It’s been a couple of months since we came back, and this blog post has been open on my laptop (hanging over my head) for these past few rainy and cold weeks. Ignorantly, I thought that writing about India from Sevenoaks would be an easy thing to do. Luckily, as is normal, the thought of writing and remembering was much harder than the reality. Please do catch the irony in my title, just this once I don’t mean to allude that I’m a princess.
There is a reason why tourists flock to the province of Rajasthan. It is an area known for its rich history and vibrant culture. You can always expect to find mesmerising merchandise, enchanting palaces and swish hostels- although each destination is unique in its own way. Cows are ubiquitous and roam about the roads with an air of audacity and nonchalance reflective of their dominant place in the traffic hierarchy. The streets are crowded with carts selling fresh produce, smoked Monkey nuts and sugar cane juice. Nearly every woman is adorned with a colourful saree and most people wear bright red bindi dots on their foreheads. Unlike cities in the south, the traditional culture of the north is tangible and prominent (like their flavours). Their curries are fragrant and chapattis are plentiful; wheat crops dominate their fields, thriving in the searing sunshine.
Tuktuk drivers are persuasive, intent on becoming your best friend. Don’t expect to have any control in Jaipur- we were whisked away firstly for some chai, then to our driver’s family home to watch him give a music lesson to young children, and then to ‘legitimate’ jewellery and fabric shops run by his collaborators. Tearing our shining eyes away from the glittering ‘genuine’ gem stones we got away, thankfully without turning out the rupees in our pockets. I’m aware this sounds like we were being incredibly stupid, but it unavoidably happened to everyone else whom we’d told- despite them thinking along the same lines of crazy.
The hectic, honking streets of Jaipur are home to some of Rajasthan’s most famous bazaars, complete with enticing shopkeepers. A lot of our bounty, unsurprisingly unfit for wearing in our dreary world, is now bursting out of the bottom of my wardrobe; India goggles are a real thing. Despite the overwhelming markets, the effect of tourism does manifests itself positively in the amazing hostels. Moustache hostel is stunning and provides a free chai hour on their beautiful roof terrace, and a city map detailing restaurant recommendations, which led us to a great find in the heart of the city. In a tiny, unlikely-looking, underground vegetarian place we had one of our best meals – devouring tandoor Roti, Channa (chickpea) Masala and Kaju (cashew) curry for the first time.
Stepping out into the crumbling streets of blue Bundi was the unexpected breath of fresh air that you would never usually expect from Indian cities. Miraculously, the population is relatively small and, being slightly off the tourist trail, we welcomed the tranquility and beautiful blue buildings. The late afternoon view from the rooftops of the tall guesthouses and cafes is mesmerising: every day squabbling monkeys leap between buildings and tight-rope-walk along phone wires, children fly kites on neighbouring roofs, families emerge to watch the sinking sun- enjoying the welcome cool air.
The crumbling palace awakened a sense of adventure with its unmitigated ancient charm, seemingly unchanged since the era of the founding Maharajas (Kings). We wandered around with our mouths hanging open, and our imaginations transported back hundreds of years to a time of flamboyant courts and religious conflicts. The various forts and palaces unify the provence, each of their complex histories interconnects, and yet is told differently.
Udaipur is a similarly charming city: the huge Lake Pichola and architecture both in and around it appear almost Venetian. We were very impressed by the ‘floating’ buildings constructed on hidden man-made islands in the middle of the lake. In contrast to Bundi the palace is well maintained, with parts of it still inhabited by Royals! We treated ourselves to a guided tour and learned loads about the 16th century wars between Maharajas riding on killing elephants (or in Udaipur’s case, horses cleverly disguised as baby elephants to protect them). Just like in Bundi, there were more beautiful paintings covering entire rooms and ceilings; depicting court life, royal hunts and chivalrous portrayals of wars.
Contrary to popular opinion, we thought Pushkar was a big waste of time. For reasons which I cannot fathom, it has long been very popular with tourists, specifically stoners. As a result, the town revolves around the tourist trade and there is nothing left to admire. The ghats are ruined by the number of people trying to scam you into paying large sums for their blessing by thrusting flowers, meant for throwing into the holy water, into your hands. All the cafes and restaurants are very touristy too – only the Laughing Buddha Cafe is worth a visit. Bang lassies are really fun, but I don’t enjoy the sensation of being clubbed over the head EVERY morning.
By the time we reached Jodhpur we were totally in love with the culture, food and people of India, (except for the five days that Joe and I spent groaning in our beds and ejecting foul fluids from both ends, to be expected though, I guess).
Astonishingly, all the people we met seemed to have totally moved on from the atrocity which was the Colonial rule over India. I was, and for the most part still am, ignorant of the terrible ways in which we destroyed their country. It seems incomprehensible when walking around their magnificent kingdoms and learning about their ingenious institutions. Drawn by India’s flourishing economy, the East India Trading Company, and later the British government took control by instigating religious divides between the ruling class. Their thriving industries were destroyed and exploited so that they could no longer function to benefit their own population. Taxes were collected and spent back in England, dignity was robbed, and blood was shed. In 1947, the once prosperous land was left poor, illiterate and divided.
Now, they are bouncing back with the fasted growing economy in the world.