I’ve got a draft blog post sitting here, which I may still post post-India, but which I no longer feel appropriate to post right now.
I was going to talk about the exhausting, invasive and (as I was arguing) justifiably money-hungry nature of India’s cities. However, I’ve now struck out further west into Rajasthan, and as I go I find – even if only inch by inch – less and less to complain about; less and less which stirs up my anxiety.
The algorithm is simple: the smaller the town, the friendlier the people, the more relaxed your surroundings.
In my last post I talked about India’s locals as being one of my favourite things about India, and I think still that hasn’t changed. Yet as I dig my way through the sand dunes, ever-further west, I realise just how chaotic the likes of Mumbai and Jaipur have been. Just how much warmer those living more remotely seem in comparison.
Perhaps in time you will get to read more about the difficulties India presents its western tourists, but for now, let me focus on the positives. Because trust me, for all the madness, there are many, many positives.
Ghost towns have a lot going for them.
1. Backpacker Hostels
There’s a phrase I use as my mantra, taken from the book/film Into The Wild. It goes: ‘Happiness only real when shared’. Nothing I’ve previously come across cements the truth of this saying so much as making fleeting friendships with other travellers.
Having spent Mumbai largely alone, my hostel in Jaipur was like the first rains after a drought. There I quickly fell in with other solo-backpackers. My Irish roomie David, who’d been living in Laos for two years and was just getting ready to cycle from Jaipur right down toward Goa. Inder the London G whose stories of safaris and getting arrested in South Africa kept us grinning. Scott, the aussie punk-rock school teacher who talked sci-fi, music, and comic books (is there a better combo?) and who I spent the day exploring mountaintop fortress walls with.
Scott, if you’re reading this, I didn’t get ill off those pizzas. Sorry buddy, you’re on your own.
Hanging out with these guys, sharing stories, beers and tuk-tuks, made me realise, like Charlotte had in Mumbai, just how important friendship and companionship is in the preservation and in the pursuit of happiness.
My second day in Jaipur I made the several kilometer trek out to a place aptly known as ‘Monkey Temple’.
Side note: definitely not fit enough yet to hike the Great Wall.
Let me just say, I don’t think there’s a malady yet known to man that can’t be cured by having a monkey hitch a lift on your backpack to the top of a hill that looks down onto a stunning sun-lit valley.
Then there was the temple itself. Located in a valley the other side from Jaipur, the immediate silence was stunning and unexpected. Complete with gorgeous architecture, water features and (free ’cause I’m getting good at lying about ye olde money situation) Hindu temple exploration, this place was an absolute treat.
Then of course, more monkeys:
As with the Monkey Temple, it’s a general rule of thumb that in order to find really spectacular scenery, you’re going to have to find some way out of the city.
Thankfully, if you’re willing to give those calf muscles a run for their money, you can do just that. And the rewards, they speak for themselves:
But you don’t always have to escape street level. And this is the point of the title: the smaller the town, the friendlier the people, the more relaxed your surroundings, the easier it is to explore the hidden beauty of the city itself. Jodhpur, the ‘blue city’, is a wonderful testament to this.
Yeah, it’s nigh on impossible to navigate, but here that doesn’t matter. For the first time since arriving in India, I’ve been able to ask almost anyone for directions, been able to chat away to the kids and adults alike who stop me in the middle of the teensy medieval alleyways, been able to sit and take a breather, and almost never be pestered for money. This, I find, has become something of a rarity.
And because of this, I’ve been able to find these:
The moral of the story is this: if you’re willing to look for it, some form of peace and beauty can be found in amongst the chaos, and whilst Indian cities might not be for me, Indian towns just might be (minus the ankle-snappy feral dogs, and the pavements of cow manure).
We’ll just have to wait and see.
Oh, also, did I forget to mention, the guesthouse I’m staying in was once occupado by Adrian Brody and Owen Wilson whilst they were filming The Darjeeling Limited. Yeah, I know. No biggie.