katrinasadventures' Travel Journals


  • From Massachusetts, United States
  • Currently in Jakarta, Indonesia

Fall 2009: Northwest India

Join Katrina as she shares her adventures, stories and feelings throughout her journey across India's spiritual land. Traveling with a consortium of New York Schools (Hamilton, St. Lawrence, Hobart and William Smith, and Colgate), Katrina will spend time in various locations, such as Musoorie, Delhi, Jaipur, and Varanasi.

The Beginning of the Jaipur Homestay!

India Jaipur, India  |  Oct 13, 2009
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Sunday, October 11th: A little vacation in Rajasthan

Today was a nice, relaxing day with the sun blazing and birds singing.  Hannah and I were roommates again and we woke up pretty late around 930.  The room was humid, so it felt nice to hop down the marble staircases out onto the fresh air.  We went into the dining room and binged on the delicious foods that were set out in a buffet.  There were omelets, toast, granola, pineapple, yogurt, papaya, and various other beautiful breakfast foods.  Even though our bellies were full, we still were motivated to get our money’s worth of pool time.  We jumped in the pool and pretty much stayed there until the late afternoon.  I came out a few times for a balcony workout with Jori and Milly, as well as for an orientation meeting on what we were to expect in this pink city of Jaipur.  Eventually, it was time to get ready to meet our home stay families for afternoon tea.

Marissa and I waited anxiously for our family.  An older woman, in her early 60s, showed up in a gray kameez.  This woman was our host mother and seemed very relaxed to be here picking us up.  Apparently, she had been a host since 1992.  Yikes!  I told her that it was a competition to be the best host kids… I think that we may be in the running.  We learned that she was a gynecologist and that she had seven other siblings.  Her parents, who had been married at the ages of 14 and 12, were quite liberal for their time and emphasized education for women.  They also stressed the importance of finding a good match for a spouse, which explains why Mirduna and two of her sisters never married (this is considered taboo in Indian culture… but that is slowly changing).  Well, after a 15 minute car ride around the active city, we arrived at our home. 

We drove into a pretty spacious complex with some yellow grass in the front and buildings and cement covering 75% of the property.  There were motorcycles chucked into the side of the open “garage” and a bathroom that greeted you as soon as you opened the car door.  The bathroom was the first room at you had to go through to get into the house. This is because traditionally the untouchables would come and clean only the bathroom, the only part of the house that they could enter.  Marissa and I did not really get a chance to go into the main house and were instead shown to a building in the back of the property.  This was going to be our home for the next six weeks. 

The building was pretty nice, aside from all the clutter around… mom, I think that you would spend a few months trying to clean out this place.  You see, it looks like we live in a garage sale.  Things are organized by piles of randomness.  There are many nooks filled with various pieces.  For example, in Marissa’s room, across from her bed she has a glass cabinet that contains pictures of the family, the family saint, a remote control, a deck of cards, plugs.  It seems like the place once had order, but then with time this organization was given up upon and things were just tossed in anywhere it could fit.  There are two suitcases in the kitchen, as well as some wheat-bix that I ate and later found out had meal worms in it…

 Back to the day’s events, even though I was ready to go to bed, at around 830pm we wandered in to dinner and went into the kitchen to help make chapattis.  I ended up making a square chapatti rather than a round one… they told me that I had made a roti… hmmm… well we ate a typical dhal, rice, veggies with spices meal.  It was nice having dinner in a type of family setting; however, we only ate with Mirduna and her niece in law, Deepali.  We sat at a table next to the wall that was decorated festively with colorful mats covered in pictures of fruit.  During dinner, our mom asked us what we wanted for breakfast.  While Marissa was enthusiastic for porridge, I said that I wanted eggs.  She looked at us with big eyes and was a bit taken aback, “Eggs?!?  We are Brahmin.  We don’t eat meat.  The dog eats eggs”.  Oops! I guess she wanted me to eat with the dog.  It interesting because I am a vegetarian and do not eat dairy, but she is vegetarian and eats dairy products, but not eggs.  We have inverse diets.  After the typical Indian meal, with ghee (clarified butter) galore on the chapatti, we discussed with our mom and her niece-in-law.  Deepali, lives in Ottawa, Canada and just had a son six months ago, who is a Canadian citizen.  She is here in India for nine months on maternity leave (and is getting paid since Canada is nice).  Her husband is arriving in a few days for the Dewali celebration that is taking place this weekend. 

