Life just goes by so fast. I can’t believe we only have about a month left! I am trying my best to keep up with news at home. It is a strange way to experience the election from this far away. I am simultaneously sad and glad to be somewhat removed. I can’t imagine what it will be like to hear the results in a couple days time. Fingers crossed I cry tears of relief and not sadness.
The week before last we were in Udaipur, a beautiful city on the edge of a large manmade lake. It felt a little bit like Europe, or what I think Europe would be like. This impression was helped by the many white people we saw, as it is a big tourist destination. I never meet many Americans; it’s always mostly people from closer places. The narrow streets were windy and lined with little shops selling clothes, tapestries, trinkets, jewelry, paintings, notebooks and anything else for which tourists would pay way too much.
We went to a beautiful old Palace restored into a museum, and took a short boat ride on the lake to a little island in the middle. Also, we watched a dance show and had two delicious dinners at our hotel’s restaurant right on the water. Our hotel was amazing, nicer than any hotel I could stay in on my own budget. The rooms sat right on the water and there were lots of jasmine trees.
One of the days in the middle of the week we drove to a Jain temple. It was made of intricately carved white marble. It was so peaceful and cool inside. I had one of those “wow I’m in an ancient temple in India right now” moments, which I haven’t had in awhile, so that was nice. We stayed at an old castle that night. The woman who ran the hotel does a lot of social work helping the locals grow sustainable organic produce. It was kind of spooky—my friend Mo and I read Harry Potter out loud to each other, which seemed fitting given the location.
Then we returned to our host families for the weekend to celebrate Diwali—a festival of lights. It felt like Christmas and New Years all wrapped up into one. All the cousins and aunts and uncles that also lived in the apartment building walked up and down the stairs sharing sweets and taking pictures together. All of us girls got saris made for the occasion because everyone dressed up in their brightest colors. The little cousins gleefully ran a few feet away as they lit fireworks and sparklers. The streets were alive with a sound I imagine as similar to war—there are absolutely no regulations on fireworks—and I was more than a little nervous. The quieter parts of the celebration were beautiful, though. The entire family gathered in a room in the grandmother’s house for the puja (a prayer/ceremony). It is fascinating watching a religious ritual when you don’t know the significance behind the motions, the chanting, the flowers and candles. The mysterious meaning is reflected on the faces of the others in the room. Diwali went on for a day after we left Jaipur. It seemed to be mixed a little with Halloween; my host mother sent me pictures of all the cousins together, the littlest one dressed as a ghost.
So, I packed up my backpacking backpack and the extra duffel bag I had acquired to carry all my gifts for my endless list of friends and family. I said a sad goodbye to my sleepy mother and squeezed my sister’s hand before heading out the door. My friend Kristiana and I then spent the day traveling south to Calangute, Goa.
Goa is a vacation destination: palm trees, banana trees, white sand beaches. The roads are crowded with tourists in flip flops and shorts—Indian and European alike. Apparently a lot of people have a holiday after Dewali. Our hotel is a little oasis: I could spend the rest of the semester floating in the blue-tiled pool. The beaches are beautiful, but the men constantly asking, “Madame, may I take a selfie with you?” gets pretty tiring. Anyway, I can’t complain at all. I appreciate a soft bed and a hot shower even more than I would have before—these luxuries plus a TV with on demand movies seems like a dream.
Sadly, tomorrow we leave our little bit of paradise to meet the group back in Delhi. We are there for a quick day and then head to Varanasi for two weeks. I don’t really know what to expect, but I am sure the weeks will fly by full as ever with adventures—and maybe some school work thrown in there.