By Clare Premo, ’16
On New Year’s Day we flew from Mumbai to Jaipur and checked into our hotel. The transfer took most of the day, but we had a special Rajasthan treat awaiting: thali in a converted palace. Thali is a type of meal where a person has a silver platter and then lots of curries, sauces, and meats are put into little bowls and piled onto the platter. Then naan, roti and rice are added to create a fantastic, if overly filling, meal! During dinner, many of us got intricate henna drawn onto our palms, and after we finished eating we moved to an outdoor courtyard to listen to some traditional music and watch dancing and a puppet show.
The next day, we spent the morning sightseeing around the city of Jaipur. We saw the astronomy center and City Palace before venturing out on our own into the city’s chaotic bazaars to do some bargaining for souvenirs. Crossing the streets in India is quite the feat and we got lots of practice during our meanderings around the city. In the afternoon we went to speak to the founder of Jaipur Foot (BMVSS), a remarkable NGO that helps provide prosthetic feet and legs free of charge to disabled people across India, and in dozens of other countries around the world. The organization has developed a remarkable yet extremely low cost prosthetic foot and knee that enables crippled people to live a normal life, particularly in a place like India where physical movement is absolutely critical for the ability to earn a living. Our talk occurred primarily in the middle of the waiting room, surrounded by folks waiting to get fitted, and was a stark reminder of the poverty in this still developing country.
The next day we went to the incredible Amber Fort on the hills of Jaipur. We had the incredible experience of going up the mountain on the backs of elephants, a bumpy ride that I will not soon forget. As we climbed the switchbacks, enterprising souvenir hawkers followed along the path, tossing blankets and other wares onto the elephants in hopes of a willing buyer. We finally entered into a majestic gate to see this gorgeous fort that was also the palace for the kings of Rajasthan in this imperial “pink city.” The magnificent gardens, mirrored ceilings and stonework were wonderful to explore, and just as fun to see again as the setting for the Bollywood movie we watched as we continued the journey onto Agra. The final treat of the day was a great dinner at Peshawri. This included top quality Northwest frontier food and was my favorite meal of the trip so far. Although we are all feeling a little stuffed from so much delicious but heavy Indian food, it’s so hard to turn down just one little taste when there are so many tempting dishes to experience. New Years resolutions can wait until after the trip, right?
The next morning we visited one of the great wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal. This place exceeds expectations and is true an astounding monument. Built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, it was constructed as a mausoleum for his late wife and is a testament to eternal love. The inlay wood in the marble is remarkable, and the perfect symmetry is a particularly interesting aspect of the site. Nearby, the Agra Fort is a remarkable red sandstone structure built in the 16th and 17th centuries and is like a city within the walls. Even today, much of it is used by the military. We spent the afternoon driving to Delhi, checking into a luxurious hotel and settling in for the final leg of the trip. We concluded the night at Khan Market, feasting on kebabs that young locals consider the best in the city.