Rajasthan, India and New Delhi
Posted By David
If I were ever lucky enough to have my own personal driver (which the State of Michigan Department of Transportation would highly encourage), I’d want him to be from India. Specifically, I’d want him to be from the state of Rajasthan where I personally experienced the unshakable nerve of two different drivers over our three weeks in India. These two men drove for days on end without stopping to eat, relieve themselves, or sleep. I’ve been known to do all three of those things on a 15 mile trip. But more than their endurance behind the wheel, was their ability to maneuver the impossible obstacle course that is the Rajasthani road.
Imagine driving a large van at 70mph on a two-lane highway. There is a heard of 10 cows meandering across the road 50 yards ahead, a three wheeled auto rickshaw is passing you on the left (there isn’t a shoulder exactly but a few inches of room between the edge of the road and the guard rail), and there is an incredibly large Masey-Ferguson tractor pulling a wagon filled with hay that is so overloaded it may tip at any moment, coming at you in your lane as it tries to pass a slow moving motor scooter driven by an elderly man wearing a colorful turban, sporting a thick-black handlebar mustache (the sign of a Rajput or warrior from Rajasthan) with a sari-clad woman sitting behind him, side saddle of course, and holding two small children in her arms. Everyone is blasting their horns, brights are being flashed constantly but nobody looks angry or frightened, except the gringo passengers in the van. Imagine this scene 70 or 80 times a day and you’ll begin to understand the challenges of driving in India. For a country with the second largest population in the world (1.2 billion on a land mass the size of the UK) and the largest democracy, it’s surprising that the roads are so pure. Unlike the Chinese, the Indians do not seem to be pouring their money into infrastructure projects in Rajasthan.
Although being on the roads in India was a risk, it was an amazing way to see life unfold. As an Indian woman we befriended told us, “Life in India happens on the road, right out in front of you.” It’s so true. We saw it all, including; hair-cuts, funerals, auto-repair, bicycle repair, scooter repair, farming, people bathing, kids going to school, kids skipping school to hop on our bus and do magic tricks for money, adults going to work, adults wanting to come on our bus to ask for money, women collecting cow dung and making cow patties, women carrying various-unimaginable and incredibly heavy objects on their heads, women gatering fire wood, women making handicrafts, blacksmiths hammering crude steel tools over hot coals, camels and water buffalo driven by turbaned men pulling incredibly large loads of everything under the sun, women washing clothes, grown men and children defacating, urinating, coughing up a lung, herding animals including chickens, cows, water buffalo, pigs, and others all before our eyes.
The country is incredibly complex with the mix of Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Sikhs, a couple of three Jews, a Zorastrian or two and a few random others. Adding to the complexity is the caste system that doesn’t officially exist but is ever present. Interestingly, the Brahmans or priestly class are suffering from affirmative action type policies that have been implemented to help raise the living standards of the lower caste people.
Rather than go on about what we learned, I will give you some highlights using photos. The first week of India, we were joined by the Katz family (Greg, Laurie, Benji, Jackie, and Joey) and the Hersch family (Ed, Julie, Emily, Michael, and Rachel). Greg planned everything and it was awesome, non-stop action. The rest of the trip was just the Goldmans. What follows are some (but not all) the highlights via photos. (Click on the photo to make it larger).
Imagine the Lower East Side of New York or Chicago's Maxwell Street in 1901 and you'll have a pretty good picture of what the Old Delhi Spice market looks like.
Getting around the Spice Market on market day
Shlepping corrugated boxes on a cycle rickshaw
Taj Mahal was built by Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan. His son sent him to prison after Shah Jahan spent a fortune building the palace in honor of his favorite wife.
Next we were off to Jaipur for a hot air balloon ride
The scenery was spectacular
The local villagers were very excited to greet us when we landed and wanted us to take a picture with them.
The palace dates back to the 16th century.
This is a Rajput man, easily identified by his mustache and turban. Rajput's are the warrior class and were the rulers and builders of all the great palaces. This man is guarding the mirror palace within the walls of the Amer Palace.
The Amer Palace had indoor toilets. Their utility is demonstrated by Joey Katz.
Next we went to Jodhpur and saw the 15th century Mehrengarth Fort which was built into the mountainside in 1459 by Rao Jodha, the 15th ruler of the region.
The fort looks out over the Blue CIty of Jodhpur. All of the Brahman's homes are painted blue.
Johdpur may be better know for the pants they have made famous.
Greg arranged for all of us to go zip-lining over the Fort, here is Laurie Katz zipping down!
We also had a chance to walk around the Blue City where I got a hair cut. When asked to pay, the barber said, "as you wish." I paid the equivalent of $2 which thrilled him. The actual price, I was later told, should be about 17 rupies or less than $.50. I even got a shave with a straight blade.
This 92 year old man has been selling veggies in the Blue City his entire life. He removed his hat and smoothed his hair for this picture.
Next we were off to the Thar Dessert where we stayed in tents at a camel camp and went for a great camel ride.
We spent New Years Eve at the camel camp and met the owner, Reggie, who had attended Kalamazoo College in the late 1980's and early 90's. We also met and befriended Ken Thompson and his wife. Ken is the Irish Ambassador to India. He is on his way to Turkey where he will be the ambassador to Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and, Azerbaijan.
Greg removed a cataract from this camel's eye. Here you can see Greg and Laurie just after the procedure.
Jaisalmer was our next stop. The fort is incredible. The for was built staring in 1156 AD by the Bhati Rajput. It is known as the Golden Fort because of the sand stone used in it's construction. Thousands of people still live in the fort and we got the chance to go inside our guide's home and meet his family. His family has lived in the home for hundreds of years.
This incredible 10 year old supports her family by performing her tight rope act outside the Jaisalmer Fort. Apparently she has a sister who used to do the act until she fell and broke her leg?
We went back to another camel camp in the Thar dessert. Eva is a master rider.
The camel dismount
Sunset in the desert
Next we stopped in Udaipur. This is one of three lakes in Udaipur. You can see the summer palace in the background.
The Palace was beautiful.
The Royal Family has a great car collection including this beautiful Model A Ford. They also had a bunch of Rolls Royces, Mercedes, old Cadillacs, and even a 1966 Rambler!
Here's what we may look like as Rajput Royals in 12th Century Udaipur, India.
This is the Ranakpur Jain Temple which was built starting in 1437. It's incredibly detailed and has over 1444 marble columns, each with unique art.
Amy and one of the unique columns.
We went to Rhanthambore National Reserve where we saw some amazing wildlife including this spotted deer.
This is a male lion print that we saw our first day. The lion eluded us.
We finally saw the lion our last morning. It was sunning behind a tree.
The kids made some friends from Delhi at Rhanthambore and we played some fun games.
Our second to last stop was at Bharathpur, an amazing bird sanctuary. We stayed in the Barathpur Maharaja's Palace for two nights.
Storks at Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary. This was the former hunting grounds of the royal family.
Our cycle rickshaw driver spotted this python in a tree.