange for a home-cooked meal. We saw Karim, our Iraqi friend here, who promised to contact us for dinner that night. After more pictures with him, we went our separate ways.
- We hung out in a park overlooking the city, where “necking amongst teenagers” is common, according to Lonely Planet’s book. We didn’t see necking, but we did see some hand-holding, got some great views of the lake palace, and found a few awesome-o birds!
- We went to another park where we spotted Karim again, but felt that it would be too sketchy to make conversation again, so we avoided him like 13-year-olds.
- After some mishaps, I decided to give antibiotics a shot. Zithromax destroyed the problem overnight, and I was not only completely fixed up, but also felt invincible with my new-found cure. This opened up my palate to even dirtier and sketchier establishments, which improved my food street-cred, I hope.
- A.J. and I ventured (not aimlessly!) outside at night to look for a cybercafe. After walking for about 3 km, we gave up and turned around. Being nervous about the dark, I decided to walk behind some women, as they seemed unthreatening. Luckily, A.J. chided me for being a moron. In the US, it would be bad to follow a woman at night—in India, you might get a punch in the face by her relative:).
- Before leaving Udaipur, we drove into some very pretty hills surrounding it looking for a temple, but finding it was closed, so we went to one of the many other temples in the area. It was a much smaller Jain temple, and one of the priests showed us around silently before going back to his duties and letting us be. Saje showed us some nice views and gave us a lesson - “naga” in Hindi means “snake.”
- Saying goodbye to Saje (for now), we headed to our first (overnight) train from Udaipur to Delhi. Woohoo! More on the good and bad sides of train travel in its own posting.