Sunday, April 8, 2012

Travel Lesson #1

Traveling alone as a woman has taught me that many many people live their lives in a world heavily restricted by unneccesary and irrational fears. Countless times I have been told - oh no, don't do that!! It's not safe! Or my favorire - it's not safe for you. Haha! What the hell is that about?!

I fell for this many times in India. I didn't know how things worked and of course I wanted to be aware of any real threats to my person. But I see now how often these "real dangers" are complete bollocks. By the end of my time in India I had done every single thing I had been told not to. And those things were 100% more interesting, more exciting, more adventurous, and yet felt 100% safe.

As often happens in life, the second you try something you are scared of and see the reality of how it works and how it will play out, you see what the actual risks might be - and they are almost always far less (if they exist at all!) than what other people, or even you, got into your head.

So if there is something you want to do, educated yourself with as many knowable facts as you can and take other people's advice as a well intention means of keeping your life as bland as theirs. If your reasearch makes you think you can do it and your guts feel the same then take the dive and ignore any advice that doesn't add up with what you know. You'll have a much more enjoyable ride!!!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Rajasthan #2 - Udaipur

I ended up in Udaipur not as a matter of planning but as a spontaneous reaction to a conversation with a Spanish woman in the tourist line at the train station in Jaipur. We were commiserating over the tedious system of train booking (which ironically is what gave us the time to chat) while she was helping me limp through my first attempt at booking a ticket. I had several possible destinations in mind but Udaipur wasn't one of them. Based on her recommendation though, I changed plans at the last minute.

The next day I took my first Indian train- the bustling station alone is an adventure in itself! Luckily I managed to get a window seat - much to the consternation of a lady who thought it was hers, a situation that resulted in me playing the role of a naive and apologetic tourist just doing what I was told - so I was able to watch to countryside for the entire six hour journey.

We arrived quite late so I shared a rickshaw with a guy from the train. The one nice thing about standing out as a tourist is that all the tourists stand out so it is easy to team up when things are new and uncertain. It makes things seem much less overwhelming! The guest house was pretty nice. Big rooms and private showers for 300 rupees (£4.50) which is a bit more then I wanted to spend really but was the best deal I could find. The owner was a strange little dude who refused to let us go to our rooms and instead insisted we hang out and chat on the rooftop restaurant (a common feature of Rajasthani hotels as it turns out). Mostly he wanted to feel out what services he could add on to our time at his place. In the end, he was genuinely nice to me so I think he is an ok guy, but that night I was just so tired of politely turning down offers of "help" and all I wanted was to be alone, not forced to chit chat with him and lie about my plans so he saw I didn't need anything. The tedium was lessened, however, by the spectacular view from the terrace. A truly beautiful city!

The experience the first night was the only really annoying one I had in Udaipur though. I found the town to be much less pushy than other places. I could happily peruse the goods at street stalls without anyone pressuring me or sometimes even being close at hand. I felt so free to walk around that it was essentially all I did for two of my three days.

The first day I wandered the streets taking pictures and chatting with locals. The second day- after spending five hours with the kindest, most patient travel agent in the history of the world who booked all my train tickets so I didn't have to repeat my time in Jaipur - I walked to the lake where the townspeople were washing their clothes, bathing, swimming and generally having a spectacular time enjoying the cool evening breeze just before sunset. I met an American guy and his little girl who, along with his wife, are on their annual four month holiday funded through his work as a clown. While he was dressed in civvies, his story was made believable by the multitude of ballons that kept appearing from his pockets. He gave me one and when I left the lake and promptly gave it to a little girl who ran after me starry-eyed at the sight of it, I got a glimpse of the joy he might take in making kids smile like that every day.

On day three, things came crashing down. I was so so so ill during the night that by noon the next day I couldn't even take a sip of water or sit up in bed. I can honestly say that being sick all on your own in a foreign room in a foreign part of the world is one of the more lonely experiences one can have. I wanted so badly to have a travel buddy - though I don't know what they could have done. It was for that reason that as soon as I could coordinate my body enough to get down two flights of stairs and into the lobby, I landed on the couch and didn't move for hours. It didn't make my body feel better but just being in a room with other people made a world of difference mentally.

Not too long after I crashed there, a slew of school kids who are part of the owner's family came and sat with me. They were so sweet and adorable that I had to act as if I was feeling better so I could hang out with them. At times it was a push (and I had to leave in a rush once to reaquaint myself with the banana and juice intended to soothe my stomach earlier) but they raised my spirits while simultaneously teaching me all about India, Hinduism, their family history, school life, and a variety of other topics. The oldest, Megha, was a superstar. She was so kind and caring. She was truly concerned about the overnight bus to Jaisalmer I was scheduled to take that night and patiently tried to explain the lack of services and resulting discomfort she worried I might suffer. When it appeared I would come back to life, she took me on a thorough tour of her home followed by a visit to the nearby temples. There she continued to educate me in the daily practices and prayers. She was so sweet, so interested in life, so passionate about learning, so awesome that I will always associate Udaipur with her perfect smile.

By nightfall, I was in stable condition as I made my way to the bus stand. There I bumped into the Brits from Jaipur again who were taking the same bus in the same direction. Suddenly I had two travel buddies who checked in on me and made me feel much less alone. By the time they left the bus, I had made friends with two new European dudes who took on that job for my time in Jaisalmer. So, as it turns out, the best way to not be alone is to travel alone.