Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Day 7: Jaipur/Delhi

Upon awakening from our beauty sleep, we were once again struck with the beauty and comfort of our hotel surroundings.

Not only were Dean Paul and Rachel able to finally stretch their limbs on the hotel running track, but everyone was able to enjoy breakfast while listening to the drum and sitar players. Deepa, with her amazing talent in Indian classical singing, was especially able to appreciate the art.

And did I mention the breakfast? The hotel's beautiful spread gave a whole new meaning to the term "continental breakfast." Not only did it feature traditional Indian dishes such as sambar and thin omelets, but even the more western breakfast-minded individuals among us feasted upon pastries, yogurt (multiple varieties, with a billion toppings), fresh fruit, and fresh-squeezed juices that are definitely not endemic to the United States (cucumber juice, anyone?). Understandably, we didn't exactly leave the hotel as soon as we had planned.

We soon boarded the bus for the Amber Fort, but on the way we stopped to take pictures at the lake palace of Jal Mahal and watch random elephants ramble past.
We were also treated to a sample of Indian magic, courtesy of a very cute, very precocious Indian boy and his nimble fingers.

But it was hard to remember these things once we arrived at the Amber Fort. The late 16th-century citadel is absolutely breathtaking, the Great Wall of Rajasthan. Its bastions and walls climb the surrounding hills like a fortified, spiny backbone, but nothing is lost in terms of artistic decoration. At the complex's center is a beautiful geometrically-based garden, and one room in the palace (both on the interior and exterior) is covered with thousands upon thousands of tiny reflective mirrors.

Of course, this all requires attaining the height of the fort, completely inaccessible to even the most adept of Indian bus drivers. So we abandoned the bus at the bottom of the hill and rode up Indian-style: on elephants!! Separated into groups of two, the RLC contingent featured several notable couples, such as the African brigade (Melekot and Olaf), the Swedes (Rachel and Avital, wearing yellow and blue headscarves, respectively), and the Honeymooners (Deepa and Emmett). Divided into our respective groups, we bounced and jostled our way up to the top of the mountain, careful not to put too much weight on one side of the seat (it's a long way down). It was far from a boring ride, for between admiring the spectacular views, purposefully ignoring those selling native turbans and tiny elephants ("All 10 for 100 rupees!"), and taking pictures of those trying to do the same, we found plenty to occupy our minds. If only we weren't troubled by what we imagined to be the brutal treatment of the elephants we were riding (as Manav said, it is hard to imagine those scars on his elephant's head coming from her intentional boredom-induced head banging).

Once we reached the top, we were able to revel in the remarkable view of the whole Jaipur Rajasthan area. How different from the view atop the minaret in Delhi! The complex was extensive, and we didn't even get to view all of the levels. Like the Agra Fort, it is both an impressive fortress and luxurious palace, featuring both Hindu and Moghul elements situated in Amber, the former capital of the region under the Kachwahas (Jaipur became the capital in the 18th century).

After meandering from ornately decorated room to even more ornately decorated room, the jeep ride down to contemporary civilization seems slightly anachronistic. But, lest we thought we were still in the United States, we were greeted at the bus with the sight of two head-butting goats right across the parking lot (let's hope the lady goat was worth it).

Back in the air conditioning, we headed back to Delhi, for the most high-profile of all our Indian interactions: Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the former president of India, known as Indian's "Missile Man" and the "People's President." We had just enough time to stop at the home of Manav's uncle and aunt to change and freshen up before heading to Dr. Kalam's home. The universal opinion was that he was one of the cutest old men we had ever seen, in addition to one of the most engaging. He required our most acute attention, constantly turning us to ask, "You understand?," as he outlined his plan to bring harmony to India and the world. This will require, he said, not simply early education in principles of respect and the recognition of transcendent virtues present amongst all religions, but widespread economic prosperity as well. He presented his plan in a straightforward, logical manner reflective of his scientific background, using a multi-faceted approach to describe his dream of a developed India by 2020.

As usual, we had lots of questions, and, as usual, not enough time to ask them. All too soon, it was time for us to present the Princeton mug, t-shirt, and pen (though this last item--ostensibly the nicest gift--was deemed unnecessary), take the requisite group picture, and board the bus again.

This time, though, would be the last, for this was our final night all together in Delhi. The following day we would be going our separate ways, some staying in Delhi for a few more days, others headed to other parts of India, and the rest taking flights to other parts of the world. The gifts we presented to Manav, Jahnabi, Shivani, and Nikhil later that night as key coordinators of the trip were mere tokens, completely unable to communicate the richness of the incredible adventure we had just experienced.

But the adventure, after all, did not end in Delhi. As Rahul read us his plans for a future discussion that time had not permitted us to undertake, we were newly awakened to the realization that our mission as ambassadors extends beyond India back to Princeton itself and beyond. As members of the Religious Life Council, we have committed ourselves to exploring disparate, new ideas and inspiring them in others. This should not only happen in India during our time off from academia. We are Princeton students, "in the nation's service, and in the service of all nations."

1 comment:

  1. Just to clarify, for those members of my extended family who have asked my parents about the "Honeymooners" comment: Deepa, Miriam, and I were on the same flight on the way over, and Miriam and I were seated together, but Deepa was not with us. We joked about pretending to be engaged so that Deepa could sit with us - although nobody ended up being in the other seat in our row, so we were able to sit together anyway.