Emily: A fresh perspective

August 18, 2011

The blue city of Jodhpur; purpose in the painting?…cools homes & acts as an effective insect repellant…who knew?

Growing antsy from two weeks of being punctual and polite in the confines of the Kanota Bagh neighborhood of Jaipur, Emily and her six comrades set off for the train station on a drizzly Friday morning.  They hauled their packs with excitement, traipsing down Devi Path to the main road.  There they haggle with hurried rickshaw drivers who honked loudly as they pulled up to the trashed covered curb. Finally settling on an agreeable price, the girls piled into two yellow and green rickshaws with tiny posters of pretty girls plastered to their worn out interiors.  A surprising amount of Jaipur was hustling and bustling for Rakhi, the celebration of brothers and sisters, despite the misty rain which usually kept them inside near a warm cup of chai.  The train station they reached was packed with honking motorists and pushy pedestrians passing through security gates.  Images of terrorists, bombs, and overturned railway carts flashed through Emily’s mind momentarily as the slightly confused but jovial team found their way to the second platform.  Arriving a half hour early for the train, they sat in a circle and feasted their eyes on the colorful sights around them.  Women in shimmering saris mingled with flea-bitten mutts and hormone ridden teenagers who felt no guilt in staring at the mix of North American women.  An hour after their train was scheduled to arrive, the group had grown silent, taking up their Sodoku puzzles and flipping through old magazines from home.  Emily watched with a smile on her face as a tiny toddler toddled around the skirts of his mother in shoes that squeaked with every step.  When his round hazel eyes found hers, he squeaked over to have a babbly conversation and smile at her peek-a-boo faces.  His mother followed his squeaky steps to retrieve him, but when she saw how much they were enjoying each other, she decided it would be best if they parted with a proper goodbye and instructed the wee one to give Emiy a kiss.  The softest, wettest  baby kiss was planted squarely on her cheek and then he squeak, squeak, squeaked out of her life, down the platform to his father and luggage, never to know what a treat she thought her first Indian kiss was.

Not long after, the big blue Marudhar Express screeched to a halt in front of the gathering crowd of passengers, so Emily and friends pushed their way to dirty benches which doubled as sleeping bunks.  “How refreshing to be going!” Emily thought as the breeze came in through the barred windows and she climbed to the top bunk with her ipod and Hindi homework in hand.  From her high position she watched like a house cat as her new found friends jumped to capture the pastoral scenery whizzing by with their cameras, as the whizzers whizzed wherever they pleased in the trash cluttered towns, and as young men crowded the windows of their cart at every stop to see the circus of white women inside.  The pale-skinned lot snacked on chapatis and cookies packed by their humble hosts in Jaipur and gave some of their loot away to the beggars that made sure to spend ample time in their section of the car.

a gaggle of train station boyz “welcomed” them at every stop

where Jodhpur’s water supply had once been, trash and one giant catfish now reside

They arrived in the blue city of Jodhpur without any hiccups, only to be swarmed by more rickshawalas and hungry children. Fearful to fish out any cash here, the girls huddled in the midst of the ever encroaching crowd as Sam tried desperately to contact their hotel driver and Emily gave out the last of her Luna bars to a little girl in dirty clothes.  Food was far better to give out than money anyhow, as the children often worked for some kind of “pimp”, but Emily felt guilty as she stood there with her cell phone, I-pod, and “essentials” of life on her back. What did she do to be so lucky that she didn’t have to spend her childhood begging on a dirty platform of dying dogs and maddened men? Her childhood was filled with inflatable swimming pools, conversations with her favorite trees in her front yard, Cheerio snacks, and bread crumbs fed to ducks on a river. And now, here she was, on vacation from her perpetual vacation. A tourist in a town where the young and old went to bed with their bellies aching.

the hotel owner’s son enjoyed modeling his flowers for her as she waited for breakfast

Within ten or fifteen minutes the rickshawala recruited by their hotel had found them (not a difficult pack to spot) and the seven of them loaded into the back of a single rickshaw which usually only held three or four passengers.  The engine struggled as they puttered through traffic and the wide, paved roads narrowed down to shabby brick ones.  Inhabitants stared from their doorsteps as the clown-car party drove precariously by, barely avoiding oncoming motorcyclists and hulking cows who blocked their path from time to time.  Suddenly, the rickshaw paused and their driver was gone.  They were going backwards with no one to step on the brake!  A bony bicycle rider was behind them, attempting to push them away from his front tire.  Then as quickly as he had vanished, the driver returned, handing Sam her Nalgene bottle that he had left to rescue from the streets.  It had tumbled from her pack when all were too squashed together to notice.  Talk about customer service!  They conceded that it was the most invigorating rickshaw ride to date as they entered the gates of the hotel which had stood on the reddish earth for over two centuries.  A pleasantly plump man with a fine black moustache led them through bamboo curtains to his mismatched office, where they filled out paperwork to document their travels on behalf of the Indian government for the next hour before they were led to their more-than-feasable room.  Twenty USD a night for a giant pink satin bed split between the seven truly tickled their fancies, and to celebrate their first night out they wandered off to a rooftop restaurant recommended to them by their new host.  Dancers swirled in the dim light, the décor of their dresses chiming to the already pleasant music, and the girls were beyond content as they consumed their flavorful naan, robust curries, and, of course, beers.

The next morning was a Sunday, their only full day in Jodhpur, so they schemed as to how to fill it over breakfast in the pomegranate and rose filled courtyard of their hotel.  The massive fort towering on the hill above them seemed the most logical place to start, so they began their hike.  Not twenty minutes later, they were at the entrance to Mehrangarh, the ancient fortress of Jodhpur that had protected it denizens and Maharajas from the oncoming torrents of ramming elephants and cannonballs of its enemies.  The fort was more like a small city, with steep brick roads that led further into the interior and deeper into its history.  The lot enjoyed how free they felt to be tourists as the wandered around with audio history guides in their ears and maps and cameras in hand.  Looking out from the terraces onto the old city below, they discovered why Jodhpur had been known as the blue city, despite its historical recurrences of water shortage.  Once they had exhausted every nook and cranny of the ancient and not-so-ancient walls, the sweat covered crew made their way back down to the markets near their hotel.  Mingling with locals and tourists from around the world, drinking in the colors, with the tempting spices masking the foul odor of city life, they sipped on luscious chais and tried their hands are bartering.  They spent their afternoon well, ogling at all the textiles and knick-knacks the city had to offer until the rains came and the market began to clear.  Feeling quite famished they set off for dinner and drinks, laughs and stories, around a candle lit table on the touristy side of town.

On the 15th of August, Indian Independence day, they returned to Jaipur and the monsoon rains. Feeling lazy from all the sitting Emily and the other year-long students took to the streets to wander back to their homes, while the hungrier travelers opted to travel in rickshaws.  The three heads were able to find their way through the soggy streets, playing directional charades with non-English speaking locals from time to time.  And even though Emily was a little saddened when the duct-tape holding her shoe together failed, she enjoyed the puzzled looks of the pedestrians she passed and noted the diminished encounters with beggars.

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