The world isn’t flat just because everyone owns a mobile phone. The world is still as round and as varied as ever. Culture and customs are still intact. Below are some of the highlights and learnings from my travels through four cities in India’s largest state by area: Rajasthan.
Jaipur is known as the Pink City. One of its rulers thought it was a good idea to pick a color. But what you’re more likely to see is a hodgepodge of vibrant colors, especially among the women wearing their saris and the men with their turbans.
One of the most memorable ways to travel up the Amber Fort is by elephant, whose pace gives you a steady, birds eye view of the beautiful landscape below. Above Amber Fort sits Jaigarh Fort, a more traditional military fort designed to be the last bastion. Nahagarth Fort sits further down the road. It too overlooks the city but it also offers an equally stunning view of its own. Visitors can walk on top of the roof and see all of intricately designed rooms below.
Walking the Jaipur bazaar is an experience in itself. As a Westerner you get heckled by everyone from shop sellers to little kids begging for change. You get good at kindly ignoring them. The best way to capture the sights and sounds of the bazaar is to pause and let traffic dance around you. Indian cities make New York look calm.
India is perfect for car photography. If you travel between cities, you’ll drive through many small towns and may notice any one of these interesting scenes: men peeing in public, people lighting fires, people squatting and using their knees as an armrest to read or smoke, loose cows and street dogs, a whole family on a motorcycle, packed cars, and lane-hogging tractors.
Unlike most parts of the world, honking in India is compulsory. Drivers use their horns to pass other cars rather than signaling left-right. It sounds like disorder and it is. Our driver got into a bumper! But all the honking keeps one billion people moving along while traditional road rules would slow everything down.
Jodhpur is similar to Jaipur in density. The bazaars are filled to the tip. Jodhpur also has its own fort called the Mehrangarh Fort, known for its intricate lace-like window patterns. Just down the hill from the fort is Jaswant Thada, a mini Taj Mahal. Probably one of the more spectacular buildings though is the Umaid Bhawan Palace, which also happens to be a ridiculous hotel. Stop there for coffee/tee and mind the animal decor on the wall.
Jaislamer resides in the second largest desert in the world, Thar, a stones throw from Pakistan. The city’s main fort, Golden Fort, encapsulates the entire city and still serves as homes for many people and more recently, hotels. The fort’s biggest threat today is all the water use pressurizing the fort’s raw materials. Be sure to check out the Gadisar Lake for some calm, stunning photography.
Camel riding safari in the sand dunes of Sam makes you feel like you’re in Star Wars. We went when it was extra gloomy and chillingly cold which added to the ambiance.
Udaipur is a city built around lakes. The central lake, Lake Pichola, comprises five star hotels like the Taj and runs by the second largest palace in India, City Palace.
City Palace is similar to the other palaces we viewed, displaying war weapons, intricate architecture, the reign of rulers, and offering some aerial views in the city. But the best place to see all of Udaipur and its lakes is the Moon Palace which sits atop the hills. Just beware of all the monkeys.
Udaipur has both an old and new city, both of which felt tame in comparison to the chaos that embedded Jodhpur and Jaipur. Maybe it’s the cleaner streets, the greenery, the lakes, the cute girls, and the 70 degree weather that give Udaipur its chill vibe. I could live here.
I only spent one day in Mumbai and happy it came at the end of my trip, otherwise my perception of India would’ve been skewed. Mumbai felt like New York: Bigger cars, skyscrapers, and better road infrastructure than anything I saw in Rajasthan. The world is flat if you’re sole interpretation of India is Mumbai.
There’s a TV ad in India that says “Be the first me.” Unlike the American Dream, the Indian dream seems to be yourself and see what happens.
India is an explosion of culture and contradictions. Ten feet away from the tranquility of your hotel are waves of chaos and poor people in the streets. Yet despite the extant caste system, India’s poorest are some of the happiest in the world. Meanwhile, the finest homes look mediocre from the outside. Indian mannerisms like the head bobble seem to suggest disapproval when in fact it’s meant as acknowledgement. To top it off, “Namaste”
is meant to greet people and say goodbye at the same time.
India makes all the stuff we worry about at home feel so small and stupid. Our biggest worry is water and wifi. I went to India to be schocked, not to pursue familiarity. India is a whirlwind, spinning the world to its own beat.