April 16, 2011

You cannot come to India without going to Rajasthan. Beginning in Jaipur, one of the three cities of India’s Golden Triangle, I launched myself into a land where its people are rugged and weathered in a way that makes me think of old American Westerns, its royalty is exotic and extravagant, and the cities recall a true age of kings. It is a land of elephants and camels, colorful turbans and big moustaches, vast deserts and holy lakes, and a wealth of culture that few places can match.

And it is on a well-traveled tourist circuit, so it is a little less rough around the edges than much of the rest of India. Actually, I have to admit that all of Rajasthan’s beautiful hotels and stunning cities started to erode my rugged traveler, six-months-on-the-road, sleep-anywhere street cred I was building up. But it was worth it.

I went everywhere. Jaipur was great, with its nearby Amber Fort being one of the largest forts in Rajasthan. From Jaipur I headed down to Pushkar, a small town with a big ex-pat and hippie community nestled around one of India’s holiest lakes, where I got to watch India beat Pakistan in the cricket World Cup, and then party like crazy in the streets. Then Jodhpur, where I saw one of the most magnificent forts in Rajasthan and through different audio tours and galleries, started to fall in love with the royal family. From Jodhpur I went to Jaisalmer, which is a city nestled deep in the Thar Desert. Here I went on a spectacular overnight camel safari that totally defined my trip in Rajasthan. And then a second visit to Udaipur to get to spend some time in India’s most romantic city. And finally, some trekking in Mt. Abu.

Because I think the essence of Rajasthan is a bit too difficult to capture after-the-fact, I thought I would just let my collection of notes I took on the way tell the story:

-India-Pakistan semi-final cricket match today. Its like a holiday – no one is out and everyone is around the closest TV.  Its night now and Pakistan is batting, and every time we get a wicket, the crowd erupts into a chaotic bout of dancing, drumming, and fireworks. Insane.

-We won! The streets are insane. Unsafe really. So much dancing, fireworks, yelling, jumping, laughing. Amazing.

-In Jodhpur I fell in love with the royal family. In Jaisalmer, I am falling in love with the city itself.

-Rajasthan truly is the land of color. Its not so much that its more colorful than other parts of India, but it’s the juxtaposition. The tan and brown that’s pervasiveness is always present in the countryside of Rajasthan, like a scene in a Clint Eastern western, coupled with the vibrant reds and yellows of the saris and turbans truly make it a land of color.

-Jaisalmer is stunning. The town itself is different than most. There are no trees, lots of yellow sandstone, and real quality architecture everywhere you look. Up in the fort, it is truly magical. Narrow little alleys, countless shops, ancient details, both old and new, old wooden doors, beautiful fabrics, all in a stunning gold uniformity. So, so beautiful.

-Spent the past two days on the back of a camel. A bit taxing on the body, but good for the soul. The silence, at those rare moments, was beautiful – it was the kind where you can hear the ocean in your ears. And the stars, oh the stars; only a few times in my life have I seen stars like that. Shooting stars dashing across a tapestry so beautiful only god could have made it. And seeing all the little trails of footprints around our blankets on the sand dunes in the morning, completely covering everywhere, all that remains of such an active night of hunting, gathering, searching, hiding, mating, and surviving – only to be wiped away by the first few morning gusts of winds. Getting to lead my own camel, Rainbow (I didn’t pick the name obviously). Jeffrey, our stray dog, (who we did get to pick the name for) who found us in the beginning and stayed loyally by our side the whole trip. And amazing fireside conversations with Meng, Natasha, Amy, and Philip about life, god, religion, and politics. An experience to remember.

-Best fruit smoothie I have had in probably all of India at the “Refreshing Point” resturaunt. It was a “mixed fruit smoothie” that was not so fruity but so, so good. And big. So good I ordered a second. 60rs.

-Went on a trek this morning into the beautiful wilderness of Mt. Abu. At times I felt like I was in a movie – the landscape was stunning, and at the peaks you could see for miles through the surrounding Rajasthani countryside. Unreal.

-I love this notebook.

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