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November 8, 2012

Voices from Around the Globe: The road to Rajasthan

By Sam Aldridge
Cooperstown Crier

---- — Namasté! Kaise hai’?

Life in India is ... life in India. How can I otherwise explain something so wildly different from my previous culture in a single sentence? How can I describe a country that has never, can never and will never know uniformity?

In fact, though I have not been here long, it is much easier to acknowledge the differences between Indian states than between other countries. I realized this when I had just the opportunity, in the quickly receding but-not-so-distant past.

My school took me on a field trip to the state of Rajasthan, Gujarat’s (my state) northern neighbor. Rajasthan is known for its unique and exquisite culture. However, I had no idea just how different it would turn out to be.

We traveled by bus, so the trip was long and uncomfortable. The bus driver did not make things any easier by his continual habit of narrowly avoiding head-on collisions while passing slower vehicles in the other lane. I managed to fall asleep while we crossed the state border, but when I awoke, the passing surroundings that greeted my drowsy and dazed eyes were so changed that I wondered whether we had crossed into another country altogether.

The ethereal pink rays of the rising sun that stretched slowly over the horizon showed before me a wide and desolate desert. Having come from a land green with vegetation and flat as a crêpe, the low hills, brittle brush, and burning sands of Rajasthan were startling. Besides the natural differences, the first building I spotted clearly displayed an entirely new style of architecture. Then it was the language on the street signs; then the organization of the cities; then the clothing; then the music; then the physical appearance of the people themselves. I quickly learned not to underestimate the amount of change that can occur in just a few hours of travel in India.

Rajasthan’s main attractions are forts, situated on mountains overlooking the city. While in Jodhpur, we visited the more recently constructed residence of the royal family. It is located across the city from its 600-year old counterpart — a hazy silhouette above the bustling streets below. The palace had three sections: a hotel and restaurant, a museum, and the private quarters of the royal family that continue to live there.

Bargaining in markets, elaborate temples, a camel ride, ethnic dances and 20 hours on the bus found us back home in a state of utter exhaustion. But more interesting and far outlasting than the things we did there was the culture that so starkly contrasted with that of the state I had come from. In retrospect, it is not so surprising when you think about how there are more than 1,500 spoken languages and dialects, with just as many cultural traditions to go with them in the 26 states of India. More incredible, still, is the fact that, in the wake of all of these denominations, India manages to walk on two fast-growing legs to the tune of a single national anthem, under a single flag.

How does it work? There could be some rational explanations, but really, no answer is the best answer. Perhaps the thing to do is to sit back and enjoy the changing landscape from the bus window; to let it engulf you and your fledgling senses, and take you much further than a weekend tour.   

As for the next time I find myself traveling in the United States, I will be glad to know that I need know but one language and one culture, yet, at the same time, pine for this land of never-ending diversity and adventure.

Sam Aldridge is a Rotary Exchange student from Milford. To read more from him, visit thebarodasagas.wordpress.com.