Ah, it has probably been too long since I have written because now I feel confused about what has all happened since Jaipur.
We have completed our journey through Rajasthan and are on our way south. Quite a few of the cities in Rajasthan were color coded and I’m not completely sure why or if they were already a certain color and they coined the terms afterwards. First there was Jaipur, the pink city (which was more of a light terracotta than pink, but okay India), then Jaisalmer the ‘golden city’, Jodhpur the blue city and finally Udaipur the white city.
Before I go on, I want to clarify. I love India. It has been one of the biggest challenges in all my travels so far and it is the only place where you go from mind-numbing frustration to pure joy in the matter of minutes. But it also has such a rich and palpable feeling to it. Amidst the chaos there is such a gentle and loving side to India that’s easy to miss if you focus on the honking horns and the people yelling, but when you notice it, it’s hard not to fall for the place that shows you its heart. All these posts that will continue to come are purely things I notice/struggled/found interesting or comical and I don’t want them to detract from the way I feel about India – only add to the richness this country has to offer with the most diverse experiences on the planet. Okay, so:
We were in Jaipur for 2 days and that was all that was really necessary. We wandered the Amer/Amber palace and fort and then made our way around the old city. I really want to live in the Amer Palace, despite the obvious plumbing issue that a medieval fort may have. It has like 10 thousand little rooms all connected by winding and narrow staircases. And you would have to have that many rooms because you would never be able to find your way back to the last room after you had left it.
After Jaipur we were on to Pushkar which we absolutely adored. With white washed buildings encircling what is regarded as a holy lake for Hindus, it had such a charm and romance to it. If we didn’t have our driver waiting on us, Dustin and I may never have left. We spent a day there and Dustin got an extremely aggressive face massage from a local barber while I watched and laughed from the street. Pushkar hosts the biggest camel fair every year and it kind of reminded me of the Indian version of stampede except perhaps with a lot more camel trading going on and rides that looked a lot less safe. We were short by just a couple days and missed it but I am thankful we did because Pushkar is naturally so relaxed and it was something Dustin and I desperately needed while still recovering from Delhi PTSD.
From Pushkar we began the long drive to Jaisalmer, the desert city. This was the city I had been dreaming of the entire planning of our trip. In our India travel book I basically researched and took notes up until Jaisalmer…maybe because I thought that’s all that mattered? We got to Jaisalmer late afternoon and had the night to ourselves before setting out the next day on a camel safari (!!!!!!!).
Many of the cities we had been to in Rajasthan had forts or palaces that were once inhabited by kings or rulers and Jaisalmer was no different, but it was different in that the fort was still home to many people and shops/restaurants unlike the others which were just simply tourist attractions. It had such a wonderful medieval feel to it with long spindly alleys in which you could get terribly lost very quickly.
At 1:30 pm the next day we arrived at the office of the agency that would take us on our overnight camel safari. Camels are the weirdest creature on earth. They kind of itch themselves like dogs where their rear foot comes up to scratch their shoulder area but they do it all while standing still which just looks really weird. They also can bend their neck completely sideways so the are able to touch their sides with their head which ALSO looks really weird. But they’re so cute and I love them all the same
Our group consisted of Reggie from Ireland, Sem from Holland, Phi from Australia and Greta from Germany. We first visited an abandoned city (Kuldhara) of which the origins we knew nothing of. Reggie tried to ask one of the camel men who talked really fast with a heavy accent and we caught about 7 words, and none of which accurately explained what had happened. Luckily I looked it up. The story goes that there was a settlement of people there since 1291 called the Paliwal Brahmins who were very prosperous and known for their agricultural techniques and one day, in 1825, the entire settlement and the surrounding 83 villages vanished in the night. The city now lays in ruins, believed to have been cursed. SPOOKY HEY? There is a legend behind it that is supposed to explain it but I won’t get into it. It’s funny how much a story matters to the full impact of a place you visit. Now that I have read this I wish we could go back to take in what we had seen in a new light. Buuuuuuuuut now I’m just left with the creepy feeling.
