I hardly remember the flight to Jaipur on the occasion of Dussehra to see the Ramlila. On the plane, my traveling companion would be an Iranian girl. We started a conversation (we were traveling alone) and she asked me if it was my first time to New Delhi. I answered yes. She smiled at me and said this is my sixth time. Upon arrival at the airport, she came to say goodbye to me smiling and said Do you smell something? At the time I did not understand it but minutes later I would understand the concept.
As soon as I picked up my luggage, there was the owner of the local car agency with the driver that I decided to hire. I only had 10 days of vacation so it was the easiest way to move around. They received me with a big smile and as soon as he got to the car he put a nice wreath of flowers around my neck. When I went out, the smell of a mixture of heat, humidity, sand, spices, and flowers, came to me. I was in New Delhi.
As soon as we started, I was mesmerized, I could not blink. New Delhi seemed huge. It looked like any capital in the world except for the old vehicles and the people. They left me in my nice hotel to rest and still under shock, I kept thinking Oh, my God! What have I done! What am I doing here?
The next morning, and more awake, I kept thinking about what the bucket, the jug, and the small stool in my bathroom were for and watched from the balcony the infernal hubbub of the street. I began to see countless people parading in military suits and a traffic of madness. Yes, indeed I was in Delhi!
I went down to breakfast. The driver warned me that many of the places I would visit in Delhi would be closed so he proposed an alternative plan. It was to go and celebrate Dussehra with him and his family in Jaipur. Obviously, I accepted, delighted, with my eyes closed. New Delhi would be for another trip.
There we went. Inside the car, I felt protected and that was that everything was so different. I felt displaced. I was not able to blend in with my surroundings as in other trips. Besides it was impossible to go unnoticed! However, slowly, everything caught me. There was the chaos of the streets, the eternal brown dust that surrounded everything.
There were a lot of animals walking around. I see the striking colors of the saris, the very white and ironed shirts of men. They had their big smiles from ear to ear and a scary way of looking at your eyes. Those five hours of the car came to me wonderfully to continue assimilating everything that I surrounded.
I get in a hotel even more wonderful than the previous one. They hosted me in a wonderful old colonial house, a very cozy haveli, in which I started to feel like a prince. The havelis are traditional historical buildings. They usually have a central courtyard and are usually richly decorated.
The driver warned me that he will rest and that he would come looking for me at night for the festivities. I was not capable. Although I was still insecure, I had a crazy desire to go out and explore more. In the end, I have a shower and I began to observe the traffic and the children through the window, playing in the streets.
It is good in the morning and in the evening when temperatures fall to more reasonable levels, but during the day when it is 35-36 degrees, I cannot do anything. I would also like to go out. However, it is true that for the others here, accustomed to the heat, the worst of the summer has already passed and by now the heat of the day is more supportable! They look at me with a little bit of perplexity.
At the scheduled time, my kind host came to pick me up with a surprise. We would go to his house on a motorcycle! You can already imagine what adventure.
As you can imagine visiting the house was also an experience. Very proud, he told me that the two-story building had been built with his cousin who lived on the ground floor. He lived with his three children and his wife on the first floor but both families could communicate through a grate that was on the floor of the hall. They received me in a big way in their modest home. I was delighted to see how they prepared everything. The women were kneading the dough and preparing some naans for us. The children looked at me smiling and cheerful. I dined alone. The others would dine later.
After the wonderful dinner, and thanking the cook a thousand times, we went by car with about 10 children (cousins and children of neighbors joined us) to go see the festivities. The children surrounded me and started to take me from one place to another, very happy to show me everything and be able to show off me. They all kept taking pictures of me. First, they took me to temples and taught me the rituals. I basically imitated them. A few granites of rice to one, some flower petals to another and a drink of water in front of another.
As in any good festival, there were many street stalls. So the children and I went for a candy and once again the curiosity killed the cat and without thinking I risked trying everything. Then, I go to a huge esplanade where there was the typical neighborhood orchestra and some huge papier-mache statues that represented Rama. At 12 they would burn them.
The only fair attraction there was a car that circled on rails around a pivot but it seemed like no more to all those children who cheered and applauded everyone who climbed. During this period, I watch the representation of Ramlila, which is the battle between Rama and Ravana. This is the story of Rama, a prince forced into exile.
