On the Road Again

As the trip to India entered its second half, our pace slowed a little bit, and we became more willing to seek activities that were less about forts and history, and more about a good view and relaxing a little. After hosting many a tourist on their grand India tours, our travel company must have anticipated this as we left traveled briefly Jodhpur onto Udaipur.

While Jaipur is the "Pink City" Jodphur is the "Blue City" for its Brahmin homes painted blue, and Udaipur is the "Lake City" for obvious reasons which you will soon see. In Jodphur, there was (predictably) a fort to see, high on a mountaintop. We wedged into the small elevator that would take us to the top with a group of giggling younger Indian women and their matriarch. The doors closed, a buzzer sounded and the lights went out briefly - we were overweight. Politely the tour guide stepped out first and the operator tried again. Buzz!! Giggles around us. Jason and Tushar stepped out, with Jason chiding Tushar for his morning dosa breakfast, "All right Dosa boy, we'll let the ladies up first. The elevator carries eight Indians...or five Americans." But dosa's might help the Indians catch up with our weight gain, because they are tasty. (Here's mine from the hotel breakfast, a little deflated since I started eating before thinking to take a photo.)The fort was again full of detail and decoration that you can't possibly absorb, already saturated from a week of forts. There was also a winding staircase in the middle that seemed impossible to climb after a long day's driving. I could sense that we were starting to feel far more selective in what was worth seeing - even if was objectively extraordinary. The following day, on our longest day of driving for the entire trip (6 hours), we stopped at the Ranakpur Jain Temples. The peculiarities of visiting temples and mosques are most extreme here, where you must buy a license for your camera, cover up bare shoulders and legs, remove leather accessories, and shoes. The leather is derived from the Jain's sensitivity to not killing any beings, to the point where they historically are professionally more involved finance, my guidebook advised, since driving a plow through a field is tantamount to mass murder for a Jain, killing so many bugs and blades of grass and wheat.

Our driver practically melted with discomfort when I insisted that I didn't need him to haul my suitcase off the vehicle's roof to get a sweatshirt. I thought I was being nice by just stepping up on the door jamb to grope around inside the half-unzipped suitcase, but seeing how much the conflict of my casual American DIY spirit with his Indian impulse to solicitude vexed him, I had second thoughts. I still feel guilty, hearing him whisper, "Please, no" but at that point my arm was already elbow deep in the suitcase.A Jain monk toured us around the temple, which continues to be an active site of worship. There are seemingly a million pillars, and each is carved differently. (Again, more detail than you can possibly cram into your head.) Full of nooks and crannies of marble carvings, statues that smile at you from the perimeters, the 15th century Jain Temple is amazing. Back on the road, we stopped briefly to take in the green mountains, a lush interruption from most of the dusty roads we'd traveled.

We had an enormous laugh when just minutes after Jason and Tushar had returned from an outdoor bathroom break (and were back in the car safely) our driver exclaimed that he spotted a jungle cat in the bushes. Of course this grew into a never-ending travel fable that was not about Jason and Tushar vulnerable with their pants down in the wilderness, but instead a story about how they'd seen the panther but tamed it, rode around on it in the woods and returned without a scratch. In some versions, the cat handed them their toilet paper without even requesting a tip. (Another routine at highway rest stops - I advise any traveler to India to bring some tissues with you.) Jason is certainly not cowering behind me in this photo. The cat actually took the photo. ;)

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