Sacred Street Cows

“I came to Jaipur because of my ex.” The waiter told me.

“Okay, cool. Could I get the Rajasthan thali?” I asked, a bit overwhelmed by all the options on the menu and not quite sure how to respond to something like that.

“Of course,” he replied, yelling something in a local dialect to the kitchen, then turning his attention back to me.

“She broke up with me, but I just knew we had to be together. So I came here from our village. I’m a computer programmer, do you have any job leads in America? Can I get a visa?” I interrupted him to ask for a bottle of water, and to get a break. I’d taken a taxi from my hotel in the old town of Jaipur to here because I’d heard this was a good restaurant in the new town.

“She asked me to stop talking to her. And not to go see her anymore. She married some other guy. But true love never dies,” he said as he brought me my meal. And then just stopped and stared at me as I ate. Other staff members came and just stared. I was getting used to this in India, but this was a bit much.

 

Finally some other customers came in, distracting him and letting me pay the bill. My last meal in Jaipur was a bit bizarre, but of amazing quality. The food in India is unbelievably good, and I’ve been vegetarian for all this time. Meat is pretty hard to come by, and of questionable quality.

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The view from a lakeside in Pushkar, a Hindu pilgrimage village about three and a half hours by bus from Jaipur. The closest city is Ajmer, but I was able to get a ticket on the direct bus without having to connect. The winding route through the mountains was picturesque, and I kept getting text messages from my employer about whether or not I was in Wuhan. 

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The whole lakeside area was a holy site dotted with temples. NO SHOES was a common sign at Hindu temples. Also commonly seen were cows. I ended up spending four days in Pushkar just because it was so relaxing. It had a very hippie vibe, but the India hippies are quite different from their Southeast Asian counterparts.

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Grilled vegetables in mango sauce with chai masala (black tea with milk and spices) at a cafe by my hostel, where I rented a private room. The hostel was amazing, with a tree house that looked about ready to collapse at any moment, and a bonfire pit. The cafes in Pushkar were dirt cheap and great places to just look outside and daydream.

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My hostel was on a back road about a 20 minute walk from the center of the village. My second night I went out to buy a bottle of water, having realized I’d run out (the tap water in India will make you very sick). This road was dark, lit only by the stars. For some reason a fireworks display started nearby, startling the ubiquitous sacred street cows into a noisy rampage. Hoping I wasn’t about to be hit by a sacred cow, and too far from my hostel to go back, I managed to get to a corner store. The owner let me hang out there for a few minutes until it all died down, and asked me about getting an immigration visa to the US. I told him I honestly didn’t know how that worked, but I did thank him for giving me refuge from the cows. 

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I drank a mango lassi and survived to tell the tale! This cafe had really good reviews on their lassis from foreigners. The lassis from the street seemed a bit unsanitary, but the ones I had were all made with yogurt and mangos. Amazingly delicious, just like almost everything I had in India. Not once in my entire three weeks in Rajasthan did I get so much as an upset stomach.

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Beard progression at the lakeside temples of Pushkar.

After four days of eating incredible vegetarian fare and doing circuits to the temples of Pushkar, I bought a train ticket to Jodhpur. The closest station was in Ajmer, and when I asked the receptionist at the hostel how to get there he just said, “Ah, my wife is going too! I’m taking her to town, I’ll drop you off at the station.” He refused all my offers to pay him for gas and the incredibly generous ride, which helped me avoid an hour on an overcrowded chicken bus, and said just to leave a good review online. Which, of course, I did.

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The fort in Jodhpur, the Blue City. The coronavirus started getting more and more attention while I was here, and I started realizing how serious the situation was. 

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Walking around the Jodhpur fort, which sat on a hill on the edge of the Thar Desert.

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It was quite the sight!

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The buildings the Mughal Empire left behind are incredible.

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Looking out upon the Thar Desert.

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Another shot of Jodhpur as seen from the fort.