He finds love with Sita but has to face his rival Ravana. Rama and Sita are finally crowned, king and queen of Ayodhya. But Sita, accused by the people of being unfaithful, is dismissed. Rama forces her, then, to exile. Some time later, while regretting it, he asks her to pass a fire test to prove her fidelity but Sita, touched in her honor, refuses to the great despair of Rama.
Whew, what an adventure! After so many years, I went to see the ceremony of burning the Ravan and his brothers. There were huge cardboard puppets, full of fireworks and noisy crackers.
When the fire flared up and the combs burst, for a moment it seemed like hell. I was going to watch this ceremony as a child 35-40 years ago and then, I had seen it on TV a few times. Being there in the crowd, feeling the excitement of the people around, the stinging noise of the crackers, the peculiar smell of fireworks was very nice.
Rama burned Ravana and his brothers and everything became magical. I witness a parade of floats where the men dressed as their gods, wearing makeup in their sequined clothes, sit majestically on floats, accompanied by the music of the brass band that the crowd follows, in a a deluge of light that flashes in all directions.
It's magical, with the music, and images of colors. My first day and my first night were full of cultural insertion, with emotions and feelings on the surface. Now I was beginning to believe it. I was in Rajasthan and I knew I would never forget that trip.
The next morning, after that atypical night, it was time to visit Jaipur. After a full day of walking, I went early to rest and it is that the next day we would wait another four hours to Agra to complete the tour of the Golden Triangle.
The driver requested me that before leaving for Jaipur city he wanted to take me to dinner to a very special place. So it was! They took me to a little village lost outside. When we arrived, suddenly, we saw a huge caravan of cars and people queuing like crazy to get into an enclosure. That night in addition to tasting all of Rajasthan's local cuisine it would be even crazier than the previous one.
That place, which unfortunately I do not remember the name, was like a giant amusement park in which the locals paid a fixed entrance for dining and being able to access attractions of all kinds. There were camel or ox cart rides, a slide with an elephant helping you climb, several dance floors, snake charmers, magicians, puppets for children. It was totally amazing!
Burst of Color in Udaipur during NavratriI kept Udaipur in my memory as one of the cities that I liked the most during my first trip to Rajasthan. That is why, when I was in Bikaner, my route plan changed. I decided that Udaipur had to return, even if only to contemplate once again the sunset over Lake Pichola.
Udaipur has received me exactly as I remembered it. Its white terraces continue to reflect the sun's rays although to a lesser extent. Octopussy is broadcast in many restaurants at seven o'clock in the afternoon. The image of the Palace illuminated at night still far exceeds the visit of its interiors. And, like three years ago, my favorite time is still the sunset. Women go to the ghat to wash clothes, while children soak and rinse between jumps and somersaults, turning an activity as routine as grooming in all a game.
In the past days in Udaipur, I have been able to relive all these memories, and also create new ones, such as the visit to the Jain temple of Ranakpur. It is one of the two classic excursions from Udaipur together with the fort of Chittorgarh.
But, at the same time, Udaipur has also shown me a different face. The quiet city that I remembered was dressed up for the Navratri, which was coming to an end and was saying goodbye in style. During the last days of the festival, the ghat has been invaded by dozens of statues of Durga. While every two by three the streets were cut by the passage of a tractor carrying another statue and followed by a crowd dancing to the music that threatened deaf to all.
A couple of days ago I commented on Facebook that there is no place that day after day surprises me as much as India. This country is crazy, for the good and for the bad. And if there is anything in which the Indians are insurmountable, it is in the celebrations, whatever they may be.
Also, it seems that there is always a reason to celebrate something. Last Thursday, for example, with the Navratri already finished, naive of me I thought that tonight I would finally sleep peacefully. Well no. Thursday is the day of Hanuman (the monkey god) and from eight until twelve at night, in a temple located under my hotel, a group of men and boys were dedicated to repeating mantras marking the rhythm with some drums. One of those (recurring) situations in which you think, and then you laugh hysterically because you know there is no possible solution.
I'm starting to digress, so I'm going to focus on the subject. I wanted to show Udaipur dressed as a party, but to reflect everything seen and lived these days I think the words fall short. As they say that a picture is worth a thousand, this time I will make a silent post.
There is that explosion of color, to those babies observing with their huge eyes all the madness that develops around them. There are those other babies that in spite of madness sleep deeply in the arms of their mothers. There are those men possessed by God. Then there are the parallel acts of the hijra (the third sex) entertaining the citizens with their dances and jokes.
They make use of the imagination, deafening music, shouts, and laughter. I stay from morning to night, and maybe you can get an idea of what the end of Navratri has been in Udaipur. I can not think of a better way to transmit it.
