the Long's Strange Trip

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Questing into the unknown...
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~  Palaces, Fortresses, and a Temple for Rats ~
September 20 through October 3, 2000
$1 U.S. = 45 Indian Rupees
(Remember to click on the thumbnails for enlargements of the photos)

Jaipur, India
September 21 through September 23, 2000

This man is sealing our package with wax, for some reason  (ccl) Our last day in Bombay was hectic, but joyous.  We both couldn't wait to get out of that city, and on with the rest of our trip through India.  We spent the day mailing home a package, which took two hours and required that we have a man called a "package-stitching wallah" sew a linen cover around our box, and visiting Nilesh one final time to get copies of the software he had installed on our computer, so that we could avoid a repeat of our earlier traumas. 

Our train for Jaipur left at 7:05 P.M. from Mumbai Central, a station we had never been to, despite our many entries to and exits from the city.  In order to make sure we wouldn't get stuck in rush hour traffic, we got there with two hours to spare before our train, checked in our bags, and decided to go have a beer.  We found a bar across the street from the train station and went inside.  In the dark gloom, we could barely tell what was going on, until our eyes adjusted to the dim lighting.  Finally, we could see, and we began to realize that this was no ordinary bar.  The first clue was that there were women waiting tables, which you never see in Indian bars or restaurants, for that matter.  Then we noticed that there was a band, which made us curious, since live music is quite uncommon in the places we've been in India, so we decided to sit down and have a beer.  The waiter pressured us to order food, then more beer.  This is not uncommon in India, and it usually happens in tourist areas when you're buying souvenirs.  I would compare it to being asked, "Do you want fries with that?", at McDonald's, saying no, then being asked, "How about a hot apple pie?  Milkshake?  Coffee?  Fillet-o-Fish?".  We told him that all we wanted was the beer, and he went away in a huff.  Soon, a woman in a beautiful sari appeared at our table with the beer (most Indian beers come in bottles that actually have about four servings), opened it, and filled our glasses, then stepped back a few feet from our table, where she stayed for the duration of the beer, staring intently at us, and reaching in to fill the glasses when we had drunk no more than two or three sips out of each.  This allowed them to pressure us early and often to order another, which we resisted.  It was a creepy place, and we're not quite sure what went on there.

The Pink City  Jaipur is known as "The Pink City", because in 1876, the maharaja thought it would be a good idea to paint the town pink in honor of a visit from the Prince of Wales (the color pink symbolizes "welcome" in India).  It is the capital of the modern day state of Rajasthan, and like many of the other cities in the state, there is still a maharaja living in one of the former royal palaces, playing polo, going on tiger hunts, and doing God-knows what else.  Most of the palaces we saw were in various states of disrepair, but their former opulence was apparent.  Many had rooms with hundreds of small mirrors arranged in patterns on the wall, put there to reflect and amplify the meager light given off by candles and oil lamps.  In the Amber Palace just outside of Jaipur, our guide took us into the maharaja's bedroom, and for twenty extra rupees we were treated to a light show put on by two of the guards, who were waving candles in the dark room, causing the mirrors to flash and glow.  One of the guards had even developed a narrative for the event, which culminated in the lighting and waving of both candles, and in his proclamation of "Disco Maharaja!  Disco Maharani!"   Disco Inferno!

We had been intercepted when we exited the train by a local cab driver who spoke perfect English and wanted to give us a tour of the city.  We agreed, then later agreed to have him give us an entire day tour of the forts and palaces in the surrounding area.  It turned out that his brother, Hasif, was the one who drove us that day, and who later drove us all around Rajasthan on a ten-day tour of the state.  We agreed to a driving tour of the state because by this time, we had been in India four weeks and had only three to go before we left for Nepal, and there was still quite a bit of the country we wanted to see.  While the train system in India is a pretty good way to get around, it's slow, and there's no way to see an area as vast as Rajasthan in ten days on the train.  So for ten days we sped across the arid expanses of the state, J.P. Morgan-style, in the back of a chauffeur-driven car.  Sounds nice, but don't be mistaken - it's not luxury.  The car, an Indian-made diesel known as an "Ambassador",  had no air-conditioning, and Rajasthan is basically a desert area, so we rode for several hours each day with hot air blasting in our faces.  And as if navigating the bizarre assortment of vehicles, people, and animals that use the roads of India wasn't enough, the roads themselves are in horrible condition.  Huge potholes threaten to swallow the car, and speed bumps show up in the most inconspicuous of places.

