We traveled to Jaipur, which is in the state of Rajasthan in northwest India.
We took a train ride first from A.'s hometown to Sawai Madhopur, which took close to 6 hours. Traveling by train in India is an experience. It's the real-deal India, A. says. In my opinion, it's where you experience the fervor and intensity of India. I don't know if fervor and intensity are the best words to capture it, but it's how I (as an outsider) would describe the experience. You take it all in - the rush, the crowds, the sounds, the sights, the fully saturated colors.
As we went farther away from the city and into the countryside, I saw this for miles and miles:
(Side note: I believe that is A.'s niece you hear talking in the video. She loves the expression "Arrey!" - their equivalent of "Hey!")
The yellow flowers are the flowers of the mustard plant. Indian cuisine relies heavily on the tadka, which refers to spices - including black mustard seed - tempered in hot oil. Tadka is then added to flavor dishes such as dal (lentils), vegetable stir-fries, and stews.
We spent one night in Sawai Madhopur:
India has no shortage of forts, one of which being Ranthambore Fort. While exploring the fort, we were treated to this beautiful sunset:
I saw an area that has multiple piles of rocks. I asked A. what they were, and he said that they symbolized people's wishes and prayers. People would pile rocks into these tower-like formations, as you can see below.
I saw a man and a woman who seemed that the were measuring something on the ground using the length of their bodies. It was something I had never seen before. A. explained that some people pray so fervently and promise God that if their prayer is answered, they would travel the entire length of the fort all the way to the temple at the end, not on foot but by laying on the ground. The man and the woman each laid down on his/her side, extended an arm up to mark the spot, then stood up and laid down again starting from the spot where their hand reached (does that make sense? I thought of taking a video, but decided against it as I thought it may be disrespectful - it seemed like such a sacred act). They did this again and again, as they promised. It's indescribable, and yet again an illustration of the fervor and intensity of India.
The next morning we went on an animal safari from an open truck. It was so cold that we bundled up in our jackets, shawls, and woolen blankets. We saw deer, spotted deer, and antelope. Unfortunately I don't have a lens with good enough zoom for wildlife photography, so I don't have visuals to share on that one...
We then drove about 3 hours to Jaipur, where we spent 4 days. I loved the many patterns and colors in the decor of our hotel:
|A.'s niece and nephew|
A random window, spotted while driving in Jaipur:
Another illustration of the vibrant color in India:
This was my first Christmas spent away from my immediate family. Prior to the trip, I wondered what Christmas would be like in India. My in-laws, once again, continue to amaze me with their graciousness. My sister-in-law and niece chose a Christmas present for me, a figurine of the Blessed Mother and Child. They even took me to church for Christmas.
On our previous trip to India in 2012, we went to Agra and visited (yet another) fort/palace built during the Mughal empire. (I realize I haven't even organized my pictures from last year's trip!) There was a pillar that caught my attention, due to its many intricate patterns.
The guide explained, each row of patterns symbolizes one of the world's great religions (in no particular order): Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam. Each pattern was so intricate, so precise - the level of detail is just incredible. The Mughal emperor at the time was a progressive-minded one, to showcase a design that captured the great religions in a pillar supporting a structure. Quite symbolic.
The names of the forts, palaces, emperors, and other historical details all start to blur for me, but what struck me most is this idea of connection. It's all there - the connections, the sameness - as A. and I figure out our interfaith life, it's all about the connections between the unique histories and cultures of our respective families.
"Travel is not always about newness, sometimes the beauty of travel is in discovering connections rather than the differences." - Eram Agha