I spent all day Saturday in a dream-like state, wandering through the paradise that is Udaipur, Rajasthan, a city of white marble built on the sparkling Lake Pichola. I woke up to watch the sun rise from my hostel rooftop, watching boats lazily drift by. I then ate breakfast at the famed Ambrai restaurant, opposite Taj Lake Palace, a summer home for royalty that is now converted into one of the most famous and luxurious hotels in India. I spent my day getting lost in little alleys and side streets, eating and drinking chai on rooftop restaurants overlooking the ghats.
Sunday was spent with new friends from the hostel, driving our rented motorcycles all through Udaipur, ending up at Lake Badi, where we went swimming for hours under the bluest sky and most beautiful mountain range backdrop I’d ever seen. Udaipur was the paradise vacation I needed from the chaos of living in the big, colorful, and chaotic city of Jaipur. This weekend refreshed me and gave me a glimpse of the peaceful side of India that I hadn’t had the chance to see yet.
Inspired by my weekend in Udaipur, I decided to take a long weekend and spend Monday visiting Marianne in New Delhi. 14 hours later, I got off my sleeper bus and arrived in Delhi, and all the peaceful tranquility and bliss I had been happily enjoying in Udaipur was instantly gone. Delhi is like Jaipur and New York City and Tokyo combined in one, but with even more smells and noise and overwhelming but fascinating chaos. In two days, I had gone from lounging lakeside in a city known for its romance and beauty to volunteering with Marianne in the slums in the capital of India, known for its rawness and chaos.
These two cities are like night and day; they could not possibly be more different. It was hard to believe that these two cities were even in the same country. I felt confident and self-assured in Udaipur with my newfound friends and the welcoming nature of the city and people. But from the moment I arrived in Delhi, I felt more like a foreigner than I’ve felt in my last five weeks in Jaipur. I asked Marianne to show me “the real Delhi,” which I definitely got a taste for in Chandni Chowk. I would have felt so lost without Marianne, and felt like I was clinging to her side trying not to get run over by an erratic tuktuk driver the whole time. It gave me hope hearing how she once also felt this way, the overwhelming “Oh my god what am I doing here am I going to die can I go back to Udaipur now” feeling that I felt the entire time in Chandni Chowk.
The difference in atmosphere, architecture, size, and everything else between Udaipur and Delhi got me thinking about how much contrast I have in my own daily life here in Jaipur. I work in a modern three story office complex under a United States-raised but of Indian heritage CEO. The neighborhood the office is in is shared by the Chief Minister’s private home, with beautiful mansions and office buildings flanking ours. But to get to this luxe area of Jaipur, everyday I walk past the same row of shacks set up on the street, a home for the two or three families that live on the busy road, spending every day begging for money or selling balloons and toys.
Jaipur itself feels like it is full of so many contrasting beliefs and ideals. It’s a huge, modern city, with shopping complexes, movie theaters, and trendy cafes on every block that exclusively play underground indie music, and where you can find acai bowls and avocado toast on the same page of the menu as traditional Rajasthani thalis. But it’s also very traditional in so many ways, which I’m still learning more about every day. There are the obvious signs of traditional Rajasthani culture everywhere, like the ruins and forts scattered throughout the city, and the small temples I stumble upon everyday. People ride in camel-drawn carts throughout the old city and through the classically colorful Jaipur markets, but passing banners advertising the newest startup or Hollywood movie, things that give it the illusion of being modern. It’s a fascinating mix of old and new, tradition and change— a dynamic that I’ve seen all throughout my time in India.
I was expecting some of this contrast, having heard about India’s huge disparity in wealth, where some of the richest people in the world can live just blocks away from the slums. This contrast is talked about in pretty much every travel blog or book about India, but it’s a whole different matter actually seeing it firsthand. As my internship draws to a close in the next few weeks, I’m beginning to plan my three weeks of travel. I’m drawn to the peace and spirituality of cities like Udaipur, but my three days in three unique cities also showed me how much India has to offer. I’m planning on making my way up north in those three weeks, ending in Rishikesh and Dharamshala to experience more of the peaceful side of India I’m intrigued by, but stopping along the way in various cities to break up my experience and allow me to see as many different sides of India as possible. Those three days were a whirlwind experience, but showed me the incredible diversity and contrast India has to offer; something I hope to continue experiencing in my last month.