In Jaipur we visited several palaces, including the one that is the current resident of the Maharaja of Jaipur, although you can't go into the areas in which the family lives now.  Prior to and during the English colonization of India in the early 17th century, the country was basically a collection of feudal states in which a handful of men controlled vast armies and quantities of land.  They built hilltop forts and palaces with elaborate defense mechanisms to keep out those neighboring maharajas looking to expand their territory.  One such place outside of Jaipur is Jaigarh, an imposing pink-walled structure that was never captured and has survived virtually intact since its construction in 1726.  Jaigarh houses an interesting collection of weapons, and a palace with a puppet theater, but its main claim to fame is that it contains the world's largest cannon, which has only been fired once for test purposes.  I guess that proves that if you have the world's largest cannon, you don't necessarily have to fire it.

Shekhawati Region and Bikaner, India
September 23 through September 25, 2000

Beautifully renovated haveli exterior  We left Jaipur early Saturday morning for our ten day tour of Rajasthan.  Our first area to visit was to be the Shekhawati Region, which is famous for its many beautiful havelis.  "Haveli" means "house of important person", and these stunning homes were built by area merchants made rich by the camel caravans which traversed the area in the 18th  and 19th centuries.  Many of these once graceful mansions have fallen into a state of disrepair, as the camel caravans ceased and the owners moved to the big cities in search of business, but some have been and are being renovated.  The many gorgeous murals which grace the walls of these beautiful houses caused this area to become known as the "open air museum" of India.  Because few if any people of that time had ever seen pictures of automobiles or airplanes, the common folk were admitted to these houses in order to see the paintings on the walls and marvel at the latest inventions.  As you can see from this picture, the artists, who probably hadn't seen these things either, and were going by a verbal description given by the owner of the home, didn't always get things quite right.   An airplane....sort of

We ambled through the region at a leisurely pace, stopping at small villages along the way to look at interesting havelis and temples.  There was little traffic on the road and we passed camels pulling water carts and women carrying huge bundles of animal fodder on their heads.  Many of them  covered their faces with their saris when they saw our car approaching.  Rajasthanis love color, and the local women made for great scenery in their hot pinks, royal blues, and bright oranges.  

In Mandawa we stopped for the night at a haveli that had been renovated and turned into a hotel.  Wiley and I wandered around the town on our own for a while.  It was by far the smallest town we'd spent the night in, and the local people were just as curious about us as we were about them.  Just like in other Indian cities and towns, the traffic must heed the many cows that recline in the middle and on the sides of the road.  (Hasif told us that if he were to kill a cow with his car, he would have to pay a fine and go to jail for six months - that's IF the angry mob doesn't get him first.)  In Mandawa, large bulls even wandered the streets (contributing, no doubt, to the problem of over-population of cows), and one of them apparently didn't like something about the way Wiley walked past him, because he snorted and lowered his head and made a semi-charge move.  Wiley, even though he is a city boy, deftly avoided the bull's substantial horns, and another potential injury on the Long's Strange Trip.

The Indian Michael Jackson  That night in the hotel, as we were the only guests, we had the place to ourselves, and the staff catered to our every whim.  They moved a table up to the roof and served our dinner up there under the stars, and even brought in a local family to play music and dance for us.  The older boy, who was the star of the show, had moves like Michael Jackson, and no doubt has dreams of being the next big discovery in the burgeoning Hindi film industry.  The father played a violin-like instrument and he and the mother sang traditional Rajasthani folk songs, while their son gyrated and moon-walked.  The baby was purely there for comic relief.  The Indian Von Trapp Family

