||Mar. 8-11, 1999 Jaipur and
"Ahhhhhhhhhhh!!!" Startled, I spin around to see Laura with both hands up
to the sides of her contorted face, letting out a yell that literally set my hair on end.
"What, what is it!?!?" I ask with a panic - just a scooter zips through between
us, horn blaring away - beeeeeeeep, beeeeeeep.
had relaxed for only a split second, to watch one of the many urban cows scratch itself
against a street sign, and unknowingly walked across a small side alleyway. A bicycle bell
had caught her by surprise in one step, barely missing her foot. In reflex, she spun
around only to be buzzed by a scooter whipping by in the opposite direction. She froze up,
and completely lost it.
"Ahhhhhhhhhhh!!!" - that
succinctly sums up exactly how a day in Japuir, or for that matter almost any of the other
cities we've visited in India, makes you feel. Faced with nothing short of complete and
absolute sensory overload, you just feel like shouting. But then you quickly realize that
you can shout all you want to, and few around you will notice, let alone really care. The
two little girls that happened to witness Laura's near misses and the scream that
followed, couldn't help but cover their mouths and giggle at what they saw. They had the
right idea, keep a sense of humor and laugh about it all. That's the only way to survive
reminding ourselves of to 'laugh about it all' is what helped us really begin to enjoy,
and then truly appreciate, what Japiur had to offer. The 'Pink City' (a moniker that stuck
after the city painted itself pink in preparation of a visit from Prince Albert in 1853)
is the perfect setting for taking in the hustle and bustle of everyday Indian city life.
Arguably one of India's most picturesque cities, it most likely also ranks right up there
in measure of activity on its streets. Aside from the sly merchants peddling their wares
in the hundreds of storefronts, there are probably thousands more 'temporary shops' spread
out on the sidewalks of the pink city.
From bracelets to bananas, flowers to
flutes, it's all spread out before you. I was shooting the breeze with one such shop
owner, when I told him "I think I'd be content with just siting on the sidewalk and
watching the people." Without hesitation he tells me: "You may be content at
first, but I think you would go crazy after about only three hours". I guess he
should know, he lives here.
that hurt!!" I scream as instinct spins me around to find out who had just poked me -
and hard - square in the butt with a very sharp something. To my absolute shock, I turn to
come face to face with not a who, but a what. A very large what. To my surprise, there's a
huge black cow, horns and all, only inches away and looking right at me with his most
convincing "if you don't get out of my way, and now, I'll REALLY give you something
to scream about" look. I make an quick (and easy) decision to hop down a few steps so
he can pass by, his path unaltered. Racked in the rear by a sacred cow while standing
aside a holy lake. Not something that happens to me every day. Is it a sign? Some sort of
sanctification? Has my butt been blessed?
have only moments to ponder these thoughts before Laura yells out from a few feet across
the way "Ahww, look at them all, how cute!". She's pointing up at the dozens of
monkeys who've crammed themselves inside the temple's window jambs above us to escape the
sun and nurse their young in the shade. I must admit, they are cute, and so relaxing to
watch. I can't stare for long though - that darn cow is headed back this way. We move on,
back up the steps to the street, down the way through the main bazaar area, and down the
steps of another large Ghat (sacred bathing area) for a better look at the holy Lake
"A blessing? Us? For good luck and good karma? Um . . . sure,
I guess so" Next thing I know we're hurriedly bounding (as requested, we removed our
shoes and are beginning to feel our feet's tender skin cook on the hot marble with each
stride) after our new found 'holy man', down the steps, and to the waterfront. We repeat
after him a blessing on behalf of "the sister, the brother, the mother, the father,
the grandmother, and the grandfather", as he fills our cupped hands with colorful
powdered dyes and rice, and then instructs us to sprinkle it into the water. We finish up
the ceremony by each tossing a daisy bud into the lake (mine lands upside down - I lack
the courage to ask if that's a reflection of bad karma or just a bad throw).
our futures now weighted with 'good' blessings, and our wallets now proportionately
lighter of 'bad' rupees, we continue our tour of the town. I'm not sure whether sporting
our new red forehead dots speckled with rice and matching blessed string bracelets, makes
us look more or less like 'tourists'. I suppose it doesn't really matter, as our next stop
is the holy city's largest temple to observe, as some of the Hindu pilgrims make their
offerings to the gods. And as the only temple that foreigners are allowed to enter, they
pretty much have to let us in, forehead dots or not.
We watch as inconspicuously as possible
from the wings, as worshiper after worshiper approaches the alter with various offerings
for their gods. Flowers, rice, dyes, and of course money. We quietly sneak back down the
front steps to get our shoes, and continue on our way through the village. Two little
girls take a break from their playing to smile at us as we walk by. We wave back, and two
minutes later, have escorts through the rest of town. The one that's taken a liking to me
is super cute and ultra talkative (although I can't understand much of what she says). She
squeezes my hand as we walk along together. Sadly, I can now not only see, but also feel,
the layers of dust and dirt that's clinging to her rough skin.
round one corner and the two girls stop instantly in their tracks. There's a group of
kurta pajama and orange turban clad men chanting in unison as they head our way. They draw
closer and we realize why the girls cheery manner has suddenly turned somber - it's a
funeral procession. The body, wrapped in simple white cloth, is being carried on the men's
shoulders via a flat woven bamboo platform, on its way to the funeral and cremation
ceremony. Although my curiosity has me think about following them from a distance, I
reconsider, as not to ruin my good blessings from my upside down flower.