Okay, so while the title of my post seems a little (okay, very very very) silly, here is the story. We are 4 American girls going into Jaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner and the desert. We figured while everyone is out on the beaches with white sand, our form of mid-semester break would be in the dry heat of the desert on camels. Definitely not your typical American spring break indeed (admittingly, I’ve never done the stereotypical MTV-esque Spring Break). Also, I would like to note that this trip was about 3 weeks ago, and while I should have reported on it earlier, I did keep some notes so I am going based off that.
Arriving into Jaipur, it was quite interesting to walk into a train station where there were actually prepaid rickshaws. Perhaps I have just been tired from constant bargaining and Lucknow and was excited about the prospect of prepaid and meter-based rickshaws. Of course, I came to find out after that prepaid rickshaw trap, fighting with a rickshaw driver to just turn a meter on was another frustration in itself after the train station rickshaw was over. However, I did enjoy the rickshaws in Jaipur as they were jumbo and fit more people.
On our first excursion in Jaipur we decided a yummy meal and hanging out in the old Pink City would be a good way to get over the overnight train. We basically walked around near Hava Mehal, and decided to actually be brave and just get ourselves a drink of chai among a sausage fest chai ki dukaan (chai shop). I wanted my street chai darn it, and I wanted to sit down and drink it, regardless of the stares. It was officially my first time taking a train from Lucknow to Jaipur, and I will say I was pleasantly surprised. Judge all you would like, but I am very much happy that I was a princess and did 3 AC versus sleeper class (or rather, creeper class as I would like to call it because of the many creepy, staring men).
Alright, I am going on a tangent about the trains. So, the trains are awesome in terms of views and the general feeling of actually seeing the country. However, I must admit, either it may be because I am in a more chauvinistic part of India, it is sometimes a bit discomforting to “rough it out” on a train as a woman alone. Perhaps I will do it, but only if I am doing it as a last minute resort or in a group of people.
I think a few years ago I was okay with roughing out and not caring at all, but I will say this trip to Jaipur taught me that India is a different beast with travel. While there are some awesome things I have seen, there are many times I have ended up worn out. Whether it is by the heat, the dust, or the overcrowded buses, I still love it.
Anyway, so back to Rajasthan. After spending a day just relaxing, we visited Amer fort. No, we actually did not go inside because we spent so much of it taking pictures outside and just exploring. We decided to just take a random route and ended up in an old women’s haveli where nobody visited (except, unfortunately, to pee). For quite a while we reveled in the view of the fort walls and how high they went. It was the first glimpse of Rajput grandeur, which I really took for granted. To think that such a powerful empire once ruled this land with such a mighty hand and grandeur (and with some unfortunately, conflicted and bloody history of taking over and oppressing people), I somehow felt a connection I have not felt to, for instance, Roman ruins.
Well, in all of that, I admit, I was taken back to modern day world when we sat near a moat area of Amer fort. Unfortunately, we were three women, and there was a creepy guy who decided that somehow we wanted a smoke and liked to have a video taken of us (and put on Youtube, according to him). I’m curious to see it one day.
The next morning, we left for Bikaner and took a one day camel safari into the Tharr desert. Trust me, one day is enough. We stayed in a Guesthouse called “The Camel Man”, and no I am not kidding – that was the name. It was a cute place, and it was quite interesting to hear the owner’s son tell us about his Rajput history, and more importantly, about his uncle who wrote the screenplay for the Bollywood film, Border (which I have not seen, but nevertheless still pretty cool).
As for the Tharr, I have been from the Pakistani side back in 2005, and while the Hindustan side is just as beautiful, I admit I found it more endearing that there were no tourists when I went. I mean, who am I to pretend I was not a tourist there either, but I will say it was nice to be the only one.
