Sunday, January 24, 2010

Positive Female Energy...Rajasthan

I have to preface by saying that although I had just re-started writing here again, I was to in fact take a break again. I really had a major meltdown in Rajasthan – some major triggers went off and I stopped functioning. I thought many times about writing more but I felt strongly that I should wait until I was better, or at least improving, mentally, physically, and emotionally. So now I am in Kerala and I will recount what has happened over the past three weeks.

I left Jodhpur at 6:15am to catch the bus to Ranakpur. Ranakpur came to my attention because of Jelena, lovely Serbian-American girl whom I met in Rio, and became my forro partner in crime ; ) oh saudades menina! Anyway, Ranakpur is the site of a very important Jain temple, and there are 1444 columns, said to each be different, and it is a temple to the sun. it was incredible, as we neared the temple, the landscape of Rajasthan seemed to change. Much more green, and the air was pure. It seemed cleaner, somehow. At the temple, there is no admission fee, and you are allowed to leave your bags and pay by donation if you wish. The temple is nothing short of incredible. In fact (sorry if I offend people here) I felt this to be the most impressive thing I have seen in India thus far. The intricacies, the atmosphere, all the details – the first time since I have arrived in India that I felt this supreme unity and peace come over me. Sigh. Good sigh.

After a few hours of refuge and respite, I was ready to continue on to Udaipur, but dreading the bus journey (which I was told would be 3 hours, but they also told me it would be 3 hours from Jodhpur to Ranakpur, and in fact that was nearly 5 hours…so…) I got my things and went to the main gate, just as a bus headed towards Udaipur passed in front of me. Poop. The guards smiled and informed me that the next one would come in an hour. Or so. Hm. So I plopped down my stuff, feeling a bit defeated, since I had asked a few people inside if I could ride back with them (they come on daytrips from Udaipur in taxis) and it hadn’t worked out.

A guy approached me and offered me his taxi services, which I figured would be something like 1500 rupees (35 USD). But instead he explained that he had dropped clients off in Jodhpur and had to go back to Udaipur so he would take me for 200 rupees (5 USD)! I was thrilled and off we went. The next 2 hours flew by and I felt totally relaxed. Bliss.

Udaipur is, to me, completely different from the other places I visited in Rajasthan. At first glance, it has the same noise, dirt, crowds, and insistent shopkeepers. But somehow it is more at peace with itself, somehow it is more unified. I arrived at Hotel Ganguar Palace, and the staff were very friendly. I love the guy at the front desk, the first time I came back from going out and asked for my key, he stared so fixedly at me I didn’t know what was going on. I thought, umm has my room been broken into and he doesn’t know how to tell me? But it turns out he couldn’t remember which room I was in and was trying so hard to remember. So sweet.

Anyway, the first evening I met Shila, a half Indian half Danish girl travelling for 3 months alone in India. I suppose the hotel staff were trying to match us up, the two single girls, and I was more than happy to oblige. So off we went, for coffee, shopping, whatever. The people in Udaipur will recognize you after a day there since the main city center that people visit is extremely compact. Lake Pichola is a bit like the centerpoint of the city, and on one side of the lake you have the busy hustle and bustle, and on the other side it is much quieter, residential, and just feels more local. On my first walk in Udaipur I quickly realized I wanted to be on the quieter side. So I went hotel hunting. I first went to the Dream Heaven Hotel that sounded lovely in the guidebook, but it was completely full. A man next door approached me, dressed in a white tunic, an orange-dyed beard, edges of his eyes dabbed in blue eyeliner. He said, I am not in guidebook but please come to see the room, you will feel at home. And so it was. Hanuman Ghat Guest House, my home in Udaipur. I had a lovely room with a miniscule balcony where I could sit and see the lake, and it was great.

The next days were a lovely mélange of early morning walks followed by early morning yoga (Yoga at the Astang Ashram as written in LP, and on the roof of Nukkad with Prakash – I strongly preferred Prakash’s class), a visit to the Shilpgram craft fair, where I got to see lots of traditional Rajasthani song and dance (and beautiful dress), the Udaipur City Palace which is impressive, a long walk outside of the main touristed area of Udaipur, including the lovely Sammajid Gardens, and of course, gluttonous pursuits.

The Shilpgram craft fair happens annually in December for 10 days and merchants come from all over India to sell their wares, and demonstrations of traditional Rajasthani games, song, dance, etc are displayed. It’s a nice place to wander around. The Udaipur City Palace boasts extreme opulence (like most of India’s sights…and always leaves me wondering, if these treasures were ever to be sold – I know it wont happen – and the profits distributed evenly – where would the poverty level of this country be?)