Bikaner was our next stop along the way, and like many Indian towns of its size, it has grown into a big city as a result of the population of the surrounding rural areas moving in in search of more profitable vocations than farming.  The evidence of this over-crowding is visible everywhere, from the make-shift tents that serve as housing, to the traffic-choked streets, to the smog-filled skies.  Population growth has long been a recognized problem in India, and one to which there is not an easy answer.  While educated Indians understand the need to arrest the spiraling population of their country, which just reached one billion earlier this year, in the rural areas, more children are still viewed as more hands on the farm.  Indira Gandhi attempted to tackle this enormous problem during her administration in the 1970's by putting her son, Sanjay in charge.  She incurred the wrath of Hindus and Muslims, who perceived that she was attempting to lessen their political power by lessening their numbers.  When it was exposed that many village men had been sterilized against their will, the public responded by not returning Gandhi to office for another term.  

This extremely complex issue isn't just a rural one, however.  In India, it is still extremely important to have a son.  Sons are seen as security in old age.  Because daughters go to live with their in-laws upon marriage, it is the responsibility of the son to take care of his parents when they can no longer work.  I read a book called May You Be the Mother of a Hundred Sons, written by a Washington Post writer who lived in India for four years in the eighties.  The title of the book is taken from a traditional Indian blessing that is given to a bride at her wedding, and it leaves no doubt that boy children, typically, are more highly valued than girl children in Indian families.  This deeply embedded aspect of the culture has led in the past to the highly reprehensible act of female infanticide, where girl babies are poisoned soon after birth.  While this practice is not widespread today, most people believe that it still occurs.  The author of the book continues her examination of Indian society by looking into the business of fetal sex-determination clinics.  In the big cities, wealthy women often visit doctors upon finding out they are pregnant, to determine the sex of the fetus.  Societal pressures to produce sons often cause women to undergo abortions, if they find out that they are pregnant with a girl child.  The author of the book found herself questioning her views on keeping abortion legal (which it is, in India) and safe (which it isn't - the death rate for women undergoing abortion in India is extremely high, due to lack of access to qualified practitioners) when she found out that the procedure was being used to terminate pregnancies simply because the fetus was female.

But there are more subtle ways of getting rid of unwanted daughters, and these methods are more widespread and ingrained into the culture of many areas in India.  Many families simply withhold medical treatment from girl children, waiting to take them to the doctor when they're sick, many times until it's too late.  Girl children often get less food than their brothers, also, and the result of both of these practices is that, despite the fact that at birth girl children are biologically stronger than boys, the survival rate for girls in India is appallingly low.  But if she survives, the life of a rural Indian girl is no picnic.  Usually girls aren't sent to school, and must stay at home and help with the work there and in the fields from a young age.  Once married, they are expected to run the household for their new husbands, work in the fields, and do the bidding of their mothers-in-law.  A recent editorial in The Times of India quoted figures from the latest Indian census that said that in one area of the Himalayas, the average woman works 3,485 hours per year on a farm, while a man puts in 1,212 hours and pair of oxen 1,064 hours on the same farm.  Despite this, most men don't view their wives' contributions to the household as "work".

I've thought a lot about this issue since being in India.  On our visit to one of the forts in Rajasthan, Wiley walked off to make a picture, and I was left standing making small talk with the guide we had hired for a tour of the fort.  He asked if we had any children, and I said no, did he?  He said yes, two daughters.  I replied with "Congratulations!", and he told me, "Two daughters are not 'congratulations' in India.  Two daughters are very expensive."  I didn't quite know how to respond to his honesty, and he's right.  Because it has become the norm for a bride's family to pay a dowry to the groom's family in recent years, many families cannot afford to marry off even one daughter.  There are even instances of a bride's in-laws beating or killing her as punishment for not bringing enough wealth into their family.  Sadly, despite the fact that India's constitution guarantees women equal rights, the reality is that many women in this country are a long way from having them. 

Bikaner has a fort, and a palace, like every other large town in Rajasthan, and we visited them.  But we had another destination in mind, about 30 kilometers away.  Several months ago, we were in another hotel room in another country, and saw a special on the Discovery Channel about a temple in India where rats are revered and worshipped.  Hindus believe that these particular rats are incarnations of holy men, and the rats are given food and shelter in this temple.  After watching footage of hundreds of rats running rampant over the temple and its priests, we were revolted and intrigued, so when we found out that it was close by, we had to visit.  

