Tuesday, November 04, 2003
Sights, Sounds, and Smells
Sitting in this internet cafe is an oasis of tranquility in comparison to the madness and mayhem of the little street outside. We're in the thick of the Old City in Johdpur, where narrow alleyways wind in between blue-painted buildings remniscent of the blue we've seen in Chefchauoen and Sidi Bou Said.
Auto-rickshaws are whizzing past in both directions, honking at everyone and everything in their path. Food vendors are pushing their cars up and down the streets while shopkeepers peer from behind their goods at the passing traffic. Cows and the occasional pig are ambling in the road, leaving pungent gifts on the ground in their wake. If I can borrow a phrase from one of the guidebooks, I can see what some visitors might suggest that India is the Land-of-Don't-Breath-Too-Deeply! Eau de Toilet is quite prevelant, as is the aroma of cow dung and burning garbage.
However, among the assault on your senses is an overwhelming feeling of vibrant activity and life in this city, unlike any other that we've experienced so far. Women adorned with henna and jewelery walk up and down the street dressed in gorgeous colours, whether they are wealthy or poor. Children come up to you with big smiles yelling "Hello!" and even after you deny their request for baksheesh, they continue to jump up and down grinning and calling "Hello!" after you.
So far, our brief Indian experience has given us an impression of extremes. There are opulant palaces and wealthy families in their fancy cars alongside miles of slums and malnourished children in the streets. Prices of accomodation has ranged from $450 USD to stay in a Heritage Hotel (which of coure we didn't do) to 150 rupees (less than $4) for a simple room in a guesthouse. The food we've had has ranged from really good (like the spicy talits and makhania lassi) to really bad (like the oily curry that had the consistency of old motor oil).
We have been relatively spoiled by our wonderful stay at the Shri Ganesh hotel in Mt. Abu, where we stayed for four nights, enjoying pleasant walks through the countryside with Lalit, our super guide and information source. We liked the "Secret Lake" hike so much, we did it twice, in addition to a sunset walk, summit of Shanti Shikhar, and a visit to the incredible Dilwara Jain Temple complex. In fact, the incredibly intricate marble columns and carvings of the Dilwara Temple were so impressive, that we're thinking that there aren't any other temples in India that we need to visit anymore. We'll see.
Just as pleasant as the excursions were the many hours of conversation on the rooftop that we had with the many international travellers who were staying at the guesthouse. We swapped travel stories, advice and experiences with each other for hours on end, making new friends in the process and learning of places to visit and getting tips on where to stay at our next destinations. With luck, we'll be meeting up with some of them again soon on the road!
The next couple of days is going to involve a fair bit of movement, as we make our way eastwards across Rajasthan into Utta Pradesh. Tomorrow we will be in Pushkar to check out the annual camel fair, or mela; Nov 6th will have us pass through Jaipur on the way to Bharatpur to visit Keoladeo Ghana National Park, one of the best bird sanctuaries in the world. The next day will take us to Agra for a peek at this little Taj Mahal thing, then hopefully down to Khajuraho, home of the infamous "erotic temples", legacies of the Chandela dynasty. Finally, we'll head up to Varanasi, the holy city on the Ganges, before figuring out how to get up into Kathmandu.
It'll be busy, and I'm sure we're going to have more stories to share in a few days!
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