Monday, May 14, 2012

India. Part One.

I'm in London now as I write this, and India feels like a distant memory. I've been finding it difficult to write more blog posts about our experiences in India. I think I haven't been ready yet to "go back there" mentally because of some of the struggles we had. I'm going to do my best to sum up our trip and my feelings about it.

Basically Monica, Jenny and I went on a two-week road trip, covering the main tourist hot-spots: Rajasthan, the Golden Triangle and Varanasi. We spent a lot of time in the car coming to terms with the insane traffic and Indian way of life. Our main event for each day usually consisted of visiting old palaces, forts or havelis, with a camel safari thrown in there.

I don't think they have the concept of "vintage" in India. Rather, old things are just "old."
We hadn't planned much before we arrived in India, so we devoted a lot of our time and energy in Delhi arranging our trip, which included hiring a driver and car, all accommodation, and exactly where we wanted to go. It was stressful.

In the "office" of our hotel.
 Everything worked out in the end.

The rewarding conclusion.
When we weren't signing contracts and figuring out our trip, we got out and explored Delhi. Of course we weren't free to roam around on our own--that's not the way things work in India. We hired a driver each day who took us to places of interest and waited for us to finish up before we moved to the next location. It feels weird at first, but then you get used to it.

In the clothing section of a street sale.
We ended up India-fying ourselves by buying some traditional clothing, and also choosing to cover up from head to toe despite the heat.

Right as we arrived at Humayun's Tomb, the weather took a dark and stormy twist: a damp breeze started to fill the air and the sky turned a shade of orange.

The winds blew dust into the air and pulled leaves and small branches from the trees.
Birds gathered and flew around in flocks.
It rained, and then it poured. Lightning and thunder reverberated through the stone archways we were hiding under--the entrance to the mausoleum. Directly behind us laid the body of Humayun. It was creepy in a fun way.

Jenny in front of the palace.

Our driver recommended a place for us to eat dinner. We were skeptical at first, but ended up loving the meal.

Let the staring begin.
We walked (shoved) through some narrow streets to see another side of Delhi.

Veggie vendor.
Quick bite to eat.
Heading into the Red Fort to see a sound and light show (in Hindi).
The next day we left for Mandawa.

A familiar sight--enormous amounts of hay being pulled behind a tractor with people sitting on top.
Unfortunately, another familiar sight--piles of trash lining the roads.
At our hotel in Mandawa.
Havelis are private mansions where rich Indians and British colonial families used to live. Now most of them have been taken over by normal Indian families.
They really pigeon-holed themselves.
An antique shop in Mandawa.
Monica found her street.

Our tour guide for the day.
We all enjoyed Mandawa. It felt like I'd traveled to another planet. Life just seemed so simple there. Our hotel was formerly a haveli, and we loved the design of the place.

After we checked out, they showed us the "special room" where the walls were covered with ornate multi-colored mirrors. I guess this is India's version of the honeymoon suite.

In the lobby of the Mandawa Heritage Hotel.
Next we traveled on to Bikaner, stayed at a place called the Sagar Hotel, and took a tour of the town. Nothing too special was going on, but it was a good resting point to break up our drive to Jaisalmer.

I love all the different school uniforms for Indian children.
"And here, please take note of our unique use of trash instead of grass..."
Lots of downtime in the car...
This first part of our trip in India was a journey through the desert. A lot of the time it felt like I could have been in the Southwest US--a part of the country I adore. There was nothing to see for miles besides little trees and a pastel blue sky resting gently above an earthy shade of beige. Looking out into the horizon from the car window gave me a feeling of freedom, even though we were far from free in many ways.

We got to an area with countless wind turbines owned by the Indian military. This technology seemed out of place and mysterious.

We made it to Kuhri Village, a small village seemingly devoted to providing camel safaris for tourists, but not in an in-your-face kind of way. I was actually impressed by the way everything was run and organized, and this turned out to be my favorite experience in India.

Huts were an option for sleeping instead of camping.
Monica, Jenny and I each got our own camel, and went on a private safari through the desert. Mine was the old one who farted a lot.

We were told there was no chance of rain, that it hadn't rained for two years.

Can you believe it started raining as soon as we started our expedition! This was a sign of good luck for the people in the village, and it felt like a sign for us, too.

Heading straight into the storm.

Rainbow in the desert.
Smiling for the camera.
We stopped for a minute and met a bunch of children from the nearby village. They were interested in our watches and what little jewelry we had. They asked for sweets and pens, but all we could offer were some hair ties.

I like how this almost looks like a snowy winter scene.
We made it to a fantastic part of the desert with rolling sand dunes and rested for a couple hours, watching the magnificent sunset.

The camels rested, too.
Long shadows.
That night, Jenny and I decided to go along with the other visitors (who all happened to be ladies) and camped in the desert. We were happy to see that there were cots for us to sleep on because I noticed a lot of beetles and spiders crawling around near our feet on our way to the campsite.

This guy slept on the sand near the camel. He said he didn't sleep too well, but he had a good attitude about it.
Watching the sun rise...

The camels have cool "tattoos" here.
This ends the first part of our journey through India. My highlights were definitely Mandawa and the camel safari/camping. It was nice traveling to this part of the country, which I think a lot of people skip over if they have a limited amount of time. I would recommend this to anyone taking a trip to India, if you can fit it in.