Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rajasthan Countryside and People, via Bus

Leaving Udaipur the next afternoon I took a 5hr Rajasthan State bus to Jodhpur. Painfully no AC buses run between the two. Apparently no AC routes exist in Rajasthan to anywhere, despite this being infamously one of the hottest states in India. With no AC, if I left my bag on my lap for security, my lap was too hot. If my arms were too bent, the skin inside my elbows started sweating. If I held a water bottle, my palm was sweating. Pretty much you try not to touch anything. The goal is to make no part of your body touch any other object or any other part of your body in order to maximize the body surface area exposed to the airflow. You want the smallest amount of your body possible to touch the seat, so you're poised on the very edge, but you want your arms and legs not touching your body or the seat either. The balancing act here is a bit tricky. I was sitting in the first seat behind the driver, with an Indian woman, her suitcase, and her 2 children all sharing the window seat next to me, and part of the time with a fat Indian woman standing in the aisle and leaning on me.

During this ride, we experienced another one of the wind-dust-with-a-touch-of-rain storms. We had to close the windows to protect ourselves from the dust. I did this hesitantly, trying to decide whether it was worse to get dust blown into my face, lungs, and eyes, or to die of heatstroke within the closed bus. The 1955 bus we were taking apparently predated windshield wipers, so I watched as our windshield became covered with dust and then flecked with water drops until it was nearly impossible to see anything. This seemed concerning until the bus driver took a bottle of water and reached around through his window to splash it onto the windshield. Perhaps this is what they did before windshield wipers.

I was the only non-Indian on every bus I took through Rajasthan. Whenever we would stop to on or offload people (this was very very frequently), people would try to sell water and food through the windows. They were convinced that I wanted these goods 10x more than any Indian person ever would, and therefore inevitably stopped outside my window, banging on it and yelling and trying to thrust their goods inside.

I'll also mention on bus travel that apparently every bus through Rajasthan is 4.5 hrs. This is a lie. There is no 4.5 hr bus to anywhere in India because obviously this would be way too short a time to spend on these magnificently luxurious 1955 buses. My "4.5 hr" bus from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer was 7. Usually 4.5 means 6. I don't know why they try to pretend that this will be a 4.5 hr busride. Why not just make the inevitably later arrival time official?

The style of dress is much different in Rajasthan. Instead of the traditional sari, women wear long skirts with matching long shirts, often in floral patterns, with a huge piece of translucent chiffon-like fabric that they drape around their back and up over their hair, sometimes even pulling it down over their faces like a veil. Apparently this is a tradition in Rajasthan that the women would always stay behind special blinds where they could look out but others could not look in, so they would never be seen. Both men and women put red coloring between their eyebrows. Gold jewelry and piercings are very big--all the men and young boys wear flower-shaped gold stud earrings, and the women and young girls have their noses pierced, sometimes with quarter-sized or larger gold hoops in the nose. The women wear bangles from their wrists up to their shoulders, and very ornate gold earrings that drape over the entire ear. They also have gold headbands in their hair (hidden by the veils). They smudge dark makeup around the eyes of children and babies, both boys and girls. The men wear loose white pants and long white shirts with cloth turbans wrapped around their heads of various shapes and colors, and pointy-toed leather slippers.

Taking the bus by day it was fun to watch all these people get on and off the bus, going about their lives in the towns we were passing. Part of the road also passed through a nature reserve, where mostly I saw a ton of monkeys (the 3rd different type of monkey I have seen in India thus far). The bus driver had brought cookies for the monkeys, and when we saw them he would slow down and the conductor would throw the cookies out the windows for the monkeys.

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