Jodhpur: The Blue City

Sunday 19th November 2017

With only one day to explore the visually striking blue city, our time in Jodhpur targeted a visit to the Mehrangarth and the local fruit and textile markets. The rickshaw ride through town that followed the stomach-curling 6 hour bus ride, situated us back into the shattering reality of the immense great divide in India’s population. Desperately looking into our rickshaw were women with their young, fragile babies begging for food and money- a sighting that never gets easier to be around or temporarily ignore. The hopeful desire to help is immediately met with restraint as our leaders day one cautionary instruction comes to mind (effectively any offerings promote a culture of begging and contribute to the continued abuse of children by black market circles). It is moments like these that rival your optimism and work to undermine your enjoyment of India, but if you can try to resist suffocating your emotions with this dismal reality, you will enjoy your time in India. For viewing India through this lens is essential for understanding India’s network of socialisation and its economy – but it doesn’t have to be a damaging tone to your trip.

With a hue of blue tones woven in the structures and aesthetics of dwellings and buildings, Jodhpur has easily mastered a refreshing, Mediterranean sensibility that distinctly sets it apart from its neighbouring cities. Why the ‘blue city’? To define a city by one singular colour seems problematic considering that the bustling streets of India can easily be associated with an abundance of other colours and complementary tones. From the markets to the Rajasthani women’s clothing, an array of colours enliven the dull, impoverished environment to create beauty in the midst of the ruined backdrop. Jodhpur is commonly known as the blue city for its association with the Brahmins, India’s priestly caste. The prevalence of blue colours that decorate the city is seen as a tool for distinguishing class and Brahmin properties, with the rich blue seen as an assembly of royalty and heritage across the city. The blue city is a photographers paradise, with contrasting points between the sandstone buildings, the dusty desert landscape and the blue dwellings providing a sense of ‘coolness’ (temperate) and refreshment in the midst of the Thar desert.

With an itinerary that seems overpacked with visits to forts and temples, a small group of us decided to take to the sky to see the Fort and the city from a different perspective. With 6 spectacular zip lines over the architecture and lake of the fort, the zip tour provides you with a new breathtaking view, and exhilarating experience of one of India’s most majestic forts. I would highly recommend the zip line tour as it provides you with a greater appreciation of the intricacies of the forts structures, and the diverse landscape of the Indian terrain.

To finish our day in ‘epic’ terms yet again, our group joined in a blue-lit rooftop dinner with scenic views of the fort- an experience that yet again seems to be nothing short of magical.

The Golden City

Friday 17th November 2017

With yet again an early start, we left the relaxed desert town of Bikaner for a journey west to Jaisalmer, the closest city in Rajasthan to the Pakistan border. Situated in the heart of the Thar desert, Jaisalmer is known as the ‘golden city of India’ because of its majestic, sandstone architecture and rolling sand dune landscape. Our 7 hour journey by local train was a slow, but surprisingly comfortable ride through the rugged, arid terrain of the Thar desert. The fresh air ravaged through the old, country train making it yet again, a cold, sleeping-bag-essential journey west. Boarding the train in the same terms as the local, we witnessed the great divide in wealth simply through the carriage luxuries and capabilities (first class AC, two tier AC, three tier AC, chair cart, sleeper-class, second sitting, general class). After our sleeper-class trip from Delhi to Bikaner, we experienced life in the general class- a ticketed and non-ticketed, equally unreserved ‘first in, first served’ operation. Our train journey did not replicate the stereotypical desperation of people clenching onto the peripheries of the train, characteristically understood to encapsulate transport experiences in India. To note, the general class is the category responsible for creating anguished and desperate measures to board the train because of the sheer human populace and inability to guarantee departure. Despite its contextual bearings, our trip to Jaisalmer was unexpectedly an enjoyable, quintessential experience.

