JAIPUR, India // India is by far one of our toughest back packing countries thus far. Interacting with the masses is overwhelming. Delhi has 10 million people in it and the “small” outskirt city of Jaipur has 3 million. A “small" city for India is the same as a large city in the US, like Chicago. There are literally masses of people in India.
Poverty, garbage, and filth litters every street you turn down. We watched hundreds of men and boys defecating on the side of the railway tracks on our morning train ride from Delhi to Jaipur. Bums out, balls out, squatting for all to see. The shanty towns built of cardboard scraps line the track for what feels like eternity. I’ve noticed observing from a car, tuk tuk, or train window is easier for me but walking the streets shoulder to shoulder with the poverty is physically tough. Its tough on the nose, eyes, and nerves. Its emotionally draining as you want to help but its too much to comprehend. Walking over piles of cow dung from the roaming cattle. Avoiding the beggars and hawkers constantly tracking you down.
The beauty of the Taj Mahal and Pink City Palaces is in such drastic contrast with the poverty we see. I find people watching in restaurants, museums, and inside historical landmarks to be the easiest way for me to interact. The local people visiting the museum are like our own little museum in a museum. We sit on a bench and watch the bright sarongs and turbans go by, observing at ease children and mothers and elderly interacting. Several people ask to take selfies with us for some odd reason and in these settings we are more apt to do it and take some ourselves as well.
Though the masses are still overwhelming we have had some priceless one on one interactions with our tour guide at the Taj and with our hosts at our Jaipur homestay. Hassan, our “free” Taj Mahal guide that was included with our 3 hour car ride to Agra was quiet, calm, and caring. He protected us from hawkers, showed us all the correct lines to get in, and where to get our complimentary shoe covers and water bottle with entry ticket. He told us the history and engaged us of stories of the time. He pointed out tiny details we would have missed and leisurely walked us around the entire grounds. He took our pictures and told us about his 2 year old daughter and his arranged marriage to his wife. He was exactly the same age as us and was married the exact same year and month as us as well. It was interesting to see the parallels and differences of a peer in a foreign country. He was intrigued by our story of love based marriage and our desire to constantly take “jumping” pictures around the Taj Mahal.
Our hosts at our Jaipur homestay have only been housing guests for 4 months but they have amazing reviews on AirBnB and Agoda already. The wife has a yoga studio in the home and you can join her class every morning at 7 AM that focuses on pranayama breathing. She has 3 middle aged women who are always in attendance and they welcome you into their class with open hearts. She ran us through the most detailed version of sun salutation I have ever done and I enjoyed the focus on feeling the effects of each pose after we did them. We also sat with the husband last night and watched a cricket match between the West Indies and India that was ironically being played in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He sat with us for hours teaching us about the game: overs, bowling, batting, wickets, runs, and strategy. I honestly found it more exciting than baseball though I was told later this was one of the most unique games ever played as both teams rarely score over 200 and you never lose a match by 1 run. These moments talking about his sons wedding and hearing about his own prearranged marriage during the commercials are what give India its bright color to me. The masses are tough but if you take them one person at a time they are warm and beautiful people.