On that note of borders, despite what many people feared, when people asked where my parents were originally from, and I said Pakistan, there were usually positive reactions. In fact, it was actually quite beautiful to hear such reactions. Although this small conversation I had was not on my next leg of my Rajasthan trip, just talking about it makes sense here. On my way back to Lucknow from Jaipur (when the trip concluded), I met an old man and his eighteen-year old son. The train conductor noticed me in a group of my “ferungi” (another word for European) friends.
He asked where I was from, and I decided to stop playing this game of “America”, and then the “no really, where are you from” game. I said Pakistan. He then asked where, and where my parents were from before partition. He then left after checking tickets and my passport, and then the old man started talking to me. I have to admit there’s something I find extremely adorable about old Indian men in tweed jackets, sweater vests over their shalwar kurtas and golf caps. Basically, I do not feel threatened. I start to feel daughter-like. I told the man that my family went to Karachi after partition, but originally was from Gujurat (which I think I really need to make an ancestral trip to by the way).
He told me that he sees his family across the border all of time from Rajasthan into Tharr. In fact, he had just came from Pakistan. I asked him if the area his family lives in was mostly Hindu. He told me it was both Muslims and Hindus. He also expressed that during Diwali their Muslim neighbors would make sure all of their Hindu neighbors had mithai (sweets), while all of the Hindu neighbors would share mithai for Eid. He said there were very rare occurrences of religious conflict and that religious harmony is one of the beautiful aspects of the Rajasthan border with Pakistan. While I am not fully read on all Rajasthani border history, I did not find this surprising. Anyway, he had many other stories and I learned that he was a jeweler in Nagpur (and he also gave me some insider tips on gold and silver, although sadly I am not in the market to buy either).
Back to the actual trip. From Bikaner, we took a bus to Jodhpur (sadly we did not have time for Jaiselmer or Pushkar, though I certainly hope to go back!). We arrived into Jodhpur at night, and booked a guesthouse extremely last minute, only to find it was up an alley that most rickshaws cannot travel in. In other words, it was not fun climbing with our bags. Nevertheless, the guesthouse had character, and we stayed there for two nights making new Nepali friends (one who we thought hated us, but we playfully and lovingly called him “chote baabu” – which eventually warmed him up).
We woke up the next morning to go see Mehrangar, and this time we promised ourselves that we would actually go INSIDE of the fort. And we did, with a very funny, but interesting audio tour. So there is one thing I wish I was able to do – go in the “local line”. I did not realize that there was one, but since all of my friends I was traveling looked clearly like foreigners, it was hard to just go in the “local line”. However, I hope to test it out once. So, back to the audio tour. The narrator of the audio tour was quite hilarious to listen to. When going inside of the fort, we heard many interesting quotes, two of which stuck with me.
“These dholis that the women traveled in had “purdah” (veils) which protected them from the LUSTFUL gazes of men”
-Inside of a women’s exhibit
“The Rajputs were never made impure. While Rajput women married Mughal men, Rajput men never married Mughal women.”
-Can’t remember what exhibit
Still, seeing the Rajput grandeur and hearing the history via auditour (as hilariously displayed as it was at times), was worth it. I admit I usually always cheap out with audio, but because the audio was included in our ticket price, I thought, why not?
Finally, at the end, we saw the Zenana – the women’s area, where there was a palm reader. Two of my friends decided to get their palm read, while two of us decided not to. Of course, when we learned what our friend’s futures were, we realized there was a form of “Western palm reading”.
In the end Mehrangarh Fort was simply amazing and the city of Jodhpur was definitely quite worth a look :). I will not lie though, in the same way I was “ruin-ed” out in the Middle East, it is easy to get “forted” out in Rajashan, so I am happy we just really checked out two. Although, I wish I had more time to go to Pushkar and check out a Durga. Hence, a new reason to go back!
I think I will end this post here. Not much more happened afterward, except for indulgence in posh Jaipur and a little bit of shopping. Also, who could forget to post funny signs! Enjoy!
Till my next post on Banaras (now called Varanasi)!