Thursday January 15, 2015
We woke up to record-breaking cold temperatures today all over northern India. Breakfast was served in the colorful tent in front of the hotel and I wore the warm pashmina shawl my son gave me, but was sorry I hadn't also put on my wool jacket. A fog had settled in and it was overcast; something very out of the ordinary for this time of year. We heard reports that there were thunderstorms and rain at the Taj Mahal - coming soon on our itinerary.
We were ready for the six hour drive to Jaipur and excited to experience the delights of shopping in the largest city and capitol of Rajasthan. We had heard about all the great jewelry stores there too! My friend Barbara (who has traveled extensively in India) told us about a pashmina store that she loves, so tomorrow is the day!
I was pleased to find out that most of our journey today was on a fairly modern (by India standards) four lane "divided" highway. We were hopeful this would ensure a quick and easy passage. Of course, what I hadn't stopped to realize is that every time you go through a small village, the whole thing breaks down - and of course you can't predict where they'll be working on the roads, or that the entire road is one big pot hole.
Being the truck fan that I am, I have taken a huge interest in the highly decorated trucks that are "goods carriers". They are one of the most colorful and plentiful things you see driving on the highways. I have been fascinated by the symbols and iconography painted on them and asked our guide, Adil, about the eye often painted on the driver's door or the cab.
He explained that the eye symbol, menacing devil faces, as well as the black tassles that often hang off the bottom of the trucks in front and back, are to ward off the "evil eye". He went into a lengthy discussion about the Indian belief that people's envy and jealousy are real, and told how people will purchase lemon and chili pepper talismans and hang them in their doorways as a form of protection. Many people buy fresh ones every Tuesday and Saturday at the market to ensure no ill will comes their way.
He continued by giving an example so we would understand. Say you are envious of someone else (perhaps your competitor's business is flourishing and yours is not). You can go to a practitioner of black magic and they will give you something to drink and actually put a curse on that person! Really?!! This is incredible! He said often a mother of a beautiful baby will take a bit of her own eyeliner and put a black speck on her baby's cheek so her face doesn't look too perfect. Baby's are often made up with eye liner as well for the same reason. These customs are so complex and foreign to us, that it's hard to believe, but we've seen lots of evidence that all he's saying is true.
Most of the drive today was flat land that was arid and fairly featureless, except for the patches where there is irrigation (stored up from the monsoons). Their primary crop is canola, with it's yellow flowers shining brightly in the sun, and stretching way out into the distance.
We saw quite a few animals today: male and female antelopes, herds of sheep and goats, and one large group of camels! That was a treat! Adil told us that the shepherds are slowly moving their herds towards Jaipur where they will be sheared and the wool sold to merchants for carpets.
We passed by several large pens of cows and bulls and saw cars pulled up feeding them. He explained that holy people occasionally make big holding areas for the wandering creatures where they will be safe and fed: it is good karma to feed the animals, so many people stop with food for them.
I've been amused as we've traveled the highways, to see the painted symbols for ladies and men's restrooms.
This stretch of roadway had a few other humorous moments too. We took a pit stop at this small establishment with a giant coke bottle out front. How fun I was wearing my Route 66 shirt, a perfect blend of west meets east! And the place we stopped for lunch had a sign that really took the cake! I posted this picture on Facebook and discovered from several friends that "Kitty" parties are not for kids, but a gaggle of girls!
One of the things I've also noticed is the "post-apocalyptic" landscape: what appear to be burned out buildings or just buildings that have been partially built then abandoned, (Adil explained they ran out of money); piles of brick rubble and garbage everywhere; and the bad air pollution and dust in the air give everything that sort of "Mad Max" quality. This doesn't make for great pictures, but is quite haunting.
We were delighted to check into our hotel, the Shahpura House, and get to our room. What a beautifully appointed seating area and bedroom. I can't say enough about the delicious Indian cotton sheets and pillowcases! They've done a great job of integrating the old and the new here: the ultra modern bathroom and flat screen t.v. amidst the draped Moorish arched entrance to our bedroom area.
We had to get in a bit of shopping, so we ventured out to a nearby jewelry store and had fun oogling over their gorgeous wares. After dinner at our hotel, we retired at a reasonable hour and loved watching a Bollywood movie on the "tele". Another full day on this marvel of a trip through Rajasthan. Tomorrow we will explore the pink city and visit the famed Amber Fort and the Maharaja's City Palace. Come along for the 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 vanishingroadside.com. She also blogs about great food and entertaining ideas at bluemountainbistro.com/blog.