Arriving in the early afternoon we went to see our first real sighting of water, Gadisar lake, an artificial body of water built by Raja Rawal Jaisal. The popular tourist site is atypical and peculiar in the desert landscape, but nonetheless, its presence was pleasant, casting a refreshing breeze amidst the whirlwind of dust and smoke we had collected in Bikaner and Delhi. A magnificent, artistically carved archway funnels you through to the tranquility of the lake, where we split into groups to pedal-boat around the borders of its geography. With just enough time we quickly hopped on rickshaws to summit ‘Sunset Point’ where, as its name precludes, we watched the spectacularly rich, red sun fall among the intricate Jaisalmer architecture. With a birds-eye view of Jaisalmer, we watched the sun transform from a bright harsh ball of fire to a soft, soothing golden light that trickles across the sandstone buildings to capture a stunning snapshot of the golden city. To accompany the picturesque views were some beautiful local children who were joyfully singing, dancing and flying kites around us. A handful of playful children sat around me, inquisitive and excited to see tourists- requesting for selfies, scrolling through images on my phone and practicing their English. Their curiosity, energy and willingness to converse with strangers is just one small part of what makes India such a magical and eye-opening journey. The monumental Jaisalmer Fort glimmers in view of the dramatic sunset backdrop, a sight that cannot be missed!

As the last living Fort in India, Jaisalmer Fort stands ominously on Trikuta Hill, ensuring that its dominant centrality is visible for several kilometres. The protected monument is home to a number of small markets and 3000 people, making it a bustling, commercialised site. With stunning views and architecture that transports you back to its historical capsule, the Jaisalmer Fort is a site that excites your intellectual curiosity and emotional admiration.

Bikaner

Wednesday 15th November

After a midnight sleeper-train departure from Delhi, we sleepily arrived in the chilly desert town of Bikaner at 7am. Travelling on a sleeper-train is a quintessential experience as you subvert your social status to a position of relative equality – one in which we all collapse to the same simple desire of getting from ‘A to B’. Suspended by a loose chain in the middle of a a 3-tier bunk bed, the shallow, tight space metaphorically resembled the lack of personal and spatial freedom we had experienced in Delhi. With our locked baggage tightly squished around our arms, we were naturally hyper-vigilant and conscious of our personal security. For we were no longer in a vacuum of a tourist and local persons dichotomy, instead, together we attempted to sleep through the same discomfort, disruptions, sounds and smells of an old, rusty Indian train. Nonetheless, this experience wasn’t a negative one, instead, it was a timely reminder of my reason for travelling to India – to immerse oneself in a cultural and social perspective different to my own, with the intention of expanding my understandings.

After a bumpy (bordering on a rollercoaster sensibility) and freezing rickshaw ride from the station to our ‘hotel’, we arrived to a lush, cobble-stoned fort that seemed to be a world far removed from the dusty, cow filled streets outside the gates. With religious statues and walls painted with stunning mosaics we collectively sighed with relief at the grounds in which we stood- this place would be a dream to call ‘home’. Our enjoyment was short lived as we quickly repacked for our night camping in the Thar desert. Travelling by jeep to our camel safari was unexpectedly an informative anecdotal encounter. Our Indian driver Kripal, showed a genuine interest in wanting to share his story with us, in the same terms as he was inquisitive to learn about our own unique beginnings. His stories, or ‘real incidents’ as he corrected us, were enthralling- surprising us with new knowledges and unexpected climaxes and resolutions. Without the artistic license of Kripal’s oral storytelling, I will attempt to share some of the magic Kripal imparted upon us in our trips around Bikaner.

In response to some pressing questions from our camel safari adventure, Kripal shared with us his own humble beginnings. As a youth, Kripal was kicked out of home with “no capital” and expected to make an economic and familial life of his own. Navigating a strenuous work schedule, Kripal completed a Masters of Commerce to escalate him into a Government position as an accountant. After 20 years of working as an accountant, Kripal courageously decided to change careers to a professional driver – enabling him to improve his English language capabilities and learn about the world around him. Unlike other drivers, Kripal insisted that the objective of his work is to teach others about India, and to leave with them a tangible and meaningful memory. He believes that through the sharing of stories we all can expand our minds to look through a lens of imagination and curiosity – for only then can we begin to wonder what life would be like in another persons shoes.