Somebody call Orkin!  When we got there, we realized that, like any other Hindu temple, shoes aren't allowed inside.  Now tell me THAT doesn't go against everything your mother taught you - walking around in a rat compound barefoot!  We complied with the footwear regulations, and gingerly stepped through the beautiful white marble gateway.  From the Discovery Channel program, we knew that amazingly, the rats that live in the temple stay in, and rats from the outside don't come inside (Don't ask me how they know this.  The rats weren't wearing collars or anything.).  Once in the courtyard of the temple, we gazed with wonder upon the hordes of rats, feeding, grooming, and sleeping all over the place.  And these weren't the cute little white lab rats I had hoped they'd be, either.  They were the dirty, gray street variety, although they were all small.  The priests had set out huge pans of milk for them, and they lapped at it hungrily.  We continued on to the altar of the temple, where a priest beckoned us to come closer.  There he presided over the image of one of the Hindu gods, and pans of food offerings that the faithful had brought.  Apparently, if you consume the food the rats have crawled over and drooled on, you'll have very good luck, but we passed on that.  We did search for the one white rat that lives in the temple.  A white rat sighting is said to be extremely auspicious, and we crouched near a doorway where some people said he was hiding, but didn't see him.  Rats!

We left from this place with more questions than answers about this very unusual religion.  We don't know what caused the Hindus to believe that these particular rats were re-born holy men, or why they believe that someone who had conducted his life on earth in such an exemplary manner would be re-born as a lowly rat.  We did remember an interesting fact from the Discovery Channel show - that the town where the rat temple is has never experienced an outbreak of bubonic plague, despite repeated outbreaks in neighboring villages.

Jaisalmer, India
September 25 through September 27, 2000

Sandstone haveli and fort in the Golden City  Jaisalmer is known as the "Golden City", and it lives up to that name.  Gold sandstone is abundant in the surrounding Thar Desert, and it has been used for centuries to construct the buildings in the town.  The result is that throughout the day the color of the city itself, perched high on a hill above the desert floor and surrounded by a crenulated wall, changes with the moving rays of the sun.  We went out into the desert to view it during sunset, and the purples and pinks in the sky were gorgeous next to the glowing yellows and golds of the city walls and the buildings inside it.  Jaisalmer Fort

One of Jaisalmer's beautiful sandstone havelis  Jaisalmer was the first city on our ten day tour of Rajasthan in which we spent two nights, and it was nice to spend a little more time in one place.  We visited the city's fort and palace, and several of the beautiful havelis in the town, which were unlike the others that we had seen in that they were built of sandstone and were ornately carved with beautiful designs.  The havelis, although pretty ordinary inside, are incredibly ornate on the outside.  The most amazing was one that a very successful merchant built for himself and his four sons.  The house, actually five separate houses in a row, was occupied by the merchant and each of his sons moved into one of the other houses as he got married.  

In India arranged marriages are still the norm.  During one of the many days we spent in Bombay, the Times of India, one of the big national daily newspapers, did a story on arranged marriages versus "love" marriages, as marriages are called here in India when a couple meets and falls in love on their own (I guess what we'd consider a normal marriage.).  The paper claimed as high as a 50% divorce rate for couples who had met and married on their own, compared with almost no divorce among those couples who had married after their families had met and agreed that the two would be a good pair.  Based on what I read in May Your Be the Mother of a Hundred Sons, there's more to this statistic than meets the eye.  In India, an arranged marriage is seen as something of a contract between two families.  Many young, college-educated men and women trust their parents to pick a mate for them, rationalizing that their parents have a good marriage, and it was arranged.  The pressure to "make things work" is enormous, and Indians don't have as many romantic notions about marriage as we do.  Marriage is more like a business partnership, and the product of the partnership is children, and a home for the husband's parents in old age.  Our driver, Hasif, told us that his marriage was arranged.  Hasif is a Muslim, so this told us that the phenomena cuts across religious lines in India.  The need to marry someone "appropriate", which means from the same caste, overrides any romantic notion than many Indians have about finding the perfect person and falling in love.  While this is quite revolting to my Western ideas about love and marriage, and how important I feel it is to have the freedom to make decisions that will affect you for the rest of your life for yourself, I suppose I have to chalk this one up to "cultural differences", and admit that I'll never understand it.  I realized this when I saw an ad for DeBeer's, the diamond monopoly, in the Indian "Cosmo".  The ad contained a picture of a young woman wearing a beautiful diamond ring.  The caption said, "I was thrilled when his parents slipped my diamond onto my finger!", indicating to me that something that we as Westerners consider to be a personal moment between a man and a woman involves the whole family in India.