Monday, October 12, 2009:

            After a humid night’s sleep, I emerged from my hard bed.  I was a little soar, either from the bed or work out yesterday, and so it was difficult to motivate myself to go on a walk.  I finally got outside the premises of our home and walked a little loop around the neighborhood.  There were many other houses on the road with peacocks wandering freely.  The street cleaners were out and about tidying up the sidewalks.  Once I turned off the road, I found myself on a hectic, dirty road.  There were several people lying on the urine-smelling streets.  Many rickshaw drivers were getting their zzzz’s in their cart, their one asset.  I was a little taken aback with how close our home was to the hub-bub of the city.  I had assumed that we would be in a more segregated, residential area.  Not the case. 

We have a kitchen in our little shed and so after my walk around the neighborhood, I decided to prepare tea for my porridge.  When I went to switch the toaster plug with the hot water heater… I got electrocuted.  I think that I burned the tips of my cuticles off.  It was quite painful! Meanwhile, Marissa was on the phone with her mom and heard me jump up and yell “F*CK”…. A few minutes later, our mom came by and told us to come out in the front yard to watch the women who were here blessing Deepali’s new born son.   These women had very nasal voices and muscular builds, as seen by the video I uploaded.  These women were in fact Hijras, or transvestites.  As the Lonely Planet mentions “they work mainly as uninvited entertainers at weddings and celebrations of the birth of male children, and as prostitutes”.  They have difficult lives because they are shunned by their family and cannot find formal jobs.  Therefore, they use street networks to find where newborn babies live and hassle families to pay for blessings.

After a 15 minute drive, we eventually found the house that we were studying at.  The place looked like just another house with a little driveway, but turns out there were a bunch of classrooms in the area.  Once Marissa and I discovered where our classroom was hidden, we sat down with the rest of the group and gossiped about our first night at our home stay.  Turns out some people had some great times, while others not so much.  Jori and Rebecca woke up at 530pm to go on a run with their “father”, while Chelsea and Lisa elaborated on their on their tiny room, squatter toilet, and bed bugs.  Matt didn’t help their situation when he boasted about his marble home and luxurious room. 

            Finally, Hindi classes started and we painfully reviewed nouns that we had learned at the Landor School.  During the lectures in this program, it has been a little frustrating for many members of the group, especially those who had significant knowledge in Indian studies.  There is a lot of repetition and almost belittling by the professors.  Often, they ask us if we know of “the goddess who wears an elephant head” or “the trinity of Hinduism”…. Sometimes, the way in which we are lectured is frustrating but it is understandable in other ways since the lecturers are guests and are not prepped on what knowledge we have.  Although, I wonder if the first assumption of Americans is that we are ignorant and uninformed…

            It was difficult getting back into the role of being a student in a classroom and so I looked forward to my favorite period: LUNCH!  Today we had five pieces of chapatti with a heavily oiled, vegetable dish.  They also gave us yogurt that looked funky after being in our hot packs bags for the morning.  After our little lunchie, Marissa and I walked home and visited Anna and Kim’s house along the way.  They have an older couple as their parents.  It seems like they have the exact opposite type of family.  They have their own room off of the main house, but their “house” is miraculously neat.  Their house is spotlessly neat versus our cluttered, only two people and two servants live there versus seven people with more family coming in and out, and the house is located in a quiet neighborhood versus crowded and loud one.  Overall, Anna and Kim agree that their circumstances are a bit subpar since their mom is a bit of a controlling mother. She wants to know where the girls are and when they get back from school.  (at one point, Anna and Kim lied to her saying that they were going to meet up with the group, but ended up exploring the old district on their own… they needed a little freedom…)  She is diabetic and so has a strict eating regime that transfers over to her two “daughters”.  Anna and Kim are fed rationed diets with specific mixes of foods, for instance they cannot mix fruit with many foods and so often do not have fruit.  Their mother stays at home and has problems seeing, so

            Marissa and I walked back home, testing out our navigational skills in this organized, but very Indian city.  When we got home, I ran into one of the nephews, who was a physical therapist (following the medical prestige of the family). 