With an abundance of questions about the biological zoology of camels including: their lifespan, cognition and sensual understandings- Kripal shared with us his own experience of owning a camel (50 000 rupees). His work as an accountant required him to relocate up to 200kms between towns which wasn’t an easy feat to traverse. With a concern that his 20 year old camel (lifespan of 25 years) wouldn’t make the distance, Kripal left his beloved pet behind to spare him the physical trauma of relocating. Kripal used a plethora of humanising terms to explain his love for his camel- captivating us with his enthusiasm, passion and authentic happiness. To conclude his heartfelt story, Kripal explained that camels through little guidance will remember trained routes for a lifetime – so to his and our wonderful surprise his camel navigated the harsh terrain, and 200kms, to arrive back with Kripal once again…

Throughout this trip there have been frequent, unexpected moments that have imparted an authentic and nuanced understanding of people and place. Aman’s refreshing breath of optimism in conjunction with Kripal’s compassionate disposition, have been encounters that have enhanced my experience of India. I only hope that these encounters will continue to nourish my soul for a lifetime.

I have fallen in love with India!

The magic in human experience

Tuesday 14th November 2017

Days on tour are undoubtedly tiresome, with a dense itinerary that strives to cover large geographical terrains through local modes of transport (sleeper-trains, rickshaw, jeeps, camels, taxis and bus) – no singular moment is ever wasted. Travelling as a group is a unique cross cultural and humanising experience. With a mixture of diverse travelling anecdotes , purposes and future aspirations, travelling with new people offers an insight into the unique social, cultural and psychological worlds of others. Travelling bridges the dichotomy of personal and collective human experiences through interactions that foster the sharing and imparting of new knowledges. For when our own personal stories are woven with the unique anecdotes of others, we have the opportunity to expand our perspectives and visions of the world.

Today we met a humble and inquisitive seventeen year old gentleman from Delhi, whose story is one of many heartfelt and powerful interactions I have been fortunate enough to encounter. Whilst my loose paraphrasing will by no means capture the organic beauty of this young boys optimism or voice, I hope that his story will ignite in you a sense of hope – for this was the beautiful essence that Aman imparted upon us.

We meet a young boy in the corner of a dusty, wet and rubbish filled street just off the main road in Old Delhi. With cows slowly wobbling around us and the occasional cyclist weaving through the group, we find ourselves to be in a world completely foreign to our own. In this moment the reality of where we are begins to sink in, a ruined site of slums; the homes, communities and the complete world of millions of Indian peoples. It is a difficult position to be standing in, as tourists who have the luxury to escape and transport ourselves into a world absent from the vulnerabilities and sufferings of these people. I look in my own hands and my friends to see DSLR cameras and smartphones that these families could only dream of- luxurious items that we simply take for granted.

To fracture the emotional density of the dismal setting, our eyes are shifted to a bright-eyed, confident and intelligent young man. From the minute he spoke I was captivated by his energy and enthusiasm. At the tender age of six Aman was kidnapped from his home (a small village that he is unable to recollect) and abandoned at the metro station in Delhi. Left to defend for himself, Aman was found by another young boy who directed him to the Salam Balack Trust (which translates to ‘Salute the children’). At six years of age Aman worked three jobs in an attempt to make enough ‘capital’ to return home. In his youth he oscillated between a focus on staying in school, and a rebellious pursuit to temper with drugs and alcohol. Despite his seemingly irreparable beginnings, Aman has consciously subscribed to a spiritual and optimistic mindset- one that carries with it a hope of returning to his family. With the support of the NGO foundation ‘Salam Balack Trust’ Aman hopes that he will one day become a tour guide which will enable him to traverse vast landscapes in the hope of reuniting with his family once again. For in supporting and guiding tourists through a personal and physical discovery of India, he too hopes that this will provide him with the opportunity to find his loved ones yet again- a hope that he will hold onto until he parts from this world…

