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Sharon McRae
India and Nepal 1998 (with kids)



Back to the family, we cruised along over what is one of the busiest, most dangerous stretches of highway in the country, the road to Jaipur, which eventually reaches Bombay. Our destination is Pushkar, a holy pilgrimage site in the state of Rajasthan, on the edge of the desert. Driving into Rajasthan, the scenery takes everyone’s mind off the pandemonium of the road. The fields take on the muted desert hues of ocher and brick, and the women’s saris, by contrast, get brighter by the mile. As we journey into the desert, many saris and turbans are neon-colored in yellow, green and orange, contrasting vividly against splashes of white and chestnut colored faces. We pass through numerous small towns that seem to derive their livelihood by harvesting marble. The dusty towns are busy with the polishing and transport of huge slabs of marble in virtually every hue. Camel-drawn carts move around the marble, and slabs are hoisted on the necks of an army of men; my back aches just watching these workers. The abundance of marble in this region is evident everywhere; the fence posts are marble a few slabs topped by a remnant of corrugated tin becomes a sturdy house.

Social Serenity

Travelling in India, for me, has always been an exercise in people watching and reflection. The landscape is interesting, the historic monuments are breathtaking, but the intensely interesting facets of everyday life take a front row seat. The people are, in a word, fascinating, both physically and spiritually. The wonderfully flowing saris, the grace of the spare, lean bodies, smoldering dark eyes and gleaming white smiles all mingle to create a symphony of physical beauty. The physical beauty is only enhanced by the spirituality that breeds a very calm, placid demeanor. It is not unusual to see people sitting (often sleeping) in the oddest places, such as atop a fence post. The Indian can make himself comfortable almost anywhere, and sustain motionlessness for hours on end. The motionless Indian is not idle; the piercing eyes betray the bustling activity of the mind. It is no wonder that many of the World’s great minds hail from this cerebral country. It is impossible to ever be bored in India. There is always some activity or inactivity to amaze or mystify the western visitor. The life of the people is a very public life: every act save the most private takes place on the street. People bathe, conduct business, wash laundry, cut hair, celebrate weddings, and perform funeral rites in full public view, a definite change from the western compulsion for privacy. The barriers that would exist in many societies are broken down out of necessity as India’s population heads to the billion mark. Confrontation does exist, but considering the numbers of people, the lack of privacy, the poverty, and perhaps most amazingly, the intensity and diversity of religious beliefs, I feel India should be commended on its serenity.

Palaces of Pink

We arrive in Jaipur in the late afternoon and settle into our "luxury" room in a hotel. The amenities of a luxury room all seem to revolve around the plumbing. To date in India we’ve been rather fortunate in that we’ve had a private bath and that the bathroom has had a western toilet. The shower facilities of our hotels have been, well, typically Asian; the water does not come out of the showerhead high on the wall, but rather out of a tap placed at about waist level. The showers are also not enclosed, so the whole room becomes somewhat of a swamp, and you must remember to remove that precious commodity, the roll of toilet paper, before bathing. This luxury room has a sink, a toilet, and a shower in a tub, with a curtain, I luxuriate in standing under the stream of tepid water.

The remainder of our day in Jaipur is spent wandering the city; we love to wander and get "lost", knowing that a rickshaw driver will always be available to get us "home". We head to our one bed, nestled head to toe knowing that tomorrow brings a busy day with Jack.

There are many interesting sights within a few kilometers of Jaipur, and our first stop is the Jal Mahal Palace. The Jal Mahal (Water Palace) is built in the middle of a lake, and seems to float eerily atop the water. Not having a boat we simply view the palace from the roadside before heading into the hills to Amber, the ancient capital of Jaipur State. Raja Man Singh, a commander of mighty Akbar’s army, constructed the impressive fortress-palace at Amber, in 1592. A road winds up the hillside to the fort; however we opt to make the journey on the back of an elephant rather than in our trusty Ambassador. Now camels are tall and ornery, but elephants are positively huge. Our elephant is named Laksmi, and according to her mahout (master) is not known for her dietary reticence. Laksmi gobbles 150 kilos of sugar cane, 40 kilos of fruit and 30 kilos of grass every day; the trips to the pet food store must be lethal! The swaying gait of the gal is quite soothing, and I can see how the Mogul emperors felt positively superior atop one of these beasts. We arrive at the fort in style, amid the splendor of one of the finest examples of Rajput architecture. The magical feeling of the Amber palace is indescribable.

Wandering through the Diwan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audiences), the Sila Devi Temple, the Sukh Niwas (Hall of Pleasure) and into the Jai Mandir (Hall of Victory) is a journey into the grandeur of ancient times. The entire fortress is a work of art; the melding of marble, sculpture, mosaic work and fragrant sandalwood inlaid with ivory, transforms every step into a sensory experience. One room, the Maharaja’s winter bedroom, optimizes the splendor. The small room is round and windowless, every square inch of wall space intricately carved and inlaid and the ceiling is domed and completely covered in tiny pieces of mirror. The extent of the magic comes to life when the doors are closed and the ceiling comes to life by candlelight, turning the whole room into a cozy nest beneath a canopy of twinkling stars; those maharajas knew how to live!

The remainder of our day in Jaipur was spent within the city touring some sights and doing some shopping in the "Pink City". Jaipur is a colorful city, with the buildings all painted in hues of pink and orange. The Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds, is perhaps the most recognized of its landmarks. Built in 1799, this five-storey pink building, with its many carved windows looking over the old city’s main street was built to enable the ladies of the royal house to observe life in the city. The facade is magnificent, again another testimony to the artistry of the Rajputs.

To Pushkar
The Taj, Reptiles and Cows
  Sharon McRae - Bio and Journals
  India and Nepal 1998 (with kids) - Intro Average Rating of 10 Viewers
Chapters of India and Nepal 1998 (with kids)
  And we're off...
  Into India
  To Pushkar
  The Taj, Reptiles and Cows
  Train to Varanassi
  Border Crossings
  Nepal/ Pokhara
  Trekking the Himalaya
  Whitewater Rafting
  Back to Delhi & Home( the end...alas)


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