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Rajasthan - Land of Smiles
By: Jenni Thornton, posted
Rajasthan - Land of smiles
Raj in Hindi stands for King and stan for land so technically Rajasthan means land of kings but as our tour leader Krishna rightly pointed out, Rajasthan is a land of smiles. Very rarely would I cycle through a village without being surrounded by happy faces. Even in the poorest communities where there were obvious signs of poverty, the people never indicated this in their expression. Whether it was the delight in seeing new people or just a contentment with life itself, their approach is something to be admired.
Whilst biking from point to point on the Rajasthan biking tour the sheer amount of people that we passed was incredible. There wasn't a time when you could not see some type of activity going on. From farming to Chai drinking to cattle herding and most noticibly the continual stream of young, smartly dressed children on their way to school. Their drive to learn was obvious by the amount of times I was stopped by them to practise their English. Textbook questions such as "What is your good name?" and "In which country do you reside" being the most popular. The children who were not at school simply resided to shouting "bye bye" and "ta ta", a phrase which was apparently picked up from the old British Raj days. Whatever was spoken was always done enthusiastically and with a great big grin which I believe gives India the appeal as a country that it has.
Posh an Becks eat your heart out. As a white person in India you do tend to attract a lot of attention. The attention is not necessarily negative but more so in the way that you are made to feel like a celebrity. If you stand for any length of time, be prepared to eventually surrounded by a crowd of interested onlookers. One of my favourite examples of this was when I was perusing around the city palace in Udaipur. I was asked for my photograph (which was a regular occurence) but once it was taken, the young toddler that I had it with was insistent on touching my cheek to make sure that my skin was real. I was the first white person that she had probably encountered.
Another fine example was the way in which the children of the villages shouted from the rooftops or came running from their houses and classrooms and soon as they saw that there were foreign tourists cycling by. Many would shout "gora" or variations of this word which simply means "white person" to rouse the attention of any locals who hadn't yet noticed what was going on. We were received with cheers and many a child would reach out their hand to touch your arm on the way past much as an athlete would when they have won a race. But a word of caution. Whilst most children relish the opportunity of a high five the odd few took it as on opportunity to give you a good slap. They were duly punished for this by onlooking adults but a few of us had the raw slapmarks as lingering souveniers.
Everything in India stops for a well deserved cup of Chai Masala. It is much the same in England with our tea and coffee breaks but to refuse a cup of Chai, when offered, is seen as rude, resulting in numerous Chai breaks throughout the day. Street Chai is mostly served in small plastic cups which then tend to be discarded by the roadside. A few more environmentally friendly sellers would use clay cups, which will be discarded after a single use but will settle back into the ground to be moulded yet again into a clay cup. We passed somewhere by the roadside where people were making these clay cups by the hundreds so not only are the cups recyclable but they provide work for the local people.
The base for any cup of Chai Masala consists of half hot water, half hot milk mostly heated on hot coals. Whilst this is heating, crushed cardamon pods and fresh ginger is added along with sugar for those with a sweet tooth. The mixture is then sieved into a teapot and served to the anticipating customer.
The differences between the cultures of the local people and us lycra clad westerners were bridged over a steaming hot cup of Chai, quite often accompanied with a deep fried jelly sweet or freshly fried pakora.
Mixture of religions
"Namaste" is the common greeting/goodbye used in Hindi and is said whilst placing both hands into a prayer position. This is not a religious action persae but simply signifies the welcoming into the heart of that person and is much appreciated by the locals when performed by a Westerner. Hindiusm is the dominant religion of India which is why this greeting is most recognised among the people but within Hinduism itself there are numerous gods and beliefs which makes India probably the most diverse and relatively accepting country when it comes to other beliefs, although it was not always this way.
The North of India had a period of being ruled by Muslims when the Mughals invaded from the North and this is evident in the many Minars that had been constructed. In a land of diverse religion the politically astute Emporer Akbar wed three brides, one Christian, one Hindu and one Muslim. He built them separate palaces in which to practise their beliefs and formed a new religion which fused all three faiths, evident in the architecture at Fattephur Sikkri.
Religion forms a vital part of Indian history and the way in which they live their life. When visiting numerous forts and temples of the RJMB tour it is always surprising to see as many Indian tourists at these relics as foreign tourists. Many Indians visit the historic sites as part of a pilgrimage to carry out their own beliefs but others also to learn about the history of different faiths alongside their own. I think we as a civilisation can learn a great deal from the faiths of India where love for nature (especially cows) in all its forms holds great importance as does the respect for anothers soul, regardless of their beliefs. There is also a great deal of respect given for your good actions and I was immensely proud to be given the title of JenniJi once I had earned it which indicates this.
Bike the roof of the world this Autumn from 20 Sept - 11 Oct, but be quick, now limited availability!