We’ve left behind the city of Bundi and are preparing to leave Jaipur. Each city that I’ve been to has its own vibe. Bundi is a smaller city with a slightly sleepier feel and a picturesque palace (Bundi Palace) that looks as though it just emerged from the side of the hill. Jaipur is a larger city with fewer cows milling around, but many more interesting palaces and a few more areas that are relatively clean and well-kept. In Jaipur, we saw the magnificent 16th-century Amber Fort and entered it on the backs of elephants. After riding a camel, riding an elephant is a bit anti-climactic because it’s so big that you sit easily in its “saddle,” and moves so slowly that there’s no fear of toppling off if it starts trotting. In Jaipur I also saw the beautiful City Palace, another 16th century structure that houses two massive vases that are the largest silver objects in the world. I also enjoyed seeing my first “Bollywood” movie that was, well…interesting. I didn’t understand all of it (they curiously use a combination of English and Hindi—Hinglish—and there’s no subtitles), but from what I did understand, it seemed a little cheesy 🙂
Even though every city has a unique flavor, they all share some common threads. Beautiful palaces, forts, and/or temples juxtaposed against the agonizing sight of poverty and pollution. Trash-filled, rancid-smelling waterways run along the sides of the roads. Vibrantly painted temples and buildings seem to scream in defiance at their dingy, dirty, and dilapidated surroundings. The look of hunger: children begging for food and mothers holding babies asking for money for milk; and cows, feral dogs, and the occasional wild pig foraging in the trash for edible scraps. Perhaps the locals are not feeding the cows enough, because today I saw one eating a newspaper and another one eating a plastic carton.
And of course, there are always the swarms of people. The population in India is approximately 1.7 billion, some of whom spend the afternoon at home, in school, or working, but some also mill around listlessly, whiling away the hot afternoons with their friends and neighbors. The other day the temperature reached a stifling 104 degrees. The heat made me feel as zapped of energy as the locals appear to be—I am referring to those who simply lie on the side of the street or in a corridor to nap away the hottest afternoon hours. Sometimes, they appear so thin and lifeless lying there that I have to stare hard to see if they are still breathing.
No matter where you go, it’s hard to escape these common threads. But of course, although these are the scenes that impress themselves upon me most because they are the most foreign, it isn’t accurate to say that the scene I’ve painted is everywhere in India. It’s an interesting contrast to see so much wealth in the palaces, forts, and temples, yet so much destitution in the streets. It appears that the wealth in India doesn’t trickle into the masses. As a result, there is a massive population of people here who live in the kind of poverty that I simply can’t imagine. All I can do is look upon it from the outside.