On the Road to Kota in Rajasthan during Dussehra
Dussehra marks the end of one of Navaratri, which lasts nine days. The 10th day following Navaratri is called Bijoya Dashami commemorating the victory of Durga over Mahishasura. In some parts of India, Vijaya Dashami is replaced by Dussehra or Dasara and is associated with Rama and Ravana from Ramayana with the Ramlila.
The Dussehra Festival is celebrated with great fanfare in several cities of India like Mysore in Karnataka or Kota in Rajasthan.
I get up at 5:30 and see the monkeys on the terraces, as I have a coffee and a toast. I took the local bus at 9, that leaves every 20 minutes. After a quiet trip of about 1 hour to complete the 35 kms, I land in Kota.
Upon arriving, I went walking in the search of the hotel. It is a quiet place in the middle of Station Road between the Bus and the Train Station, and it was the colonial home of an English surgeon. The story of the afternoon has been atomic that is hard to forget. For lunch I ordered a rajasthani thali with dal baati churma, ghevar, lal maans, pulao, malai kofta and chatni
After a half-hour nap, I inquire at the hotel to go to the Dussehra festival, and they advise us to go to the tourist reception center of Kota, which is called Bungalow here.
After going there, I asked a group in the street for the place, and I ended up riding in the car of a guy who offers to take me and leave in 10 minutes at the same door. They inform me that they are in charge.
After 1 hour waiting in the chalet in pleasant gardens, invitation to chai, information and attention, a bus from Bundi with some tourists and a legion of officials come. On the bus I see Japanese tourists, an Australian couple living in Bombay, English-speaking couples, a mother and her daughter and a solo traveler on tour in India.
We arrived in a quarter of an hour at the city palace, and escorted by the police of Kota, I appeared in front of a giant quadrilateral at the foot of the palace. We are surrounded by police, royal guard, choirs, various groups, boy scouts, disguised guys, and elephants, at a Rajah reception in the place. There are dozens of personalities dressed in Rajasthani dress, and a lot of photographers and TV reporters.
I look satisfied in my flip-flops, the worn jeans, the T-shirt expressly brought with fossilized striae of salty sweat and the unshaven face. I drink, get entertained, photographed and interviewed as personalities of the first world. The current Maharaja surrounded by notables and a few handpicked people gather in the courtyard of the palace for a quick buffet and offer at the same time a real show of multicolored turbans.
An hour later, elephants, floats, dance and music groups left in procession from the palace. The parade and its dancers who leave the royal palace kicks off the festival. I leave through the door of the palace wall and appear before a crowd in the street, balconies and others, located to see the parade. The parade consists of floats depicting the battle of Rama against Ravana, which roams the entire city for long hours.
I ride on the bus and they direct us to a gigantic field where after stepping on red carpets, enter through several booths. I go up to a first terrace, then second terrace, and end up on the roof of a building full of chairs where they have reserved the first 2 rows in front of the entire box crowded with people.
I have a privileged view of the stage with the colossal effigies of Ravana, Meghnath and Kumbhakarna with the impossible anthill of people surrounding it. The eyes, mouth and arms of the effigies are moved with strings to the sound of the narration of Ramlila. In the final apotheosis they are hit by fire as one dressed as Rama burst the fireworks that he carry, until the frame collapses, and is totally devoured by the flames.
After half an hour pass I undo the road with the police clearing the road with the canes. I got on the bus, and they park each of us at the hotel. It's 9 at night. I just got back from the festival or whatever that was, and I'm still shocked. Now it's 10 o'clock at night. In the room it is fine. While in the streets of Kota fun continues. I go to eat and order a salad, a pulao and Butter Chicken. After dinner I then continue to bed.
Things have been twisted. I am at the station waiting. It's 8:25 and I've missed the train because after asking several times they told me it was on platform 1, and at 6:15 they tell at the information desk that the train has left from the platform 1A. After crossing many windows, I ended up accompanied by a girl to the same window where I started. She comes back and says not worry and that she will get me tickets for any class on the 12 o'clock train.
There is a train just arrived, and many passengers who were crowded in the coaches have come down taking advantage of the stop to fill the water bottles in the many taps that there are throughout all the stations for this purpose or to cool off. Others stretch the legs, and a minority buy in the numerous food kiosks.
The train leaves with an estimated duration of 7 hours. The class we are in is like the previous ones we had taken, with bunk seats with a/c.