THE BLOG

Impressions of India: Ahmedabad to Udaipur

02/19/2015 05:38 pm ET | Updated Apr 21, 2015

Saturday January 10, 2015

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When you set out on a three week journey with a group of people, you never know how everyone will get along. Ellen and I didn't even know each other before we became roommates on this trip, and it's amazing how much fun we've had so far. We both wake up early and chat about our experiences, share our photos, and discuss how to cope with the various challenges we're facing. Our group has also bonded well in this first week: if one person has a health challenge, others immediately offer one drug or another they packed that may help! I left my power converter in the room in Mumbai and am so thankful others in the group had extras to share. One big lesson learned so far: always bring multiple types of converters as all hotels don't offer the same kinds of outlets! And batteries: bring extra! It's not always easy finding what you need, even in a big city!

We were all packed and ready to go when our new driver, Mr. Singh, and his spiffy van pulled up in front of the hotel. As we left Ahmedabad, I took note of the street scenes out the window, and I especially loved this large mosaic mural featuring images of Gandhi.

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Today we are on our way to Rajasthan! Leaving the central city we passed attractive "suburbs" with modern housing units and walled communities, and eventually the landscape became pastoral with farms that grow cauliflower, fennel, and cotton. Then we found ourselves on a big four lane road, the Indian National Highway #8, which is the main thoroughfare between Mumbai and Delhi. We encountered fewer and fewer cars and LOTS of trucks. Mr. Singh told me that most of the goods and products for this region are transported via this road.

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I've been fascinated observing the strategies for driving in India: whoever is going the fastest (whether in the city or on a highway) barrels through and honks the horn so whomever is in the way clearly gets the message: "I'm coming through". Mr. Singh, told me what it takes to be a good driver in India: #1 - he pointed to his head, #2 - good brakes, and #3 - he pushed down on the horn! Yup - that sums it up alright! So look out cow, dog or person crossing the road, or motorcycle carrying four people and a baby, or tuk tuk (meant to hold three now home to six people) - "we're coming through!"

There were lots of factories scattered along this route, as well as small hotels in apparently lonely places. I couldn't figure out why anyone would want to stay in such a spot until I realized they were way stations for the truck drivers. I observed a lot of men, wearing just their underwear, bathing in the open in front of the hotels. Then there are the trucks! And for an artist like myself who LOVES trucks, this has been a feast for the eyes! I hope to do a photo series on the "Trucks of India" when I get home. I just can't get over the elaborate decoration both outside and inside the cabs. I peered up from the passenger side of a car and could see that the whole ceiling above the driver's head was covered with brightly colored baubles. It looked like an enchanted fairyland to me!

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The other thing I was struck by traveling to Udaipur was the number of women walking along the roadsides carrying enormous bundles on their heads. It appears they are hauling all sorts of things that look very heavy. How do these people not have serious neck issues?

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As we reached the eastern border of Gujurat the landscape became more hilly and we continued climbing higher as we entered Rajasthan. This presented even greater challenges for our driver, as we often encountered two trucks driving slowly in both lanes, one supposedly passing the other. As soon as he could see an opening in the left lane, he would dart into the hole and speed ahead just to encounter a slow-moving motorcycle or some other hazard.

And then Mr. Singh unfortunately shared with us that he had driven straight through the night from Delhi to pick us up and hadn't gotten any sleep. This, of course, made everyone even more tense. In an attempt at creating peace within myself, I decided to "let go" and "go with the flow" and "OMMMM"-ed my way along the rest of the way.

Needless to say, we were thrilled to arrive safely in Udaipur and meet our guide, Adil Ali, who will be with us the rest of the trip. We shared a fabulous lunch and enjoyed getting to know him and learn more about the Indian culture. Tuk tuks (small open-air three-wheeled vehicles) ferried us to our new hotel The Jagat Niwas Palace, through crazy small streets reminiscent of hill towns in Italy. When we opened the door to our new room, we were bowled over! What a view - what a room! I was completely enchanted, and how perfect for a few hours of downtime and rest. OMMMM! and snap, snap, click, click, click - once again my heart was pounding at the view outside our window! I think I could stay here for the rest of eternity!

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Dinner at sunset on the rooftop terrace was the perfect finish to an amazing day and we're thrilled that the food at our hotel is excellent! Tomorrow we will tour The City Palace that we can see just up the hill from our hotel. Thanks for coming along with me on this great adventure.

Mary Anne Erickson is an artist who has been documenting the demise of the American roadside culture for over 30 years in paintings and photography. Her work can be seen at www.vanishingroadside.com.