Hello from above - inside a Jain temple  In Jaisalmer we visited the first active Jain temple we had seen on the trip.  Jainism is one of the smallest religions in the world, but the temples that we have seen are some of the most beautiful places of worship I have ever visited.  From the outside they look a lot like Hindu temples, but inside they are filled with exquisite carvings and ornamentation, possibly reflecting the Jain ideal that purity must come from the inside.  Jainism was founded around 500 B.C. by Mahavira, a contemporary of the Buddha, and Jains believe that achieving complete purity of the soul here on Earth is ultimately the only way to end the cycle of reincarnation and achieve oneness with God (Nilesh Shah, the guy in Bombay who fixed our computer, is a Jain.  I think he must have earned some big points with his God for that one.).  Nonviolence is central to the religion, so they are all vegetarians and many wear no leather articles.  Some Jains wear no shoes for fear of killing bugs on the ground, and sweep the path in front of them as they walk to avoid stepping on the small creatures.  Others go completely naked, owning no possessions, and use their hands as a begging bowl.  There are seven Jain temples inside the old city of Jaisalmer, and visitors are allowed to enter two of them.  The carvings inside are incredibly ornate, and the alcoves are lined with small busts of saints and holy men whom the Jains worship.  

On our second day in Jaisalmer we told Hasif that we wanted to spend some time by ourselves, wandering the streets, and that we'd see him the next morning when we left for Jodphur, our next destination.  Hasif didn't quite know what to make of that - you could tell that he wasn't used to having clients who wanted to be left alone.  Despite the fact that we liked Hasif, we were well aware that any time he took us into a store, the store owner had to pay commission to him if we bought anything, and this would be passed along to us in the price.  So we told him we'd see him tomorrow, and he uneasily drove away.  That night when we pulled up at the hotel in a cab, we were startled to see that he had waited up for us, and was pacing up and down in the hotel parking lot, concerned as to whether or not we would make it home OK by ourselves!

Jodphur and Ranakpur, India
September 27 through September 29, 2000

The afternoon's last rays of sun kiss the blue city of Jodphur  The next day we left bright and early for another long day of driving.  Our destination was Jodphur, known as the Blue City, because many of the houses there are painted a beautiful shade of periwinkle blue.  Once we got into town we quickly checked into a hotel, then headed out to see the fort and palace.  Like many of the other forts we had seen, the Jodphur fort was positioned high on a hill, and was reached via a long, winding road which led through several large gates.  On the wall beside the first gate was a sight that we had become accustomed to seeing in Rajasthani forts:  the handprints of women who had committed "sati" in honor of their husbands.  "Sati" is the act of throwing oneself on the funeral pyre of one's husband, effectively ending your life when his ends.  In earlier times in India, the life of a widow was particularly hard.  Unable to remarry due to religious tenets, and shunned by family members, many women were forced into a life of subsistence begging.  Despite the horror of being burned alive, some women preferred this to the alternative.  Sati is especially famous in Rajasthan, where there are many tales of the women and children jumping voluntarily into a pit of fire together, rather than be captured by Moghul invaders, as their men rode to certain death in battle.  We were told one story of as many as 30,000 women and children perishing this way.  Such stories definitely enhance the romantic mystique of the forts and palaces of Rajasthan.  