After Kuldhara, we headed straight for the camels. I was so excited to ride one again after Morocco and they did not let me down (metaphorically or literally)(thank goodness). A young boy served as part of our group’s leader, obviously the son of one of the camel men or something. He knew limited English but tried to make conversation by asking us what we did and where we were from. I’m like 100% sure he had no idea what our responses meant but he would repeat them in a loud and high-pitched voice which amused us to no end and I’m not sure why. We then sang some classic songs like the French song that we all know but have no idea what it’s actually about, In The Jungle (the lion sleeps tonight) as well as a few Christmas songs.
The night was great and we had a fantastic group to share the experience with. Something about the desert sky made us try think really hard about a few overly complex questions so if you ever feel the need to solve the world’s problems (or how many people you’ve met in YOUR ENTIRE LIFE) head out to Jaisalmer for a camel safari. We were out in the middle of nowhere among the sand dunes and obviously there was no bathroom. Did anyone actually think we could go this long without discussing bathrooms? We were asked to burn our toilet paper or “bag it and bin it” (in other words, put your TP in a bag and save it for later disposal). Well, the thought of putting used toilet paper in bag and then putting that bag inside my backpack basically made me want to end the trip right there so I opted to burn the toilet paper. At one point I wandered into the desert to relieve myself and I pulled out the box of matches to burn the TP. I struck the match. It flared up…….and went out. Dismayed, I went to strike another. It flared up…and went out. THIS HAPPENED 6 MORE TIMES. I’m starting to get a little panicky in the desert by myself, trying to light toilet paper on fire. Finally I get the match to stay lit, but I have so many match sticks piled up now I basically have started a personal camp fire out of failed match sticks and toilet paper. And then I couldn’t stop giggling. Over a campfire of toilet paper and matchsticks. Overall the experience was incredible and we certainly picked the right tour group to go with because the people made the trip and the company did a great job.
Unfortunately sleeping in the desert did not agree with my delicate sleep ability and I lay awake most of the night (half terrified a large beetle would find its way into my ear). The next day we were well worn out but we hopped in the car for Jodhpur, the blue city INCASE YOU FORGOT. Jodhpur also has a magnificent fort that towers over the city below and makes for some awesome views.
I made the huge mistake of still pretending I was cool to Dustin and suggesting zip-lining over the fort. I immediately was plunged into the depths of fear and self-loathing as they strapped the harness around my waist. I had not been since I went in Hawaii when I was like 13 and clearly more brave than I am now, but I’m glad we went because it was actually quite exhilarating and it also helps when you don’t wear your glasses so you can’t really see how far up you really are (that’s a Sara tip).
After Jodhpur, we bee-lined (or maybe we ‘zip-lined’…? Haha…..) for Udaipur where we spent a relaxing couple days eating at lakeside restaurants and more wandering. Again, another city Dustin and I could have spent a lot more time.
From Udaipur, we had to catch our first Indian train to Mumbai. The train departed at 9:30pm and arrived at 2:30pm the next day. I was unbelievably nervous about the condition of the train. We had heard from multiple people that we just had to accept our fellow train passengers, the cockroaches, and that the bathrooms could get horrific. I was so anxious, I spent a good chunk of time googling the conditions of the bathrooms from the views of other travelers so I could get emotionally prepared. I wish I hadn’t done so because like ever Internet forum EVER, there were some complete horror stories and I was terrified. 12 hours out I limited my water intake to limit the need to use the washroom. 2 hours out I was so nervous I couldn’t even think about ingesting anything. Turns out, I may have over reacted. Logically, I assumed the bathroom condition would deteriorate the longer into the trip we got so I figured I would use the bathroom early and not ever use it again. There were two washrooms in our train car, one western toilet and one Indian toilet (squat toilet). My sister bought me a she-wee before my trip (Google it) in order to try lessen the trauma that comes from horrific bathrooms so I was armed with that and fully ready to use it, should the need arise. Luckily the bathrooms were fine and I had talked myself up into an anxious fit for the last 24 hours over nothing. Both toilets did open up directly onto the track below, though, which I found midly disturbing and it helped remind me not to look at the tracks for the remainder of this trip.
This entry feels thoroughly long enough for today. I am now in Goa which seems to be Russia’s Cancun and it is flooded with Russian tourists, which makes for an odd feeling in India. But more on that later! As always, thanks for reliving this all with me.