My walk around the outside of Udaipur was great. Walking through areas where people sell things I really wouldn’t buy, like boilers and air conditioners and car parts, they didn’t try to sell me anything and I could walk undisturbed. In the Sammajid Gardens, I felt a complete refuge from the incessant honking and overstimulation taking place outside. Until the guy started following me. A pretty harmless looking one. But GOD, can’t I just enjoy one hour of feeling unnoticed? This is the thing in India (at least in Rajasthan) – they stare. With no tact. And without stopping. It’s so blatantly obvious that they’re watching you, but there’s no smiles or anything either, which leads me to be, um, uncomfortable. Anyway this guy started following me and after a few minutes I got sick of it so I stopped walking and took out my phone and started texting. In most cultures, the man would probably continue walking or turn around and go back to what he was doing. In this case, he literally stopped walking as well and, what did he do? He pulled out his mobile phone and started fiddling with it. Ha. Then I sat down on a bench. He sat on the next one over. Ack. So then I got up as a family was going past, following them, and he followed. Finally I turned around, looked him directly in the face and said, what do you want? Stop following me. He was so astounded by my audacity, stammered something, and went off. But it’s a bit like this in Rajasthan, you are a constant object of curiosity and the normal western concepts of privacy and personal space and discretion are completely inapplicable.

Now on to gluttonous pursuits. Udaipur has the lovely Café Edelweiss, with a lovely spinach mushroom quiche, cinnamon rolls, and other yummy cakes. The same owners have the Savage Garden, a lovely little blue courtyard restaurant with homemade pasta, divine mezze, and a really shanthi vibe. Shila and I also went to Ambrai, as recommended by Lonely Planet, and wow this is a spot. It’s attached to a hotel, and it is extremely luxurious. An outdoor courtyard type restaurant, directly next to the lake, directly looking at the Palace, which is lit up at night. Gorgeous. We had a Shahi Paneer (little pieces of paneer cooked in a non-spicy onion gravy), and I also had a tomato paneer which I wasn’t as impressed with. The Dal Tadka there was great, and our waiter was very sweet. And of course sweet lime water. The best is if they bring it all separately and you make it yourself. Either still water or soda water, then a tiny flask of pure lime juice, and another with liquid sweetener (like in Japan!) and then you make your perfect drink.

On my long walk outside of Udaipur, I was actually seeking out Bawarchi restaurant, recommended by Lonely Planet as being a local authentic place to have a thali (a complete meal with rice and chapattis, usually about 4-6 dishes, garnishes, and a dessert) – it’s a great way to have a sampling of local cuisines because in restaurants you have to order a dish and you get a heaping portion of just that one thing. Anyway, I found it without much trouble and it was awesome. One of the spicy tomato curries had little pieces of fried besan (chickpea flour), the channa masala (spiced chickpeas) was divine, and I really enjoyed the 2 sabzis. One was potato and mustard seed as the primary ingredients, and the other was cauliflower, tomato, and onion.

Udaipur is also where I found the sweetest tailor. I have a pair of white pants which I bought at H and M probably 6 years ago in Holland with Inge, and I wanted an exact copy made. Shila and I started looking for a local tailor and pretty quickly found V.S. Tailors, in Hanuman Ghat. This tailor was wonderful, came with me to buy fabric, didn’t try to rip me off at all (150 rupees – 3 USD) for the stitching of the pants. I had him make 2 pairs, and the next day after seeing them, and him fixing some of my stuff for extremely cheap prices, had him make 2 more. So I was totally happy about that, meeting his father, who works with him in their tiny shop about 2 meters by 6 meters. I guess there are the small things that are endearing about India.

I guess in Udaipur I just felt like I needed to be around positive female energy that I felt connected to, and after speaking with Shila and seeing that she also found it a great relief and pleasure to be in another female’s company, I picked up Darlene and Alicia. Darlene is an event planner in Toronto, and Alicia teaches science in Sydney. Found them both alone and the result was a Christmas dinner with the 4 single girls, and It was bliss. I was coined the pied piper of single women and I was more than happy to be given the title. So I am left thinking I will never return to Rajasthan but if I am ever to go back, it would be to Udaipur first.

Oh, by the way, if anyone reading this knows, please tell me because I would love to know – why are all the places in Rajasthan named with ‘pur’? Ranakpur, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaipur, etc…

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