Wives of the maharajas left their handprints here before going to their deaths  Sati was outlawed by the British when they controlled India, but sporadic incidents still took place.  Unbelievably, in 1987, Roop Kanwar, an 18 year old woman whose husband had died unexpectedly, sat quietly, holding the head of her dead husband in her lap, as kerosene was poured over them and the pile of wood underneath them was lit.  She is now worshipped as a saint by Hindu women across India, and the small town where she lived and committed sati is overrun with pilgrims.  Her in-laws are currently in jail for failing to prohibit her from committing this act, and there is controversy as to just how "voluntarily" Roop Kanwar committed this act.  Today, laws exist to punish those who glorify sati, although in reality they are probably never enforced.  I read in May You Be the Mother of a Hundred Sons that several high-ranking officials of Rahjiv Gandhi's (the then-Prime Minister) government were among the hundreds of thousands of Hindus who paid homage at the sight of the sati in the days following it.

At the end of your "complementary" tour of the Jodphur palace (nothing is really complementary - the guard expects a tip at the end), you are encouraged to visit the astro-palmist who works there, reading palms for tourists.  Wiley couldn't resist, and sat for a reading.  On some points the guy was right on target, like when he said that Wiley was really sensitive, that he liked to analyze things, and that he was willing to work hard, although his true nature is more laid-back.  But he also said that Wiley suffers from headaches frequently, which he doesn't, but for several days after the reading, he did!  At the end of the reading he told us that we would have two children, a boy and a girl, and to be sure and email him when it happened.  Obviously, this was a guy who was extremely confident in his abilities.  I see a tall, dark stranger...

While we were in Jodphur the Dussehra festival began.  This Hindu festival commemorates the slaughter of the buffalo demon Mahishasura by the goddess Durga.  During this festival, devout Hindus must visit a Durga temple for each of nine successive days, and children are even let out of school for the occasion.  We were to see signs of this festival in progress all over India as we traveled around for those days.  At Jodphur fort, the Durga temple was festively decorated, and stalls were set up to sell offerings of coconuts and flowers to the pilgrims as they made their way to the temple.  Just another festival day in India, like any other day

Walking among the marble forest of Chaumukha  We made an overnight stop at the small village of Ranakpur, which is in a beautiful and remote valley and off the beaten path.  Our purpose in going there was to see the Jain temples that had been built there in the early 15th century.  The main temple, known as Chaumukha, is a work of art.  This temple, carved out of solid white marble, has 1444 pillars, no two of which are alike.  In order to enter the temple we had to leave all of our leather items in the car, and Wiley had to put on the rent-a-pants the Jains loan out to tourists who wear shorts.  Once inside, the high priest approached us, and told us that his family had been serving this temple for 500 years.  He explained what many of the carvings meant and showed us some of the particularly beautiful spots, although the entire place was absolutely incredible.  He answered a question that we had had after visiting both Hindu and Jain temples when he explained why there are demons carved into the threshold of the temples.  He said that when people enter the temple, they are to leave any evil thoughts they have at the door for the demons.  The polished marble floors were smooth and cool, and the place was filled with a quiet reverence.  Please deposit your evil thoughts here 

Udaipur, India
September 30 through October 1, 2000

Jagmandir - home of Octopussy  We were happy to be in Udaipur - another town where we planned to stay for two days.  We got there pretty early in the afternoon, despite the fact that the car was overheating regularly and Hasif had to stop every hour or so and add more water to the engine.  In Udaipur, we discovered that something was wrong with the starter, and the car had to be push-started every time the ignition was turned off.  I'm not sure that the Ambassador will be making a bold entre' onto world automobile  markets any time soon.

If you've seen the James Bond movie "Octopussy", you've seen Udaipur.  The world-famous Lake Palace Hotel, and Jagmandir Island, both of which are palaces of one of the former maharajas of Udaipur, and both of which seem to float on the surface of Lake Pichola, were used in the filming of the movie.  Many local restaurants show the movie nightly, and of course, we had to sit for a screening.   