When I was talking to him, I noticed that he kept a good distance from me while we were conversing.  Whenever I would go closer to him to hear what he was saying better, he would back up a little bit more.  Did I have bad breath?  Did he have bad breath?  I found that interaction quite curious.  The rest of the Monday we learned more about the family life over dinner, eating again only with Mridula and Deepoli (the other members of the family either seemed to eat at different times or in the kitchen… we ate in the hall).


Tuesday, October 13:

            I woke up at 630 to join Deepali in our exploration of central park and the free yoga that was offered.  We expected some intense power yoga, but realized when we got there that it was more relaxed, stretching yoga for, as she put it, the “senior citizens” of the city.  After a few lying-down stretches (and most women did this in their nice saris, in fact, there were only a handful of women wearing sweatpants in the park and the rest were wearing kameez and saris, while the men wore t-shirts and shorts), we decided to circle around the park.  Deepali is the niece-in law of our mother.  She met her husband through an online program that arranges marriages for those who would like to look outside of their family networks.  She is very interested in losing her pregnancy weight, so she has become my work out buddy for the time being.  The rest of the morning consisted of relaxation, studying, and learning about the history of Rajasthan by Rima Hooja at the University: 


WELCOME TO RAJASTHAN:  Rajasthan is the largest state of the Republic of India in terms of area. It encompasses most of the area of the large, inhospitable Great Indian Desert (Thar Desert), which has an edge paralleling the Sutlej-Indus river valley along its border with Pakistan. The state capital is Jaipur. One of the world's oldest mountain ranges, the Aravalli Range, cradles the only hill station of Rajasthan, Mount Abu, and its world-famous Dilwara Temples, a sacred pilgrimage for Jains. Eastern Rajasthan has two national tiger reserves, Ranthambore and Sariska, as well as Keoladeo National Park near Bharatpur, once famous for its bird life.

Ancient Hindu scriptural epics make reference to sites in present day Rajasthan. The holy pilgrimage site of Pushkar is mentioned in both the Mahabharata and Ramayana. The Indus Valley Civilization, one of the world's first and oldest civilizations, was located in part of what is now Rajasthan. In fact, Rajasthan was a major provincial capital of the Indus Valley Civilization. Many tribes suffered great difficulties to protect their culture and the land. Millions of them were martyred for this land. 

Rajasthan means the Land of the Kings. Modern Rajasthan includes most of Rajputana, which comprises mainly Rajput kingdoms, as well as two Jat kingdoms and a Muslim kingdom. Jodhpur, Bikaner, Udaipur, and Jaipur were some of the main Rajput states. Rajput families rose to prominence in the 6th century CE. The Rajputs put a very valiant resistance to the Islamic invasions and protected this land with their warfare and chivalry for more than 500 years. They also resisted Mughal incursions into India, but contributed to the slower than anticipated access to the Indian Subcontinent. Later The Mughals, with a technique based on the combination of treachery and skilled warfare, were able to set firm grip on northern India. The fighter spirit and valor of Rajputs impressed the Mughals to such an extent that they started treating their Rajput aides as the backbone of their Kingdom. Even after defeating, the Mughals took Rajput valor and value in highest esteem.

Over the years, resistance against the Mughals grew. Most of these attacks were evenly met as the Mughals outnumbered Rajputs in all the wars fought between them; however, over the years the Mughals began to have internal disputes which took their concentration away at times. With Pathan warriors from neighboring Afghanistan and the British Empire threat,  the Mughal Empire eventually weakened to which several groups across their kingdom (including Sikhs) saw opportunities to establish their power whilst the army was fighting somewhere else. The Rajputs saw this as an opportunity to reassert their independence. With the decline of the Mughal Empire in the 18th century, Rajputana came under attack.  Rajput kings following a rapid defeat, concluded treaties with the British in the early 19th century, accepting British sovereignty in return for local autonomy. Following the Mughal tradition as well as its strategic location Ajmer became a province of British India, while the autonomous Rajput states, the Muslim state Tonk, and the Jat states (Bharatpur and Dholpur) were organized into the Rajputana Agency.

