|So, we are nearing the end of our Rajasthan tour. It was pretty cool. We're finishing off in the Shekawati Region, which is located between Bikaner and Delhi. This is where many of the kings had their summer homes, called Havelis. There are many of these extravagantly painted grand homes all over the area, however, they have been severely neglected and are in desperate need of repair. This coupled with the fact that many people have pilfered the antiquities and put them up for sale means the places are pretty run down. There are also a lot of little kids who should otherwise be in school running around offering guiding services. I had one long conversation with one of them explaining to him that school is a better long term path for him, and that if I accepted his services, he would simply tell his friends that this was a way to make some money, which would only encourage the others to do it. I think he might have understood me, but he still followed me around for a good fifteen minutes. Maybe he liked the honest conversation!
We stayed in a nice little hotel for the night, and simply hung out with the hotel folks after walking around town a little as there was not much to see. Kristine managed to talk the cook into a cooking lesson, and she helped prepare the meal for all the hotel guests with the cook. They made dahl, some sort of vegetable masala, a potato thing that was drenched in oil and butter, and of course the usual chapatti and naan options. It was all very good, and I think she really had a great time learning about how they cook with very basic facilities. Afterwards, she presented the cook with a Canadian flag and pin which he seemed to appreciate as a gesture of thanks.
We've been stopping for ice creams and lassis with Jeet along the way, and it's been hilarious to watch Kristine's face as Jeet deals with the rubbish when we're finished. You see, our habit has been to take whatever we have and put it in our bag until we can find some sort of receptacle. This is MUCH harder than it sounds. As I've mentioned before, India is hopelessly polluted. Anyway, Jeet takes his wrappers, bags, and boxes, and simply throws them out the window, even when we are in the semi clean rural areas. Kristine's face just drops, her mouth goes wide open, and her eyes get huge! She just can't believe it (well, neither can I really). She tries to explain the problem to him but there is no changing his behaviour. I can understand - everyone grows up here thinking that the street is the garbage can, and it is to be used accordingly. It will take a Herculean education effort (along with the physical effort to clean the place up) if things are ever to change. I find it really sad, but also an interesting sociological condition that all the people actually cannot see the problem. Very strange. But it's tough to watch the cows eating yet another plastic bag...
I think I've had my fill of forts too. This has got to be one of the highest concentrations of the things in the world. And they're not really that far apart. These guys had pretty small kingdoms in the end, and it's no wonder there were so many wars, there were so many kingdoms. Really, it was beautiful though, even the sand blowing between my teeth in Jaisalmer was an experience that will never be forgotten.
We're going to switch gears a bit now and head for the Ganges. We promised ourselves that we would have at least one railway experience while in India, because we feel like we are taking the easy way out a bit with the driver thing. India supposedly has one of the world's best railway systems (if not the most overcrowded) and we would be highly remiss if we came here without trying it. So, we have booked ourselves on night trains to and from Varanasi, the holy Hindu city on the flood plains of the Ganges. Booking was not that tough, as the system is set up with quotas for foreigners, and there is a special office at most stations with English speaking people to help out the clueless foreigners. Good thing too because the lines for the regular ticket windows really look like chaos. We were in and out with our ticket in about 45 minutes - 6 bunk sleepers - should be interesting. In all likelihood, it will be with a bunch of other backpackers. Wish us luck!
Jeet said something interesting the other day that I forgot. I think we were talking about religion, and whether or not there are any otherworldly beings that exist. The idea was that with all these crazy religions, nobody really seems to have a picture that everyone can buy into. The Hindu religion is the oldest in the world I think, and they seem to treat every other religion as either an afterthought or extension/modification of something that was originally and is still essentially Hindu. I can see the point. But Jeet's point was more pragmatic. I can't remember the exact words but it went something like this (in his English): "Look all around you. India is a mess, not organized, very poor people, too many people, too many animals, too many pollutions, all crazy. Not possible for people to exist in this if it was not for help of some god". It is a point that resonates as you look out the car window into the faces of those who have nothing...