Hasif took us to a nice garden in the city for a short walk around before visiting Lake Pichola.  Inside the garden there was a small children's museum, and we were clowning around in there, doing the experiments and looking at the exhibits.  Wiley was playing with two mirrors that were positioned at 90 degrees to each other.  You could swivel one of the mirrors to change the angle, and change your reflection.  When he swiveled the mirror, a huge crack suddenly appeared through the lower half of it.  The man who was the attendant in the museum came over, looked gravely at the mirror, and announced that we would have to pay 100 rupees for the damage.  Apparently, Wiley said, "Fine.",  too quickly, because he immediately upped the ante to 500 rupees.  Obviously, we were being taken.  We began arguing with him, and it was apparent that he didn't speak English, so he went and got another employee.  The employee told us that the man was saying that he was a poor man, and that he needed 500 rupees to fix the mirror.  Well, this was more than I could take.  I told them that it was an accident, that Wiley was merely doing what the instructions said to do with the mirror, and it broke.  I told him that we weren't paying 500 rupees, and we started to walk out the door.  The attendant cut me off at the pass, locked the door and blocked it with his body, so that we couldn't leave.  After more heated arguing the second guy told us to give 200 rupees, which we did, and the first guy unlocked the door, although he wasn't happy.  As we left we heard the two men yelling, presumably about the deal that had been made.  Once again, we were able to avoid time spent in a foreign jail cell.

We pulled away from the garden with me imagining I heard police sirens wailing.  Hasif then took us to a local village where the inhabitants demonstrated how they made crafts, and where there were examples of houses from different areas around the region.  There we saw beautiful tie-dyed saris.  I have tie-died t-shirts before, but the process they use to make this fabric is definitely more labor intensive and subsequently produces a much more beautiful result.  The Rajastahanis use thread to tie off very small sections of fabric, wrapping it around and around very tightly.  The fabric is then dipped in various colors to make the tie-dye pattern.  We also heard some Rajasthani music and saw women playing cymbals along with the music while holding huge swords in their teeth and balancing several bowls on their heads.  No question, it gave new meaning to the phrase "walking and chewing gum at the same time".  Need I say it?  Don't try this at home. 

Doing the stick dance  Udaipur was deep in the throes of the Dussehra festival, as was Jodhpur.  The streets of the town were strung with silver tinsel and tiny white lights (I can't call them Christmas lights anymore, since not everyone uses them for Christmas.).  We spent a little time at the main festival, where a magician did tricks for an attentive and enthusiastic crowd, but we left because we couldn't understand what he was saying.  Just down the street a smaller festival was being held, and local children and teenagers performed a folk dance that involved dancing around in a circle and clicking brightly painted sticks with your partner.

Pushkar, India
October 1, through October 2, 2000

The holy city of Pushkar in the morning light  The final stop on our whirlwind tour of Rajasthan was the holy city of Pushkar.  We both wished we had had more time there, because it was a beautiful and interesting little town, where pilgrims came to make offerings and bath in a holy lake in order to wash away sins.  As it was, we arrived there late in the afternoon, because Hasif had taken us 100 kilometers out of the way to see a fort which turned out not to be very interesting.  So we had time to do little more than check into a hotel, walk around the town for a while, watch people put offerings into the lake, and eat dinner.  I would love to go back one day for the Pushkar Camel Fair, which happens every year in the fall (the date is based on the lunar calendar and changes every year).  It's supposedly an incredible event where camels and other livestock are bought and sold, but it also includes many street performances such as music and theater, and camel races, camel polo, and just about anything else that can be done on a camel. 

We arrived back in Jaipur the next day just in time to stand in a two-hour line at the train station to buy tickets from Jaipur to Agra, from Agra to Varanasi, and from Varanasi to Delhi.  Tickets for these destinations are sometimes hard to get, and we weren't able to get air conditioned sleeper berths for the Agra-Varanasi leg, which was bad news.  We were later told by a wheeler-dealer in Agra that often the train station employees won't sell these tickets to tourists, instead holding them out for travel agents, who bribe them.  Indeed, bribery of government officials was making big news in India while we were there, as it was revealed that the current Prime Minister once had to pay a bribe to get electric service hooked up at a new house he was building.  The alternative, apparently, was to wait two years for them to get around to his service order. 

Click here to continue in India with "A Love/Hate Relationship"





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