This is a guest post by Jean Lorrah, The House of Keon.
[Notes in square brackets are added as I transcribe my journal for publishing. Everything else is what I wrote in my journal during the trip itself.]
Up at 4:00am, picked up at 5:15 for the train station. People were sleeping all over the station floor--the homeless seeking to sleep under a roof. We had a hard time not stepping on anyone as we maneuvered our luggage to the platform. It's December, the coldest part of the year, yet people who can't get into a place like the train station are sleeping outside.
The train was crowded, but we had reserved seats in 2nd class. Shabby old train cars, but our tickets included a newspaper and a hot breakfast, delivered to our seats. I have discovered masala chai, a form of tea mixed with spices and hot milk, served in small cups. Delicious. [So far, I have not been able to duplicate the flavor at home with recipes to be found on the web.]
The heavy pollution disappeared as we rode out into the country--thriving farms, every square inch of land put to use. At this time of year fields of mustard were in bloom, while rice paddies were only beginning to sprout green shoots. [This was the only area in which we saw rice paddies.]
In Jaipur, a city that appears to be one giant market, we are staying at another of those little havens away from the madding crowd. This one is called Jai Nivas, a luxury guest house. It has a garden with a koi pond, where we sat and were served juice while they got our rooms ready.
Except that there is less colorful air pollution, Jaipur is a smaller version of Delhi: dirty, crowded, and crazy. We walked into the Pink City through neighborhoods of grinding poverty. Here the sacred cows do wander freely, while goats are raised right in the city. Cute baby goats gambol in the filth. At one corner a family of pigs blocked our way.
Our guide clearly wants us to see everything, but he is exhausting us. We visited the City Palace, a textile museum, and street after street of open market. Along the way, Lois got the opportunity to see snake charmers, something she had wanted to see. But I don't think she expected to see them this up close and personal!
Then our guide had us get into tuk-tuks (bicycle rickshaws), which carried us for blocks and then suddenly, for no discernible reason, set us down in front of McDonald's. [That was the only McDonald's we saw in India.] Our guide promptly disappeared into the insane traffic. We looked at one another and tried to figure out what was going on.
Just as we were about to try to call our guide's cell phone, he reappeared and led us across a roundabout and up a street to a gem exchange. Lois, Eric, Kyle, and I had no interest in expensive baubles, so collapsed onto couches in the lobby to wait for our tour mates. To our amazement we were brought chai and treated as welcome guests, even though we were clearly not there to buy.
After that welcome break, we walked the rest of the way back to our lodging. Lois, Eric, and I elected not to go out to a restaurant, as we needed to rest and do some laundry.
On our second day and second city, India continues to show us havens of comfort and hospitality, beauty and charm, in the midst of poverty and filth, beggars and thieves. One thief--an able-bodied young man--tried to take my walking stick right out of my hands today, but backed off when I threatened to hit him with it. Goodness knows what cultural rules I broke doing that, but I carry it for foreign travel for good reason: ancient walkways are uneven, as are steps, and there are often no handrails. It also gives me something to lean on when standing in queues.
My stick is not expensive--around $15 at Wal-Mart--but it collapses to go through airport security, extends to the length of a cane for strolling through cities, and extends to walking stick height for hiking. [See my upcoming Dec. 29 post with the photo of the steep climb to the Amber Fort for the obvious reason I cannot let go of a walking aid just because someone who doesn't need it wants it. I would not be able to buy another till I got home.]
Having passed some laundries in which people wash clothing by banging it with bricks in water we have been warned not to drink, we chose to wash our own clothes in India. [In later posts I'll have photos of people doing laundry that will show you why we were leery of sending our laundry out.] So we did that, then had a very nice dinner at our lodgings, where we are getting the finest service I have ever experienced.
So far, we have seen India as a land of great contrasts--but we've only been here for two days.