The Flip Side: An Indian Safari

It is rare that I go somewhere and leave inspired but the Taj Mahal left me awestruck. Even after sitting in front of it for a few hours I just didn’t want to leave. Besides its pure beauty, detail, and grandness, the history of its construction for love is hard to believe.

Last week my mother and brother came from the U.S. to visit me and do a bit of travelling around India. Travelling in India is an adventure in itself. In the U.S. everything is planned and arranged beforehand but in India I have learned to go with the flow. Our first flight from Mumbai to New Delhi was canceled and rescheduled three hours later for “unknown reasons,” later I learned that King Fisher was on strike. Also when we arrived in New Delhi, we thought we could get tourist quota tickets on the trains but little did we know that these tickets also filled up months in advance. Our whole trips transportation was based on taking sleeper trains to travel from one place to the next so we were a bit upset that our plans would be ruined. Since, we were so desperate to find a way to get to our destinations we went to the Indian Tourist Agency. It sounded like an honest business because the man gave us a package with a driver for two days, a train ride, and hotel accommodations. We were so excited that we could travel where we wanted so we took whatever he gave us. Later we learned that we were charged almost five times more than we should have been. I still have not learned how to bargain! Even though settling the logistics of the trip was a bit tough, after that we had an amazing time!

Taj Mahal

We started with Agra at the Taj Mahal and after seeing it, the other sites had a very hard act to follow. After Agra we headed off to Jaipur to catch a 2:30 AM train to Jodhpur.  We did not have much time in Jaipur so we went to the Raj Mandir cinema hall to see “Terre Nal Love Ho Gaya”. It was fun watching the film in Hindi because we were constantly trying to figure out what was happening and why the entire audience started laughing sometimes. I want to learn Hindi so I can understand the jokes and communicate more with people.

Our next destination was Jodhpur, the blue city. The city is overlooked by a commanding fort, Mehrangarh, on top a hill in the middle of the city. Walking in the fort there were twists and turns to keep elephants and invaders out and inside, there were grand rooms. My favorite part though was looking down on the city. All the buildings were blue and so close that you couldn’t even see rickshaws or people moving about. The streets were quite busy with lots of shops and people. All of the textiles, art, and jewelry were so unique that they were hard to resist. I don’t know how big Indian families are but it seemed like every time we bought something from one shop, the shopkeeper would bring us to his “brother’s” shop that sold something else. I think we bought everything from the same family so their strategy was effective. As I traveled around I have seen that tourists are just treated as a commodity. It seemed like even if someone was nice to us, their ultimate goal was get money out of us. I think traveling in a group of three exacerbated the situation but I would still just like to have a friendly conversation without ulterior intentions. At times it is frustrating but I realized that tourists are their livelihood and they have a family to support.

Jodhpur: The Blue City

After two days in Jodhpur, we headed to Udaipur the white/lake city. Udaipur was the most beautiful city we visited because there was one palace floating in the lake and another looking down on the city from above. We went to a traditional dance performance and saw women dancing with 8 buckets on their head, puppets juggling, and traditional music performances.  In the mornings we woke up early to do yoga on the rooftop of a guesthouse. I have done yoga a few times before in the US but yoga here was much more relaxed and focused on the breathing. The instructor looked completely at ease even when in the most demanding positions. My mom, brother, and I had a hard time restraining our laughter at times. My favorite part about Udaipur was that we took a cooking class at a woman’s home. Indian food is my favorite cuisine so when I return home, I want to recreate some of the amazing dishes I have had here. The class lasted for five hours and we left with full stomachs and a booklet of recipes. We cooked chai tea, pakoda, the basic masala sauce, paneer, veg pulav, naan, paratha, roti, sweet paratha, and more. Indian food really isn’t that difficult to cook so I know that I can do it back in the U.S.

Lastly, I toured with my mom around the campus and the city. She was very impressed by the campus because of its serenity and the kindness of people we talked to. In Mumbai, I have always wanted to go on a tour of the Dharavi slums so I took my mom to join me. While planning, I thought that the slum was a very dangerous area where homeless people settled illegally. After the visit, I had a much more positive impression of the slums because families just don’t live there, people pay rent, there are multiple industries within it, and it is like just another community. The slum portrayed in Slumdog Millionaire was nothing like what I saw. The movie influenced mine and many others impressions about India. It focused on the corruption, the terrible treatment of children, the poverty, and the hopeless lives of many. It creates an impression that this is the life for everyone except the few powerful elites. After visiting the slums, I expected to see the blind children begging and crying with no one to console them but instead I saw hope and hard work. There were smiles on children’s faces when you give them candy, the workers were determined to provide for their families, and there is a community culture to provide and protect.

I loved having the chance to travel with my family. Now when I talk to my parents over Skype, they have a little better understanding where I am and what I have been doing. My mom embraced India much better than expected and my brother enjoyed returning to places he had visited before. Coming back to classes has been a bit of a shock but good things always have to come to an end.

Elyse Landry
Department of Chemical Engineering
Rice University

Disclaimer: The views expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of InsIghT, IIT Bombay. They are the personal views of the author.