"And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home."
Wendell Berry

Monday, March 14, 2011

Rajasthan--Ahmedabad and Udaipur

After Ad left, I felt miserable and lonely. It seemed impossible that I had done this on my own for almost three months, and I felt like just heading home. Instead I caught the next train out of Mumbai.

Ahmedabad was a dazed day and a half watching Bollywood movies on TV and mourning Ad’s departure in a hotel called the Ritz Inn that, while not related to the actual Ritz, was hands down the fanciest place I’ve stayed during my travels. I got room service twice.

On day two I did manage to venture out into the rickshaw-packed streets to do some errands. Without a map and with all the street signs in Hindi, I felt quite overwhelmed at first, but many kind people pointed me in the right direction. I had been nervous that I’d find it a lot more difficult without Ad around (beyond just missing his presence, I was worried I’d be harassed a lot more, based on some of the warnings I’d received). I’m relieved to say that that hasn’t been the case. If anything, people seem more eager to help and genuinely concerned for my welfare as a woman traveling alone. As such, I was able to locate a printer and get my hard-to-procure contact solution and phone charger without too much hassle.

(Let me take this moment to strongly advise against the Lonely Planet ekit for an international phone; the rates are through the roof [I’m paying almost $4 a minute to call the US from India despite the advertised $0.39], there’s a delay on the line, the charger broke, and the phone itself is such an ancient model that, despite the overwhelming number of technology stores on the streets here, NO ONE carries that type of charger anymore. If you plan to travel and need a phone, it’s much smarter to buy the phone and SIM from the country you’re in. Also, it’s worth noting that my $50 universal charger from New Zealand refuses to work in any outlet here, though I’ve spotted my former $2 model in use in several cafes. Grumble, grumble.)

After my errands, I had one of the best meals of my life at the restaurant atop the MK Mansion. I also went to see the Sidi Saiyad Mosque (where, shoeless and head covered, I was invited by one man to step closer and encouraged to take a photo, and then yelled at by another who told me women weren’t allowed in and my picture-taking was incredibly disrespectful).

Another overnight train later, Udaipur was a little haven. Situated on a lake and in a valley, the white city—most buildings are white, as opposed to, say, the blue homes of Jodhpur—was distinctively less sweltering than my former stops, the people were friendly, and the whole place seemed infused with an easygoing outlook. The colors were also incredible—the brightest turquoises and richest saffrons I’d ever seen. I love Rajasthan.

I ventured to Sunset Point the first evening, but of course got lost in the tiny, winding streets and was in danger of missing the sunset. A store owner volunteered to drive me the short distance so I’d make it in time, so I had my first, thrilling ride on a motorbike, dodging and weaving through rickshaws, cars, and pedestrians, and arrived safely and breathlessly to the spot on the hill just as the sun started its descent into Lake Pichola, lighting up the Lake Palace in the center.

On my second day, Chiky, my rickshaw driver from the train station, took me on a half-day tour to see Udaipur’s key sights, including the palace, the Museum of Heroes, and the folk art museum (complete with free puppet show), but the highlights were the detour to the bustling fruit and veg market and the final stop at the Royal Memorials, where I sat alone and in silence among the sea of imposing cenotaphs, awestruck. The rest of my time during my almost week-long stay in “India’s most romantic city” was spent working in the extremely comfy rooftop restaurant of my hotel, looking at intricately detailed scarves or miniature paintings in the shops (where one very kind old master taught me how to improve my yogic breathing), or having guitar sing-alongs with Israelis. It was bliss. On Saturday morning I was, as usual, sitting on the floor of the hotel restaurant, drinking a banana lassi, and doing some work, thinking I might never leave Udaipur because it was so carefree and comfortable, when, out of the blue, in walked Wayne and Nicole. I had last seen my friends over a month before, on Tonsai Beach in Thailand, and had not expected to meet up with them in India at all. Yet, we ended up in the same city, at the same time, in the same restaurant. Very auspicious. With only five days left in India, they were on a whirlwind, marathon train adventure, determined to see a few more major sights before leaving. It was just the nudge I needed, so I checked out of my hotel on the spot, waved goodbye to fair Udaipur and my Israeli friends, and joined them on the train to Agra.

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