“The best laid schemes of mice and men go often awry, and leave us nothing but grief and pain, for promised joy!” –Robert Burns
Of all of the lessons India has taught me in the past three months of my life, patience and acceptance of your plans not always working out the way you thought they would have been the one constantly reinforced into my mind in this massive classroom with 1.6 billion other classmates. For some, this lesson justifies their belief that planning is unnecessary as it is likely to not go as planned anyway; I disagree with this type of thinking. Based on my experiences here in India, I’ve found it’s best to create a general idea of what you want to accomplish and different methods to do so, and then adjust to any black swans that come your way. Plan for the unexpected without letting that idea overwhelm you.
I relearned this concept in the past week when I traveled to New Delhi, Ajmer, and Pushkar, a quick 6 day trip which felt like much longer. I decided to leave the “small” (500,000 population) city of Udaipur and head to where the action was, Delhi, specifically to see a concert by Swedish House Mafia and explore this metropolis of 15 million people (20 million during the business day). So on Saturday evening, November 17, I left on a bus from The Lake City with my fellow traveler, Swedish-Indian, maternal-health guru, Mandira. After the 12-hour obligatory bumpy-bus ride, we arrived in New Delhi at 6 am and eventually made our way from one side of Delhi to the Bed and Breakfast we booked to stay. According to my sources (Wikipedia), New Delhi is 600 square miles, and we got off the bus on approximately the opposite side of Delhi. Fortunately, there was an Indian student from Udaipur who was nice enough to share a rickshaw with us and help us get to where we needed to be. After a quick 30-minute ride to South Delhi and a breakfast discussion on the problems of population and capitalism with the husband of the family who owned the Bed and Breakfast, we were ready for Delhi. (Note: The majority of these pictures are from Mandira since she had a good camera vs my iPod so thank her for the majority of the visuals in this post)
One of Mandira’s friends had a friend, TJ, who was studying/playing polo in Delhi had offered to show us around and take us to the concert. We met him at Khan Market and from there we went to see the President’s house and Delhi Gate. Both were absurdly large and were very popular Sunday lounging destinations as there were a number of people hanging out enjoying the sun on the massive, green lawns near the Gate. We hung around his place for a bit then off to see Swedish House Mafia! Which looked a little bit like this and was incredible:
Once the concert was over, there was a mass exodus to leave the area, which was basically a future industrial construction site aka a very flat space with lots of sand. Now imagine 20,000 people leaving there simultaneously with no one officially directing them. Needless to say, it took some time (at least an hour, but felt like the length of my adolescence, so many lessons in patience here) to get out and get back to TJ’s place. At that point it was pretty late, which meant floor sleeping.
The next day we wandered back to the Bed and Breakfast (via the Delhi Metro, which is the nicest light rail I have ever been on. Though I did spend it in the women’s compartment on accident, which no one informed me until the stop before we got off. Oops) and rushed to get ready as we were going to meet a family friend of Mandira’s and a friend of hers, Trina and Arita, who also had offered to show us around the city. They managed to show us Old Delhi (Chandi Chowk, Jama Masjid, Outside of the Red Fort), the Tibetan Colony, and Hauz Khas (trendy area in South Delhi that could have easily been an East Nashville neighborhood) all within the span of about 5 hours or so. It was definitely the best way to see Delhi (Shoutout to Trina and Arita for showing us around the city). Then came a sprint (again via the metro) from South Delhi where we ate dinner with Trina’s family back to Old Delhi to catch the train from Old Delhi Station to Ajmer.
We arrived in Ajmer at 6:00 AM and met up with two German interns also based in Udaipur, Konstantin and Katja who had been hanging around the station for about an hour. As nothing opens before 9 (usually 10) in Rajasthan, we all went to Dargah Sharif, a mosque located in central Ajmer, and were rushed around from one place to another for an hour or so. We followed a priest who was doing his best to explain everything to us while navigating the mass of people who were going from one place to the next in the mosque. Very interesting to see the different ways people worship which ranged from bowing with cupped hands to reciting prayers to giving money to being blessed underneath a holy cloth. Also eating flowers is part of that as well, so had a morning brunch of two pink flowers.
