Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Day 6: Jaipur

If the day started early on the day visit to Agra, it was nothing compared to the trip to Jaipur. We were up with the sun--or at least, we would have been if we had been able to see the sun from behind the residency walls. As it was, we crowded onto the bus in order to collapse once again prior to breakfast at one of the campuses of Rai University. Here women get advanced degrees very affordably, and one of the administrator's was kind enough to show us quickly around the building. Few of us had seen such an educational setting, complete with a model of an airplane cabin (for training flight attendants) and video studio, but it was wonderful to hear that graduates are receiving placements already with well-respected companies (yay Jet Airways!). Several of us also invested in the careers of the fashion design students with the purchase of their beautiful jewelry.

But then it was back on the bus! We had a few more hours of travel left, plenty of time to soak in the geographic and cultural changes evinced in the changing landscape. Mountains again appeared on the horizon, in contrast to the all-too-flat Delhi, and curious children smiled and waved eagerly at Miriam's camera. Some of us also were at last able to sink our teeth into the heavenly nirvana known as mangoes, though Rachel wouldn't suggest following Manav's advice: spoons do simply not work as a cleaner means of eating mangoes aboard a moving bus.

Jaipur is known as the "Pink City" because of the city's repainting following the Prince of Wales' visit in 1853 (now really, why pink?). It still retains the color, especially in the old part (Indian's first planned city), augmenting the city's already vivid hues. Jaipur feels, at least to a casual visitor, distinctly different from Delhi, lacking the same level of cosmopolitanism and high tourist ratio. Neha assured us that our comparative knowledge of Delhi was based on an incomplete, touristy acquaintance, but Jaipur's cascading spice stalls and riveting colors were utterly fascinating.

Unfortunately, there wasn't time for us to visit the white and pink sandstone palace of Hawa Mahal, but we drove by it on the way to our incredible hotel, the Taj Rambagh Palace. Manav had decided it would be better to spend a little bit of extra money to assure a comfortable stay in the city, but we had no idea exactly how far $60 would go towards assuring us of beautiful, luxurious accommodations. On entrance, our dusty, sweaty bodies adorned with fresh flower garlands and bindi, the red dot traditionally placed on the forehead of Hindu women (though gaining prominence solely as decoration). The clear, smooth lines of the white marble hall sang out elegance, an attribute which certainly applies to our mango-outfitted, veranda-supplied bedrooms.

No time to dawdle, though, for we had places to explore. Our first stop was City Palace, built by a maharajah in a blend of Rajasthani and Moghul styles. We were able to pace the beautiful pink terraces and museums, each of which highlighted an aspect of Rajastani culture, such as clothing or weaponry. There is even a beautiful throne room featuring portraits of local rulers dating back several hundred years.

One of the wonderful things about this trip was the contributions of the many RLC members with connections to India. In this case, the RLC was treated to the company and hospitality of Nikhil's aunt and uncle, who live and operate a free clinic from their home in Jaipur. While eating delicious pakora and mango that Dean Paul declared the best in his life, they told us about the state of medical care in India, which is basically that there is not enough of it. There are free state-run clinics, but they are terrifically overworked and understaffed, resulting in many poor people not receiving the care they need. Nikhil's relatives are working to counter this, devoting the whole lower story of their house to their clinical practice and surgery. It is mainly the project of Nikhil's aunt, but his uncle, who is a respected surgeon at the hospital in Jaipur, also contributes his time and skills to the poor Indians who come in search of care. With so much suffering (and we only saw an insignificant sample of it), it was wonderful for us to see people devoting their lives to the amelioration of it.

In order for us to see more of Rajasthani culture, Nikhil next brought us to Chokhi Dhani, the Indian equivalent to the United States' living history museums. There were no Amish farmers or pious Pilgrims here, though. Chokhi Dhani is a tourist-designed historical village, but completely unlike anything we had ever experienced. Horse and buggy rides? Try riding on the back of an elephant. Blacksmith demonstrations? Try full body massages and henna application. Square dances? Try drum-accompanied, sari-swirling, audience-participating Indian versions. And one can't forget the human hamster wheel--a Ferris wheel powered by the arms and legs of a native operator inside the wheel itself. Other attractions included a human maze, fortune telling, and camel rides.

Once again, the time passed way too quickly before we all congregated at the village's center for a true Rajasthani dining experience. Sitting cross-legged at short tables, we savored local breads, chutneys, and curries on traditional leaf platters and bowls in Manuhaar style.

The village's web site asserts that you won't be able to stop eating, but one thing it doesn't say is that this won't exactly be solely due to the quality of the food: the waiters literally won't let you stop! Hospitality took on a whole new meaning as our servers dodged our outstretched arms and ignored our satiated pleas to put serving after serving of rice, churma, and emarti. Jeff even resorted to throwing his whole body in front of his tray. It didn't work; they gave him emarti anyway.

By this time, it was getting late, and it was finally starting to dawn on us that the trip was coming to a close. In order for us to have our final few hours together be rested and meaningful, we returned to the hotel for a good night's sleep. Of course, this didn't happen right away (what would you expect with talkative, curious college students?), but ensconced in our white comforters and down pillars and dreaming of Indian spices, we eventually drifted off to sleep. Ask Neha who snuggled and who didn't.

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