Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Driving in Rajasthan

On my last full day in Udaipur, I decided to get out of town.  According to the guidebook, there are several sights worth seeing within driving distance of Udaipur, so I asked the guy who ran the hostel about how to get out there.  And that's how I found myself bumping along the backroads in a little white car with a driver/guide named Jebbar.  My destinations for the day were Kumbalgarh and Ranakpur, but the drive itself was well worth the trip.  We drove through villages, along rivers, up and down switchbacks over a mountain, through desert areas and farmland.  Several times he pulled over to point out old men perched on the back of cattle, hitched to a huge stone disc; as they circled the disk, a waterwheel pumped water up into the irrigation ditches of the adjacent wheat field.  The winter here is the growing season--the highs are in the 70s, while in the summer, the highs of over 100 and monsoon rains make growing things less convenient.

The villages we passed through could have been any time in history; the only thing that showed that the 21st century had arrived were the advertisements painted onto the sides of various buildings.  Cows and goats wandered the streets, and I saw many women carrying huge baskets on their heads.  The women were the bright spots in the rather drab colors of the landscape and dusty roads; poverty is no reason here not to dress in the brightest colors of saris.

Jebbar was a good talker; he explained the farming methods as went along, and the names of the villages, and pointed out all the best views.  He told me a bit about himself, too: he is one of six children; four brothers and two sisters.  The oldest brother and sister are married, but the rest live together in Udaipur.  He and his younger brother are both drivers.  His family is Muslim, although he says that being a Muslim in India is a bit different than being one in an Arabic country; according the the laws of Islam, men shouldn't see women who are not in their family, but there's no way to avoid it in India, where many neighbors are not Muslim and don't  wear headscarves.  Besides, he works with tourists.  His family is from a small village in the countryside, but his father moved the family to Udaipur when he was a child; there's no work in the village.  Every summer, he goes back to the village; for many years, he would stay a month with his grandparents, living without electricity or running water, but loving every minute of it; now that they are gone, he still goes, and visits cousins.

I'm glad I got the chance to take this drive.  For several years, I've tried to make it a point when traveling to not only see the cities and their famous sights, but also to see something of nature.  I'm glad I got the chance to see the countryside of India, away from the tourist crowds.  


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