Country Update: Highlights from India

The following post is based on a “newsletter” style update I created. You can download the (much prettier) PDF here: Travel Update India

Jaipur: The Pink City

The capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur is a popular destination in northern India. A visit here is part of some backpacking route that includes 2 other “purs” (Jodhpur and Udaipur). I did not complete this route. A bustling place, Jaipur is dubbed the “Pink City” due to the fact all of its stone structures are painted pink. Why are they pink? According to multiple Internet accounts, it’s because in 1876 the ruler, Maharaja Ram Singh, painted the city to welcome the Prince of Wales who was visiting. Allegedly, pink is the color of hospitality. Chock full of sights, Jaipur is home to the stunning Hawa Mahal Wind Palace (at right), Jantar Mantar Observatory, Jal Mahal (Water Palace), Gaitor Ki Chhatriyan (a tomb), Amber Fort, City Palace, an impressive Masjid, several super-bustling bazaars, and much more.

Bundi: Stepwells Galore

Bundi was my favorite spot in India, with a different feel than other destinations. It is home to over 50 stepwells which I love, and talk more about below! The town was of course dirty and gritty, with long rows of markets along a dirt street leading in from the bus stop. People were super-friendly in Bundi, and sights included two lakes, a crumbling-cool palace, and a fort atop a mountain. The fort was apparently dangerous to enter due to wild bulls being loose in there, they handed me a paper with a bold warning, however I did not spot said bulls on my visit (but was admittedly scared). Although it’s not officially called the “Blue City,” a panoramic view leaves you thinking perhaps it should be.

Puskar: A Sacred Lake & Strange Hippies

Pushkar is a holy site and Hindu pilgrimage town on the edge of the Thar desert. It’s home to the only Brahma temple in the world, bright orange and situated right by the lake. It is also home to an annual camel festival which I really wish I could have seen. The massive Pushkar Lake anchors the town, and is surrounded by 52 ghats, with nightly aarti rituals taking place around the water. You must go barefoot out there by the lake, stepping in assorted animal poo and filth if you want to see the stunning sunset, rituals, or go for a walk. I found Pushkar very strange; it’s a bustling tourist town with lots of intense (and alarming) travel hippies, some of whom “perform” at sunset each night, but also a highly-revered holy site. Very odd vibe. From Pushkar I also took the local bus to the nearby city of Ajmer; it was hot and there was nothing special to see.


[Tourist Trap] Taj Mahal

Of course the Taj Mahal is the most touristy thing to do in India, but how can you go to India and NOT visit the Taj? I actually didn’t realize, but the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum dedicated to a Mughal emporor Shah Jahan’s favorite wife. Despite how it looks in the photo at right it was extremely crowded when I went and I had to wait over an hour for a ticket – even in the darkness at 6am. But it was amazing and exceeded expectations as a top tourist attraction nonetheless. Photos don’t capture how massive and imposing it is, and the intricacies of the ivory carvings in the architecture. It really is awe-inspiring. The “baby Taj” nearby was quite impressive, too.


[Astonishing Architecture] Jantar Mantar

Jantar Mantar is an astrological marvel located in the city of Jaipur. It literally means “instrument calculation” when translated, and is the largest observatory in India! There are 5 jantar mantars in northern India, but this is the best one. It includes Samrat Yantra, the largest sundial ever built (73 feet tall) and 20 other instruments. Astounding! [click here for photos]


[Outstanding Oddity] World’s Most Expensive Home

The world’s most expensive home is located in Mumbai, coming in at a modest $1 billion dollars. Named “Antilia,” it was built by a man named Mukesh Ambani who is one of the richest people in the world with net worth of only about 27 billion. The “home” is 27 floors tall and each floor has something different. Apparently one floor holds his car collection of 156 vehicles. There were, obviously, guards outside when I went by.


[Surprising Structure] Stepwells

I had no idea what stepwells were or even that they existed prior to visiting India, but once I saw my first one I felt pure joy, became obsessed, and sought out as many as possible. Stepwells are, as they sound, massive wells that hold water that used to be essential for everyday life during hot months and periods of drought. The steps are built into the sides of the well, so as the water levels drop, people can continue to walk down and access the supply!


Disgusting Dining

To say I didn’t care for the food in India would be an understatement. I found it disgusting, and felt ill or became ill nearly every day even when I used increased caution (IE didn’t eat random street food). I can say I liked chapatti and the myriad Indian breads though! Basically I ate huge amounts of bread items and snacks for weeks on end.

Stellar Style

I wanted to buy a few items to dress more conservatively in India. As Mumbai was my first stop I hit “fashion avenue,” which was not a fancy avenue but a long stretch with stalls and very aggressive vendors selling all the things, including the pants pictured. Not so stylish but less obscene than leggings. I also bartered them for 1/4 the asking price, which, to be clear, was a hard swindle. I also got a stylish scarf later on, in a massive bazaar in Jaipur. If any reader cares about this. Which they do not.


From the Camera


From the Notebook

[6 AM IN PUSKHAR]

…the purple-orange dome of another temple…the off-teal peak…bells chiming daily, at unexplained intervals…the memory of the torches, circular balls of fire on brass, from last night’s aarti ceremony…

[LAUNDRY BY THE RIVER IN AGRA]

The laundry flatter than humanly possible, all laid out on the dirty, filthy banks of the river. Gritty-grey dust clinging to the just-watched fabrics.

[AT THE HAWA MAHAL PALACE, JAIPUR]

Squares of stained glass in primary colors, cutting patterns onto the floor…A fountain strong as it is high…A flimsy tourist ticket with incomplete hole punches…

[PUSHKAR]

Men in bright orange, their faces painted. An elephant with many arms. Ghat steps spotted with bird droppings, vague thoughts of avian flu.


Dirty cows laying on even dirtier streets /// Cows chomping on trash, in constant competition with the filthy and scarred street dogs, fur blackened as by tar /// Buildings so stained and crumbling, “dilapidated” takes on a new meaning /// Black dust moved around with thick, brambly brooms /// A perpetual weird yellow haze blankets the city, day in, day out /// Just waiting – and waiting – for the haze to burn off

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