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India

Rajasthan: From Jaipur to Jodhpur
By Xerxes N. Marduk (xerxes.marduk@gmail.com)

Published in the Summer 2006 Issue of Canadian World Traveller
Photos: Xerxes N. Marduk and Courtesy of India Tourism (www.incredibleindia.org)

As the train I had been waiting for rolled slowly into the Jaipur train station I collected my bags and walked along next to the slowing train, following the crowd towards the end of the platform.

My goal in India was to reach the Thar Desert, as I have always been attracted to dry, barren places. My first destination leaving Delhi was Jaipur on the edge of the desert, and then on to Jodhpur in the middle of the desert.

All Aboard!

While the train was still moving at a fairly good pace people began jumping on to it and grabbing hold of whatever they could. They even went so far as to hang on to others already jammed into the doorways of the train carriages.

I wondered if this is what I would have to do to get on, but fortunately, for this is not always the case, the train did come to a complete stop. Not knowing how long it would remain stationary for, I hopped on the nearest carriage I could and pushed my way through heaving Indian crowds, and frequent traffic jams, through six carriages to reach my seat.

I sat down breathless and sweating and asked a man across from me if my “reserved” seat meant it was really reserved. “No, sit anywhere.” He told me. I had already guessed as much by looking at the unconcealed chaos around me.

“From where do you come?” He asked me in slightly accented English. He guessed I was from Australia; I get that here a lot here for some reason. 

As we talked I found out he was a businessman born in Jaipur who lived with his infirm mother and had a wife and kids. I was grateful for his open and relaxed manner on this train where I knew no one else, and bound for a city where I knew no one at all.

Meeting a Hindu Family

The sun set in a fiery orb while the train sped through the largest salt lake in India. The land was coloured purple and red by the setting sun, and looked hauntingly desolate and beautiful.

At the next stop a family sat down on the bench next to me: a 14-year-old girl named Pooja who looked 19; her mother; her father; and her 7-year-old brother, named Vishnu. They all started talking to me at once. After I asked their names and ages, the first man I had spoken with said it was very rude to ask the age of a woman. When I said I was sorry to the family, we all laughed about it and put it behind us, thus I had passed my first test on Indian culture.

The passengers on the train showed an intense curiosity in me. Intense, because for most of the five-hour train ride, the people around me kept assailing me with a constant stream of questions. Curious, because I think I shook hands with most of the people on my carriage who all came up, one by one, to meet “the foreigner”. They were all extremely friendly… unbelievable so.

My new-found friends provided me with endless cups of chi in little disposable ceramic cups as well as a bewildering array of local snacks and food to try. They were friendlier in their own way than any other people in any other country that I have ever visited.

The man across from me said people would never, never, never accept money from me for their offerings. I was a guest in their home, which was India, he said. It got to the point where I couldn’t eat anymore and started putting the plastic-wrapped food into my backpack for later consumption.

From Where???

When I told them I was from California, some of them thought it was a place in Europe, while still others thought it was its own country. But they all liked the idea that my mom grew up in Hollywood and knew movie stars. They respected that, in part because of India’s own thriving movie industry in known as Bollywood. India’s movie-making capital Mumbai was formerly called Bombay.

I showed the people around me a card trick I had learned a few days earlier. They were so thrilled that I could do magic, that huge crowds gathered and demanded (in the nicest way imaginable, but still leaving no doubt that I would do their bidding), that I give repeat performances for everyone else on the car. In return, seven-year-old Vishnu showed me a constant stream of the card tricks he knew, which ranged from the simple to the simply amazing.

While Vishnu was clamouring in the nicest way possible, for my attention, his mother was smiling and looking at me in a way that made me wonder if she was going to try to get me to marry her daughter, who, I must say’ was quite attractive and spoke very good English. It would not have been the first time in my travels that some enterprising mother had seen me as a path to emigrating to America and a securing a better life for her daughter.

A Sign of Marital Status

Having to raise my voice to be heard over the crush of noise on the train, while at the same time trying to make eye contact with the dozen or so people who were trying to hold a conversation with me, was both difficult and draining, but at the same time immensely rewarding. For example, I learned that everybody on the train was Hindu, and that a red dot between a woman’s eyes was more of a fashion statement than a religious symbol. However, a red line a little further up near the women’s hair line meant she was married. The men wore no rings on their fingers, so there was no way to tell their marital status.

Vishnu’s older sister was interested in my beliefs and asked me to explain my religious ideology. I told them what I could about Christianity in a voice that was growing ever more hoarse from overuse.
She found it particularly interesting that the Christian heaven and hell closely resembled the Hindu belief in heaven and hell. We then realized that we just had different names for them.

A Welcome Rest

At 10 pm, sensing that I was tired, the father of the family next to me, who up until then had been quiet, said, “If you want to rest just tell us and we will go.” That was the ultimate in politeness, I thought. I said in a mild voice that I would like to rest for a while and the area around me became quiet and serene, as if a silent command had gone out throughout the carriage: the foreigner wants to rest now.

About an hour later Vishnu fell asleep with his head resting on my shoulder and this is how I awoke an hour later as we arrived at the Jodhpur train station. The boy’s mother told me, “He will miss you a lot.” And indeed, I knew that I would miss Vishnu too. In some way his sweet innocence seemed to capture the spirit of India.

Jodhpur Farewell

As soon as we got off the train, my fellow travellers all became more formal, as if they thought, “Okay, fun’s over, time to get back to real life.” This was my second Indian cultural lesson of the day. I parted with my temporary companions in the Jodhpur train station and thanked everyone many times over. I gave out my email address to those who asked for it, hoping to hear from them again, especially from Pooja. I left them all going their own ways into the dead of night and got into an auto rickshaw to take me to my hotel where I slept the sleep of the dead, because I was so very tired.

My traveling here has shown me that India is the most beautiful, adventurous and rewarding country that I have ever traveled in. And that’s saying a lot.

About the Author

Xerxes N. Marduk took his first trip in 2000 when he was 19, traveling to England, Wales, and Scotland. His goal is to travel to every continent by the time he was twenty-five, and this year he will complete that goal by traveling to South America. You can visit his web site at www.skygodproject.net, or contact him at xerxes.marduk@gmail.com.

For More Info on India

India Tourism
60 Bloor Street West, Suite 1003
Tel.: 416-962-3787
Toll-Free: 1-800-451-2716
Email: indiatourism@bellnet.ca
Website: www.incredibleindia.org