One of my favorite things about India was the mix of contrasts, rather it be old and new, wealthy and poor, clean and dirty. It wasn’t like Cape Town, South Africa, where there was a very stark difference between the shiny, nice waterfront area of the city and the townships that sprawled for what seemed like miles on end only about 10 minutes away. Instead, it wasn’t uncommon to see men pulling goods on an overloaded rickshaw right beside dozens of cars all pushing to reach the same place, older women dressed in beautiful saris carrying young children in jeans, or trash littering a beautiful location.
I initially noticed this while in Jaipur, the first stop on my trip. Jaipur is an easy city to fall in love with, which I did quickly. The city is sprinkled with beautiful attractions and treats all visitors well. Jaipur moves fast, yet slow at the same time. A small example can be found in the traffic—where every car and scooter is doing all it can to reach its destination as quickly as possible, some pedestrians weave through traffic in a pace close to moseying. The Old City, the reason Jaipur is known as “The Pink City” due to its terra cotta façade, pops up unannounced and, if I wasn’t paying attention, we could be through one gate and out another before I even knew it. In the Old City, the buildings around such attractions as the Hawa Mahal (Wind Palace) and City Palace have been turned into gift shops, fabric sellers, and if one walks through this area without being called after by store owners, he or she is lucky.
On my first night in Jaipur, a lavish wedding procession marched through the dusty streets as if it was a perfectly normal custom—which it probably is. One mall we visited to eat lunch was surrounded by makeshift tents with children playing games in the center. Speaking of children playing games, we watched a group of school children play a version of tag, Kabbadi, with the impressive Amber Fort looming in the background.
And speaking of Amber Fort, I was fascinated by the area surrounding the forts—newer homes were built literally right beside crumbling structures, all nestled into a hillside together with the shadows of the forts looming over them. Temples and mosques jump out wherever they can find space, sometimes as small as a room and other times as large and beautiful as Birla Mandir. Jaipur didn’t seem like Rome, where city had been built upon city had been built upon city. Delhi was a little more like this, where in Jaipur, it seemed to be that instead of building upon old structures or replacing them, new structures occupied any empty spaces left.
In short, there is a stark difference in contrasting elements, but instead of being separated, they’re all mixed together in one confusing, wonderful, messy, beautiful blur. I believe India is a country that is often stereotyped or turned into a novelty; when one sees a woman wearing a sari in America, it’s treated as a mystical element, a far-off, make-believe concept. In India, it’s everyday custom. India is also a country that is hard to describe; when one sees a woman washing fruit in a space over a drain on the side of the road, it’s hard to describe without a stereotype landing over the person and the country as well. I’m sure some who read this will still take that past sentence as me attempting to stereotype the country. But once someone goes to India, witnessing something completely different than anything he or she has ever witnessed before, puzzle pieces start to fall in place and one will begin to notice how the country just flows together, like the massive rivers that cut through the country’s land mass. India is unapologetically India. In my opinion, the country makes no effort to pretend it’s something it’s not—it just is, and people can interpret this however they need be.