India, Day 1 (plus 730)

2014-12-21-12-24-41-1Two years ago today, I set off on the trip that would become the one to which I compare most others. After a whirlwind stopover in London, I was officially en route to Delhi, which was start and end to an almost 3-week adventure in Rajasthan.

I didn’t climb K2 or bathe in the Ganges; nor did I do yoga or a meditative retreat in an ashram in Rishikesh. Instead, I did sun salutations on the marble floor of a renovated haveli in Jodhpur on Christmas morning, to the sounds of a goat bleating to be let into the hotel’s lobby. I drank hand-brewed chai from a terra cotta cup on a dirt road in a dusty village market in Jojawar. I drank Kingfishers and danced to Bollywood music wearing a kurta (and a bindi) on New Year’s Eve in Jaipur. I walked the market streets of Pushkar before the bustling day began, to be blessed by a Brahmin priest by the magical Pushkar Lake. I got lost coming home from a mind-bending trip the Swaminarayan Akshardam in Delhi. I rode a camel; haggled for deals in markets; visited forts built in the middle ages; saw new puppies and starving dogs; smiled and shared tea with strangers; travelled on an overnight train; inhaled the aromas of amazing street food as well as those of the human condition; saw Delhi’s famed smog as well as its blue skies; tasted the best jalebi and samosas and aubergine curry and lassi and dosas I’ve ever had…and, yes, I saw the Taj Mahal. The toilet story was the best of that day, tho.

India was an experience for every physical sense, plus some senses I didn’t know how to tap into until I came home and began reflecting.

As I think about the coming year and begin to plan the shells of future wanders and adventures I wanted to share India Day 1, my first blog post and in it, the words that fail to adequately depict the shell shock that is one’s first contact with the entity that is India. [I hope you enjoy reading that post as much as I did writing it.]

Here is a full list of the India blog posts:

India, Day 1

Street Walking in Delhi

Night Train to Jodhpur

Christmas Eve 7000 Miles from Home

The Hidden Fortress at Kumbhalgarh

Falling in Love…AKA I (heart) Udaipur

Travelling Back in Time: Jojawar

Pushkar: Holy City By The Lake

New Year’s in Jaipur: Now is What Matters

Outskirts of Agra: More Time Travel and Amber That Shines Like Gold

Agra, Part 1: Where Mughal Emperors Reign(ed)

Agra, Part II: The Taj, and a Word About Public Toilets in India

Solo in Delhi: Day 1

Solo in Delhi, Day 2: Wherein I Find My Temple and Learn the Gods’ Days

Delhi: Grand Hearts, Shining Brightly

Where do you stay: on Impermanence and making an impact…

 

Travelling Back in Time: Jojawar

December 27, 2014: What a sweet little village. A shrunken version of the city chaos, plus the smells of what one might expect living with camels and cows and dogs and pigs and a dearth of what the West considers clean. The chai is pure heaven, brewed magnificently by a man so content to serve his foreign guests. I want to take him home with me and show the baristas how it’s really done… and I am almost embarrassed to pay the mere 10 Rupees for the cup. The smile on his face as he serves is magic. It conveys the spirit of every chai wallah and passer-by I have encountered here. As if they don’t realize what homage and honor and something like awe that I feel in visiting their homeland.

Here, the Havelis are called rawlas – and ours was lovely. I suppose the world is enraptured with old American cars. Greeting us at the rawla was an immense courtyard, high white stone walls accented with pink roof tiles and awnings, juxtaposed against bright spring-green grass and a deep cobalt sky. The antique Ford sits in the car park as a statue in a museum; a symbol of wealth and culture and worldliness that lies behind the gate, keeping out the real world that lies just a few metres beyond the dusty entry where the cows graze for food, dogs copulate and pigs mill about.

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The natural world’s colors are mirrored in everything, in this land of duality. Austere and generous souls. Holy and capitalist. Poor, yet content with the world as it is. Women in rainbow-colored glittering saris work the fields, flanked by cows and egrets. I am travelling within a proverbial postcard that one could only believe is real by experiencing it first-hand. This place does not look real to me, and it feels wholly surreal even after so may days of immersion.

If nothing else, the British left India with a brilliant railway system that criss-crosses this enormous land and connects the large cities to these timeless villages. To travel India by rail (or at least part time) is to experience another side of the culture and perhaps even a rite of passage for a traveller here. The sight-seeing train ride between two spectacularly rural stations gave a panoramic view of the Araveli hills via breathtaking passes, pitch-black tunnels – the high-pitched shrill of local children’s excited shrieking voices echoing in the dark will stay with me each time I ride a train through a tunnel – and sweeping views of the countryside, its desert-scruff meeting the smoky haze of the pale blue sky. This old train makes me somehow nostalgic for simpler times as the sound of the wheels on old tracks creates this meditative soundtrack to the landscape rolling by my window.