Thursday, February 10, 2011

Unearthing rural India with locals

I admit, I'm a fan of independent travel (read: travel on a shoestring) and a seeker of the unexpected, but when I decided to go to India, I felt right to book a guided tour.

The main reason was that I was staying for only ten days and I wanted to see as much as possible, without wasting time looking for transports, entrances and understanding how to get about.

Certainly, getting around has been much easier, so my first need, as I expected, was fully met, however, I grew increasingly happy to have a guide all throughout rural India.

Traveling in Rajasthan can be tricky, despite my guide's recommendations on basic safety rules, I got sick and spent a whole night throwing up everything I had eaten probably in the past six months, with the result that the morning after I looked like a zombie.

Although I love street food, I haven't had any in India, I have always been very careful to drink only bottled water and avoided anything "risky". Probably what got me was some milk-based dish in which the milk could have been expired.

Apart from that, the trip went smoothly, and I have only nice memories. The travel guides I've had were great, and I'm happy we are still in touch (yes, thanks to the magic of the Internet..).

Who stayed with me from day one, worried about my being too skinny, encouraging me to eat more than I could manage and solving each every one of my problems in less than no time was not my mom as you might think.

Experienced travel guides can provide you with colorful anecdotes, contributing in unveiling the idiosyncrasies of the Indian society I wouldn't have been able to capture on my own in such a short time.
Danish, proudly staring in front of his beloved Taj Mahal

From day three, travel agent Sushila joined us. The official reason was that "she had never visited the cities we were going next", but I believe the real aim was that she was worried about a little girl traveling all alone throughout rural India. Not sure why everybody thought I was 20, but I'm certainly not complaining about it.

In every city there was a local guide ready to take over the stint to show me around and all I had to do was follow, listen and, obviously, take thousands of pictures. Traveling has never been that easy.

In Agra, Danish showed me the Agra Fort and introduced me to the story of love and pain behind the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Taj Mahal with such passion that sometimes I thought he wished he had built the Taj himself.
Chhotaram smiling *after* the opium ritual

In Jaipur I was escorted by Bisaj, who explained me Indian complex astrology system, according to which they assess everybody's "luck" in order to arrange future marriages. When he learnt I was 32 and unmarried, he kindly offered to find out what's wrong with me and work out my luck. I'm still waiting full of hope.

Jodhpur was a blast. Literally. Escorted by Chhotaram Prajapat, Sushila, Chandu and myself ventured in beautiful Salawas village, in Jodhpur district. After enjoying an otherworldly immersion in nature, admiring shy deers, antelopes, black bucks and peacocks, we had a taste of what village life in rural India looks like.

The tour of the tiny hamlet started with the ceremony of the opium, central part of their social mores, carried out during special occasions and to make up in case of arguments. When everything was ready, I was inevitably asked if I wanted to try it out, and my thrilled "Yes" was met by Chhotaram's smirk.

Leaving Jodhpur, we drove to Jaisalmer, where my tour of the city was colored by the tales of Papu, or Prem, not sure. Papu seemed very concerned about my eating habits, because "not only work is important, you need to take care of your body first." He still reminds me, so how can I forget.

Apart from my not-eating-enough sorrow, Papu was very busy all the time we spent in the desert trying to find a toilet for me. When I realized the best solution he had come up with was to go behind a tree, I decided to keep it, also because the desert is not exactly synonymous with lush vegetation.

Papu and Sushila floating in the air. Yes, guides can also do that
After the desert safari, we "casually" ended up at a 5-star hotel, so after avoiding the tree, I had the chance to try out a 5-star toilet. Still now Papu can't believe it: "I've never met anyone able to keep their wee for two hours."

The last city I've visited was Bikaner, famous for its temple devoted to mice: thousands of mice darting in and out so fast that at every step I made I was afraid to crash some. Like in every other temple, shoes were not allowed, and since mice are not my favourite pets, I threw my socks out after the holy visit.

With the benefit of the hindsight, I think I wouldn't have been able to enjoy India as much as I did without the aid of my local guides, who have definitely made my trip more colorful and authentic.


wandering educators said...

you know that having someone on the inside is the best way to learn about a culture. i LOVE this - you've got so many great guides (and friends!).

AngelaCorrias said...

True, these guides have made my trip special, giving me great insights on Indian society and making me want to go again, despite the food poisoning!
I'm so honored we are still in touch :)

Barbara Weibel said...

Angela - would love to know how much this tour cost?

AngelaCorrias said...

Hi Barbara, I'll reply to you privately and tell you about what was the price for me. Altough they do pretty tailored tours, you can choose the kind of hotels and where you want to go, so prices change accordingly and I don't know them all..
I will give you the email of the agency (just realized I didn't include it in the post!) so you can ask them directly.

RamblingTart said...

Oh you made me laugh with your descriptions of your food poisoning misery! One of my friends had a similar situation while visiting India, did not have the fortitude you did, and had to make do with a hole in an open field. :-)

AngelaCorrias said...

eheh I have strong will if I want :P
I've heard many people got food poisoning while in India, probably that's why my guide was so concerned since the beginning with recommendations. At the end, I didn't even get it particularly nasty!

Connie said...

Sounds like you've got a great Rajasthan trip! I enjoyed my time there as well! Having good guides that care about you is so important. I think there's nothing worse than getting a guide that just doesn't care about your own experience.

AngelaCorrias said...

I did have a great time indeed, people were friendly overall, would love to go back and spend more time to get to know them better :)

Fly Girl said...

What a wonderful experience! It sounds exactly how I want to explore India. I'm glad you only got sick once, I know how bad that can be on a trip.

AngelaCorrias said...

It was wonderful indeed, and I'm so glad I'm still in touch with the guys. I expected a nice trip, but that was well over expectations :)

Matt | YearAroundTheWorld said...

Great photos! I met a guy over here in Central America who drinks tap water in every country he goes to. It all started when he was forced to drink it in India.

After surviving it there, everywhere else was a piece of cake!

AngelaCorrias said...

LOL! What a stomach he has! True though, if he doesn't get sick in India, he will have no problem elsewhere ;)

Alice said...

Looks like the travel guides of India are one of the best in the world.

hindu blog said...

It's Marvellous post and also image. I liked it.

Rezervesana said...

Great article, great pictures.

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Bluegreen Kirk said...

I love the photos of the Taj Mahal. Never gets old. the new site looks great.

kiren said...

Rajasthan one of the main attraction for India visitors .Rajasthan is rich in culture and heritage.the people her are are welcoming and warm.if you visit India don't miss Rajasthanmurree hotels

Rajasthan Tours Operator said...

very nice artical u done a extramly fantastic job great

Rajasthan Tours said...

Excellent blog.

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