In a place like India, ‘being prepared’ takes on a multidimensional landscape- from the emotional readiness of ‘seeing’ humanity through a lens of trauma and poverty, to the physical expectations of manoeuvring crowds, animals and vehicles at a relentless pace. My small time in India already has been so much more than I could ever have imagined, for amongst the relentless metropolis of chaos is an underlying vision in the stories of Aman (and some other anecdotes yet to come) for a world in which we can all grow and learn together harmoniously.

Another day in Delhi

Monday 13th November 2017

After a long first day in Delhi I was relieved to close my eyes to the sounds of traffic and human movement, and smells of sewage and waste from the vibrant city. The transition period from the comforts of suburban life in Sydney to the bustling streets of Delhi isn’t a gradual, climatic or spatial process- it is a complete and rapid immersion into Indian life, which starts from the minute you leave the airport. Nonetheless, waking to a new day brings with it a restored enthusiasm and energy to tackle the chaos and immerse oneself yet again in the true beauty of India’s culture. For there is something deeply enthralling and captivating about entering a world that offers a unique commentary on living life in the moment and for the moment.

Delhi functions inextricably through human connections. The more and more I watch the way in which locals interact, communicate and even navigate each other’s movements, I am convinced that they have a strong spiritual, psychological and physical understanding of survival. Everything in Delhi seems to be on the brink of disaster, yet somehow the locals have mastered the art of finding a vista of functionality and patience in the urban mayhem. Visiting Delhi is like living in a unique time capsule- for its ruined landscapes, impoverished and dilapidated structures seem to resemble ‘archaic’ times. Yet Delhi’s emerging interest in technology sheds light on its evolving and complex nature – one that makes visiting Delhi an experience through time on a number of levels.

Today I met one of my group partners, also an Anna, from New Zealand. Together we wandered through a sea of people, vehicles and assorted produce, textiles and clothing to better understand the ways in which locals interact, ‘make a living’ and shop for goods. There is no systematic or logical route that helps you navigate the large human populace in Delhi, instead, moving through the city is about adopting the ‘local way’ – keep walking and never look back. There is no point trying to change or even get frustrated with the way of life in India, instead, to embrace your time in India it is about trying to grow individually and collectively with this beautiful place.

P.S: So far I have avoided the infamous ‘Delhi belly’.

Day One in Delhi

Sunday 12th November

My first day in Delhi did not fall short of meeting my expectations. From the moment I arrived in Delhi I was immediately immersed in the ‘organised chaos’ of India’s bustling and chaotic transport network. From bicycles to rickshaws, motorcycles, cars and buses- Delhi is a metropolis of sound, chaos, smell and surprise.

After checking in to my ‘hotel’ the manager organised a driver to take me to see some of the sights of Delhi. With some English abilities we managed to have intermittent moments where we could converse about our different worlds, providing me with a small level of insight into life in India. Driving around India is an experience in itself, there are effectively no rules and with a population of all of Australia living in Delhi alone, everyone is always rushing to get somewhere. At times it tests your patience, but the key is to remember that this way of life doesn’t haven’t to meet your expectations, it just has to expand your understandings.

For 6 hours we weaved between traffic to get to some of India’s magnificent sites including; India’s gate, Red Fort, Presidents House, Qutb Minar and Humayun’s Tomb. Despite the large crowd of mostly locals, I managed to get in and out to see most of these sights swiftly. Whilst my driver waited in the equally chaotic car park, I wondered through the sites at my own pace. I bumped in to some other tourists along the way and would chat about our experiences, people are friendly and equally inquisitive about what brings you to India.

