Saturday, March 9, 2013

Reveling in Rural Beauty: Rajasthan

After wrapping up family time in February, I visited Rajasthan with friends I met during the “Seva Chapter” of my journey in India. We started in Udaipur and thoroughly enjoyed the Lake City. Udaipur was flooded with foreign tourists - ‘flooded’ is a bit strong, but it was my first time seeing Europeans in a while. Anyways, the city is filled with winding, cobblestone roads and everyone has an amazing rooftop view. Seemed like each restaurant was competing with the one next door to see who could be taller… We enjoyed watching traditional dances in a nearby Haveli and creating our own miniature paintings one lazy afternoon. Began to see all how important bright colors were to the desert-filled state while admiring the beautiful costumes of dancers.

From Udaipur we headed to Bali to do a leopard safari, but we stopped at Ranakpur en route to see a beautiful Jain temple. It was built in the mid 1400’s and is known for having 1440 marble pillars- all of which are within viewing distance of the idols. We arrived in the quiet town of Bali and quickly set out for our leopard safari. It was mildly successful, but a whole lot of fun either way. Saw some beautiful desert scenes (including a goat herder bring his goats to the desert) and were exhilarated throughout the bumpy, speedy jeep ride.

Jodhpur was the next stop. It’s mistakenly known as the “Blue City” because of the color of many homes, but in actuality it is the “Sun City”. The fort here (Mehrangarh) is definitely worth seeing - lots of amazing architecture and some ruins from attacks Jodhpur received in the past. While we were visiting, there was a wedding being set-up; can you say “outrageous”? Imagine explaining to your friends that you are getting married in a fort built in the 15th century. It was beautifully decorated, but I couldn’t imagine spending that much on a single event (or 3-4 days worth of events..). Other than the fort though, Jodhpur was somewhat of a letdown. There was an amazing omelet shop and onion kachoris that we loved, but it seemed less friendly than other cities. But, from Jodhpur we went to Jaiselmer. 

Jaiselmer was definitely the highlight of the trip! Although late February isn’t the ideal weather, we bared the heat and lived it up in the Sand City. The city is known for camel safaris. The one we took was less touristy (no night dance performances or tables to eat on) and we loved it. We rode the camels for about an hour and a half and then settled ourselves into the campsite in the sand dunes. Most of our time there was spent hiking around the sand dunes and staring at the vast, untouched desert. The sunset was nice, but the moon…the MOON… was insane. We didn’t see it when we went to bed, but staring at the stars was more than enough beauty. We saw the moon hours later when we were woken up by a bright shining light. I’ve never seen the moon so bright before. It was truly magical.

After Jaiselmer we made our way to Jaipur via a 12 hour train in sleeper class: queue the curious stares of locals. Somehow a group of four girls traveling together overnight in the sleeper class was something to question. In either case, the men in the same section as us ended up being very friendly and fatherly. They offered us food their wives had made for them and even woke up in the morning to make sure we had woken up for our stop. Jaipur itself was alright. We had amazing lassi, but again the heat crept up on us and we were unable to fully lose ourselves in the city. I will say though, that the city planning in Jaipur is exceptional. The city actually makes sense. There are shop numbers and even some roads on a grid. The Jantar Mantar (a space dedicated to astronomical research and findings) was also really impressive. 

All in all, I feel comfortable saying I don’t really enjoy big cities in India. I’d remove Mumbai from that, since that is generally more about seeing family and friends, but other big cities just don’t do it for me. I think the commotion taints the experience. I have a much higher appreciation for rural India.

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