Meanwhile, the Marathas continued to mount raids on the Rajputs. Initially the British adopted a policy of neutrality towards the feuding parties. However, the British eventually stepped into the fray, negotiating treaties with the leaders of the main Rajput states. British protection was offered in return for Rajput support. Weakened by habitual fighting between themselves and in their skirmishes with the Marathas, one by one the princely states forfeited their independence in exchange for this protection. British residents were gradually installed in the princely states. The British ultimately eliminated the Maratha threat, but by this stage the Rajputs were effectively reduced to puppet leaders and lackeys of the British.

While the Rajput leaders enjoyed the status and prestige of their positions, discontent was manifesting itself among numbers of their subjects, which broke out in rebellion in 1857. This rebellion proved to be a precursor to widespread opposition to British rule throughout India. It was Mahatma Gandhi, who galvanized the peasants and villagers into then on-violent resistance which was to spear-head the nationalist movement. By the time WWII was concluded, Indian independence was inevitable. The war dealt a deathblow to colonialism and the myth of European superiority, and Britain no longer had the power nor the desire to maintain a vast empire.

Within India, however, a major problem had developed: the large Muslim minority had realized that an independent India would also be a Hindu-dominated India. The country was divided along purely religious lines.  In 1948, Rajasthan comprised the south and south-eastern states of Rajputana. With the merger of Mewar, Udaipur became the capital of the United State of Rajasthan. The Maharana of Udaipur was invested with the title of rajpramukh (head of state). Almost from the outset the prime minister came into opposition with the Rajpramukh over the constitution of the state government ministry.   Jagirdars traditionally acted as intermediaries between the tillers of the soil (the peasants) and the state, taking rent or produce from the tenants and paying tribute to the princely ruler. They were symbols of the old feudal order, for which millions of inhabitants of Rajputana were held in serfdom. Varma was keen to abolish the age-old system of jagirdari and, with Nehru's support, was able to install his own Congress ministry and do away with this feudal relic. Rajasthan merged 22 kingdoms and two chieftains to become the second largest state in India. 

Many of the former rulers of Rajasthan continue to use the title of maharaja for social purposes. The only power this title holds today is as a status symbol. Since the Privy Purse abolition, the princes have had to financially support themselves. Some hastily sold valuable heirlooms and properties for literally nothing, in a desperate attempt to pay bills. While a handful of princes squandered their family fortunes, others refused to surrender their heritage, and turned their hands to business, politics or other vocations. Many decided to convert their palaces into hotels as a means of earning income. The revenue earned from such hotels has enabled the maharajas to maintain their properties, sustain time-honored family traditions and continue to lead a comfortable lifestyle. However, not all palaces are on the tourist circuit and cannot rely purely on tourism as a source of steady income. Many palaces and forts are tucked away in remote parts of Rajasthan, and have been reluctantly handed over to the government, because the owners were simply unable to maintain them. Unfortunately, many of these rich vestiges of India's royal past are poorly maintained.

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rajasthan, http://www.umaidbhawan.com/history.htm


Then, we all met our project advisors.  Mine is a botanist that enjoys going on tangents.  After our chai-meeting, Marissa and I walked back home in the heat of the mid day.  The walk from the University campus allowed us to explore another aspect of city… essentially busy, straight roads, with lots of rickshaw harassment (which seem to be more expensive compared to other cities).  We finally found our way back after getting little lost.  Around our home are many nice schools (primary to secondary) with large gates and uniformed guards in front of the institutions.  All of the children wore uniforms, but it was confusing as to why they were at school because they were supposed to be on holiday vacation (Dewali is equivalent to Christmas and New Years).  This afternoon we were meant to go shopping with Deepali but she was at a spa preparing for her husband who was arriving from Canada the next day.  Therefore, Marissa and I spent the afternoon in our cave-like rooms (it’s almost like we resemble vampires in the afternoons because we lie in the dark on our beds). 

At dinner, we learned about our complicated home-stay family and I was reminded of the Engelsted family when they gossiped about each sibling.  Essentially, most of the family members are involved in the medical profession, from child specialists to physical therapists.  I asked our mom where the lawyers were in the family?  She chuckled…


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