At first it started with one “Can I take a selfie with you?” and then a few more- that was manageable. The locals are obsessed with taking photos with tourists. Before I knew it there was a crowd of people (kids, families and parents) wanting a photo with me. One guy said to me “you are a celebrity in India”, I giggled back “oh I really am not”. This went on for about 15 minutes before I said “I really need to get going”- I was bedazzled by the excitement. One thing I noted was; yes they were obsessed with taking your photo, but their kind dispositions did respond to “no, sorry”- so after this strange ‘celebrity encounter’ I decided to say no to photos for the rest of the afternoon. For whilst it seemed to produce some initial excitement, it also was beginning to subtract from my enjoyment of visiting the monuments. When they say that everyone wants to know your name and have your photo, they truly do mean it. But what an interesting experience!

Later that afternoon I bumped in to a Californian lady who was also starting a G Adventures tour on Monday (except heading to Nepal). As she was solo too, we joined forces to explore the streets and find a restaurant that would be suitable. She found her old driver who recommended a few places. We hopped in a rickshaw to explore the streets, and as usual, they always take you to a textile market (.you will see an innumerable amount of these!). Nonetheless, this guy was very helpful- he even let me drive the rickshaw in quieter sections of the road- embrace the unexpected!

What. A. Day.

Welcome to Delhi.

En Route to Delhi

Saturday 11th November 2017

Today’s the day!

But first… why India? ~ Without a doubt this question always followed my exclamation “I am going to India,” so I quickly resolved that I would need to synthesise a list of reasons why…. so here I go! ~

1. Curiosity: With an ability to inspire, frustrate and thrill, India’s unpredictability and metropolis of people has undoubtedly ignited my imagination. To use the words of Sarina Singh: “just when it is least expected you can find yourself up close and personal with moments that have the power to alter the way you view the world and your place in it”. Whilst the desire to ‘find out who we are’ is naturally a perpetual work in progress, I am confident my time in India will play a significant role in helping me to learn more about the diverse world in which we live.

2. Empathy: Studying to be a teacher has highlighted to me the importance of understanding the diverse and unique worlds in which students bring with them. I think to truly attempt to better understand human experiences, immersing oneself in culture, language, traditions and heritage is fundamental to bridging the worlds of others with ones own.

3. Explore the unexpected: Not all golden opportunities are golden. India is a land of remarkable diversity- from its vast and magnificent landscapes, culinary flavours, sacred celebrations and ancient traditions- the list is endless! But one thing I am sure about is that India has ignited my curiosity like no other place. I know it will challenge, excite, shock and warm my soul- and maybe even yours too- so I cannot wait for the journey to begin!

⭐️

After overcoming the ‘how to pack everything but not everything’ conundrum it was time to see to the fruition of my dream- a human experience into the shoes of another; a culturally, socially, psychologically and environmentally unique world native to my own understandings and encounters. For travelling to me can most definitely be for leisure and recreational pursuits- but I think there is a richness in ‘seeing’ places that can confront and challenge your perspectives and knowledge of people and place.

After a short delay in Sydney, it was time to begin my journey to the bustling and exotic city of New Delhi. With a short layover in Singapore at 1am (local time), the 5 hour flight onwards to India was a relatively seamless process. The flight touched down at 5.15am (local time) and it was a very swift transition between customs and baggage claim- to finding my driver. G Adventures, the first tour company I am joining with, support a NGO in which local women are given work as drivers- a brilliant initiative!

Leaving the airport at 6.15am, I was met with a sea of thick smoke which my driver contended was just a ‘normal’ day in Delhi. Nonetheless, a cool temperature of 16 degrees offered some reprieve. “Are you ready?” my driver fittingly said to me… “As ready as I will ever be” I smiled back. The 40 minute drive to the hotel was much like I expected; chaotic driving, weaving motorcycles and cars, ‘make your own lane philosophy’, ‘red means go’, and a ‘melodic’ sound of car tooting – welcome to India. ‘Organised chaos’. That’s how I have come to think of it and respect, because in a strange and disruptive way it has its own rhythm and communication. If you can embrace the unpredictability of India then I truly believe that you can find magic in its soul.

Let the adventure begin!

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