Since we wanted to spend a bit more time Ajmer, we took a jeep up a steep, slaloming road up to the ruins of Taragarh Fort and to another Dargah, which was once again guided by another priest. Unfortunately, there isn’t much left of the Fort, so we explored a bit of the ruins there. I climbed an old fence, which turned out to lead to the local police station. After chatting with them a bit and a polite decline of their offer for chapattis, we went back down the hill and took transport to Pushkar (a holy city), for the Pushkar Camel Fair, an annual event where tourists come from all over to see the 1,000+ camels that come to the area to be sold and traded.
Pushkar, located in the Aravelli Range, is only 11 km from Ajmer, and between that distance, the driver decided to change his mind about exactly where he would take us and tried to drop us off a ways from our hotel. When he realized we weren’t going to pay him the ridiculous, additional price he was trying to charge, he started driving a bit faster and ignoring things like bumps in the road. End result, Mandira ended up getting a concussion (probably, we didn’t get a proper diagnosis). Yelling ensued, the man sheepishly apologized, then dropped us off about half a kilometer from our guesthouse, outside of the amazing Pushkar Lake Palace. The owner was an incredibly nice man who invited us to sit down for chai and to let Mandira rest. Long story short, we ended up staying there at a very good price. Then, within 30 minutes of arriving, they had already booked and arranged a camel safari for us in two hours. Honestly, they are the nicest people I have ever met, and if you ever find yourself in Pushkar, I can highly recommend the Pushkar Lake Palace.
Once we were settled, we went off and saw Jagatpita Brahma Mandir, one of the few temples dedicated to Brahma. This was another semi-stressful speed walk around a holy site constantly trying to avoid stepping on and being stepped on by people while taking in everything that is going on.
Then came the Camel Safari! It was a decent tour of the desert and where the camels were beginning to arrive for the fair. I learned camels average between 20-25 years of life. The one I was riding was 10 years old and was in no hurry to see the desert he had walked around many times before (can’t blame him for that).
The next day we woke up bright and early (5 am) to catch the sunrise from the top of one of the nearby mountains that had a temple dedicated to one of Brahma’s wives. Then we ran down (literally) and went to the main festival area as the festivities were beginning. Despite arriving an hour late, the first event, a group dance was just beginning. Following that was a very short camel race and a soccer match between foreigners and locals. More wandering to see things at the fair and shopping until a Hindu ceremony on the lake in the evening. It was incredible. In most of the 52 ghats (gates) surrounding the lake, there were tons of candles, and people praying. Rounding out the whole ceremony was a large firework display.
Thanksgiving morning. I can safely say this was the most nontraditional Thanksgiving I have ever had. Once again, we woke up early and got in a sputtering rickshaw that took us to see the Aloo Baba (Rough English translation: Potato-Eating Elderly Hindu Man) Every morning, the Aloo Baba wakes up and feeds the many peacocks who come visit him, but unfortunately, we missed this because our rickshaw was struggling to make it up the small hills to his house. He made us some lemon tea, then we went and walked around a Shiva temple and climbed a tree that was over 200 years old.
On our way back to Pushkar proper, the rickshaw decided it had had enough and actually broke down. Surrounded by desert, peacocks, monkeys, and random Hindi movie shoots, we were limited in options. Eventually, the driver gave up on trying to save his vehicle and called someone to come pick us up and tow his rickshaw (which also ended up not working). More wandering around the fair and hanging out with camels. Then it was time to bid Pushkar adieu. So we hopped on our pre-booked taxi to Ajmer where our bus to Udaipur was waiting for us. After more bumpy roads and one bus breakdown, we pulled into Udaipur at 5am. After doing the 5 to 8 km walk back to my house through empty Udaipur streets (no autos were running yet), I had a couple of hours of proper sleep before going into work to meet and do some Hinglish translating for a group of Finnish funders who are visiting JJVS to review the current state of their programs (more on that in the next post!)