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Jodhpur had a much more relaxed feel compared to the chaos of Jaipur. I definitely developed a preference for small town India compared to the overwhelming cities.

Namaste from Jaipur

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A map of India with Rajasthan in red. I spent almost the entirety of my trip in Rajasthan state, next to Pakistan.

India is one of those places that’s been on my bucket list for a long time. The food, history, and natural beauty are rightly famous. For years I’d been put off by tales of the hardship of traveling in India. The constant hassle and scams are two of the first things people would tell me about when I mentioned I was thinking of spending my three and a half week Chinese New Year holiday in India. “It’s dirty, poor, and chaotic. It’d be very easy to get sick,” a Chinese teacher at my school told me (a few days after she said that hundreds of millions of people in China were placed in lockdown for the coronavirus, and she hasn’t mentioned anything about that since).

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Sacred street cow in Jaipur, also known as the Pink City, in Rajasthan state. This street was outside my hotel in the old town. My first morning in Jaipur I went out and was startled to see things jumping from building to building over me. They were monkeys! Cows, pigs, goats, chickens, and monkeys roam the streets freely. 

I’m so glad I took the plunge and visited. I ended up loving India, and it’s one of my favorite countries I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.

 

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I naively assumed Indian food was mainly divided between the north and the south. Each state has its own cuisine, and this is a typical thali or set meal in Rajasthan. Almost every restaurant I encountered was vegetarian. In the north, the thali costs about $1. It includes a few different kinds of curries and naan. You’re supposed to eat with the right hand, as the left hand is considered dirty. I’d just go to crowded restaurants serving hot food and never had even the slightest upset stomach.

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I stayed only one day in Delhi, which I’d heard was a hell hole. I got a hotel room across the street from New Delhi Railway Station, and caught the early morning express train to Jaipur, 4.5 hours from New Delhi. Similar to Chinese trains, there were five seats across in Second Class AC. There are a ton of different train classes in India, but I always traveled in this kind. It was comfortable and easy.

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The Ajmeri Gate in Jaipur. Most places didn’t really have street names, and the old town was too narrow for cars. This was the closest landmark to my hotel, so I came here to hail a taxi or get dropped off. Haggling with the local drivers was useless, so I instead used a local ride hailing app called Ola. I bought an Indian SIM card off Taobao in Shanghai, and had data upon arriving at Indira Ghandi International Airport in New Delhi.

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The main attraction in Jaipur is a day trip to the Amer Fort. There’s a winding walkway to the fort on top of the hill, dodging elephants along the way. This is a view looking down from towards the top of the walkway.

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Amer Fort. There’s a bus, but I just took a taxi. It was less than $3 for the 25 minute ride from Jaipur to Amer. Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur are the three most visited spots for travelers to India. But the vast majority of tourists were locals, who often wanted my photo. Just like in China.

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Rajasthan means The Land of Kings, and was formed as an amalgamation of principalities under the jurisdiction of the British Raj during the formation of India in 1949. Jaipur is the capital, and it’s the largest state by land area in India. Each city and town had a large, intricate palace or fort on top of the highest hill dating from the Mughal Empire. Rajasthan is a Hindi speaking state, though most people I met spoke a dialect such as Marwari at home. English would be their third or fourth language.

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A sign by the lake at Amer.

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The courtyard at Amer Fort.

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One of the Mughal gardens at the Fort. I easily spent a few hours wandering around this massive building. 

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Jaipur street life as seen from the Hawa Mahal Palace in the center of the city.

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Sometimes the sidewalks weren’t in the best condition.

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Everything happens later in India. Dinner is eaten around 8pm or later, and I found myself getting up too early at the beginning. This is a street by my hotel in the morning.

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Eating dinner in an alley restaurant in the old town of Jaipur.

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The Mughals left some really impressive architecture, and I spent three days exploring the various locales of Jaipur.

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Jaipur was a stunning locale if just for the buildings.

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I had no idea what most of the things were on the menus in India, so I just ordered the set meal. One dollar is about 70 rupees.