I would be so racist against Indian people by now if I hadn’t taken so many trains. In a place like India, my white skin makes me a huge target because of my perceived level of wealth. As such, most of the interactions I have with locals are about money, and the unfortunate majority of them are not positive. Traveling through this kind of environment, it's easy to get cynical. My saving grace throughout my whole time in India was my time on the trains.
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In Asian markets, there is always a huge diversity of marine life packed in ice, frozen in suspended animation, or floundering/wriggling/writhing, being kept alive in 2 inches of water. Some of these specimens are small, but others are freaking sea monsters! It looks like the cast list for one of National Geographic's "deep sea" segments all got caught in the same net. You’ll find the same smorgasbord of marine animals in cities inland as you will in coastal ones, and whenever I bear witness to it, I always find myself wondering the same thing: how did these fish get here? You'd never see fish like that in American supermarkets, so I’ve always been curious. In Mumbai, I finally got the chance to see some of the supply chain, and it did not disappoint.
Mumbai's Kamathipura is the oldest red-light district on the Indian subcontinent, and is the 2nd largest on the entire continent of Asia. The 1st largest is Calcutta, which is something that I didn’t realize when I was actually there. If I had we probably would have paid it a visit, like we're about to do in Mumbai.
My last stop in India: Mumbai Mumbai was actually called Bombay up until 1995, when the government changed the name. Similar to the name change from Calcutta to Kolkata, the Indian government felt that Bombay was representative of lingering British colonial influence. "Mumbai" is apparently the more authentically Indian pronunciation, so they made it official. If you ask me, India needs to cool it with all the name changes.
After a day's train ride out towards the West Indian border from Jodhpur, I arrived in Jaisalmer. From Jaisalmer, I hired a jeep to take me farther out into the nothingness of the Thar Desert, stopping through an old Rajasthani ghost town on the way. The last article left off where the road ended. We had been on rough, gravel roads for hours at this point, so we were on the actual edge of India. From here there would be nothing but sand and shrubs until Pakistan. So where were we...
From Jodhpur I hopped onto an over-night train bound for the desert outpost Jaisalmer. Jaisalmer is the last substantial piece of civilization before the Thar Desert (also called the Great Indian Desert). This desert forms a natural boundary between India and Pakistan. Beyond Jaisalmer is nothing but shrubs, dunes, and nomadic goat herders until the border.
This was a highly anticipated destination for me. A long, long time ago, in my suburban, Midwestern, teenage angst, amidst my endless internet searches for all the far away places I would go one day (and boobs), I came across the work of a photographer named Steve McCurry. He had taken the most amazing photographs of places I had never even heard of, one of them being a city that was painted entirely blue, in some far off land. I was enthralled as I clicked through the pictures of children running down the distinct, baby blue alleyways. I don’t remember ever bothering to see exactly where the photos had been taken, as the practicalities of actually getting to places like this had no application for the younger me, who was trapped. The older me however, made a point to dig these photos back up, and figure out how to get himself there.
Welcome to Rajasthan! Land of those awesome, stereotypical, curly mustaches that Indians have. I have been looking forward to coming to this province of India for a while now. So let’s get started. My first stop in Rajasthan was a city called Pushkar. The jumping off point for this little gem is a city called Ajmer.
I had gone back and forth about whether or not I would actually visit this shrine to tourism. Was it really worth my time? At that point I was leaning towards skipping it. Maybe it was a genuine change of heart, or maybe it that thick southern accent triggering my American nostalgia, but I decided that this guy was preaching the truth. As much as I hated it, I was pretty much obligated to go.
If that title doesn’t get you excited, then I don’t know what will! I’m not going to sugar coat it though – New Delhi sucks. This is not going to be as interesting as some of the last few posts, regretfully. But even so, let me fill you in on what this city is all about. New Delhi is the capital of India, as well as the nation's largest city. Almost 22 million people call its metropolitan area home, ranking it as the 5th largest city in the world, and the 1st largest city I've visited so far.