We have now been in India almost three weeks and I have held off on a blog posting as words are hard to find to describe all the things that happen everyday.
Two days ago, we got in both a goat and a cow traffic jam whilst riding motorbikes to a waterfall. Yesterday, I got hip checked by a cow. Today, a monkey jumped on a power line and we were without power for the morning. Where do I start really??
I left off our last post in Agra. The Taj was every bit as stunning as we hoped. Gleaming, white and as beautiful from a distance as up close. We spent a lot of time sitting at the front gates watching the professional photographers take pictures of Indian families in formal and silly poses. A crowd pleaser was the illusion of a person picking up the Taj with their finger tips. Never got old! At lunch, we met an Australian couple that had just got engaged at the Taj. You could tell they were still in shock. Even the guy- and he planned it!
From Agra, our route has been:
Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Bundi and Pushkar.
Trains have been our preferred mode of transportation. Not that they are overly comfortable, but they have been a wonderful way to meet local people. On our train from Udaipur to Bundi, we sat with a troupe of Rajhastani singers, dancers and musicians. They were a cross-dressing troupe and performed as very lavish (yet portly) looking ladies in lots of makeup and finery. Some were quite feminine and some were married so it was a confusing bunch to peg. One kept petting Mark and giving him eyes- but men hold hand and are quite affectionate here so it could have been anything! Although the troupe spoke very little English and we spoke no Hindi, we had a lively train ride. They shared their dinner with us and I cut up my watermelon to pass around. I tried to share my samosas that we had made in a cooking class that day, but they didn't want them. Scared of my indian cooking perhaps? The people here can be so generous and friendly. It really warms your heart. I also got Hindi lessons from an older man in the the compartment. He taught me the basics of conversation and scolded me when I pronounced things wrong (all the time). After all the SE Asian languages, Hindi is finally a language I think I could learn some basics. It's a nice change.
In Jaisalmer, Mark and I decided to do a camel safari. A note to any potential Jaisalmer visitors- this is the biggest hustler place we've been in India so far. Beware and don't stay at Hotel Golden City! It's only money, but it never feels good. On the bright side, our guides and some of the people on the safari were a good laugh. The guides were happy, energetic and always ready with a song. They had spent so much time in the desert that their skin was a crispy brown and had a certain agelessness under their turbans. They also had the most interesting footwear. One guy was wearing black dress shoes that he had worn down so much at the back that he shuffled around in them like sandals. After dinner and our play in the desert, a group of performers performed in the dunes for us. It was another strange experience as it seemed to be a family that was out for a stroll and stopped to sing a couple songs. The dancer was breast feeding during part of the performance and the baby howled the whole time. It was truly bizarre. Afterward, Mark started feeling the onset of heat exhaustion and we ended up getting a ride back to Jaisalmer in a jeep with all 8 musicians and their instruments. After a visit to the local hospital, where the male nurses were dressed like they were ready for a 1970s disco, we returned to an air-conditioned hotel where Mark rested for the day. I headed out to see the fort with a French, Belgium and Romanian group of girls from our safari. Mark is now back in fighting shape but won't be hopping back onto a camel anytime soon!
Bundi has been my favourite place in Rajhastan to date. It was a small town and much less equipped for tourists. People were curious and friendly. There were no restaurants and hotels but many guesthouses in old heritage homes called "havellis". We stayed with a really nice family and felt very comfortable in our blue cave of a room. The women of the family were fantastic cooks and a little boy that worked there (yes, child labour is still prolific in India) was constantly smiling, dancing and singing his favourite Bollywood numbers for us. He wore a rambo-like headband and hiked up his acid wash jeans past his navel. A real 10 year old stud and a very happy character. In Bundi, everyone said hello and smiled at us. We made friends with an older man and his 10 year old grandson who owned a convenience store. Everyday, we would stop for a popsicle and a chat. The boy would practice his English (he was on Summer break) by asking Mark and I our favourite sweets, chips and drinks in the store. It could go on for hours and it was all very serious stuff. The grandfather was very kind and intelligent and gave me a list of all his favourite Indian poets and authors. We were also lucky enough to be invited to a hair cutting ceremony in the town. An owner of a local guesthouse invited all her guests as well as Mark and I. They served 700 people dinner just outside the town. It was quite a feat! Everyone ate in shifts sitting on the ground. The food was delicious and I had to watch everyone around me to figure out how to eat with no cutlery or serviettes. I was a mess but it was good fun. As always, the women and the men were segregated. Mark wasn't sure if he could sit beside me, but it seems that foreigners are exempt from this rule. It also took a little getting used to that women and men don't really speak unless they are related. On two occasions, I was introduced to a woman around my age by someone in the family and although Mark was beside me, he wasn't acknowledged. He tried not to take it personally!
We are now in Pushkar for the last leg of Rajhastan. There is a nice breeze in the town. I'd like to say it's from the holy lake, but there hasn't been any water in the lake for a few years so it's a bit of a mystery. In both Udaipur and here, the lakes are very low or non-existent. Apparently, they haven't had a good monsoon in recent years and water levels have been effected. I hope it fills up soon as the towns look so much more beautiful with full water. Plus, it hides the rubbish! Pushkar is a mix of pilgrims and hippies which we haven't really seen in India. It feels a bit like Pai with an Indian flare. We have seen some real foreign warriors with dread locks down to their waist and tattoos on their faces. Hard not to stare! Mark had a reiki treatment this morning and we both took a yoga class at a temple. It's quite different than we are used to as everything is focused on the meditation, spirituality and breathing. We enjoyed our class but I can't shake my desire to get my body moving a little bit while doing yoga. We are going to try and do classes wherever we go so we can get the full experience. So far, we have done one in Udaipur and one in Pushkar. I'll have to get Mark to write about the Reiki treatment, but the Reiki master was a gem himself. He had a big bushy beard and long hair. He had a very soothing voice and we sat with him for almost an hour this morning just chatting. He is one of those people that likes to talk and has a very captivating way about him. I could have listened for hours. He was very interested in life, reading and the world. He had many good stories. At one point he said, "life should be lived with positivity and love". I liked that!
Time to get back into the fray.