An Indiana Jones hat and the Temple of Jain

Trip Start May 17, 2012
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Trip End Jun 03, 2012


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Flag of India  , Rajasthan,
Wednesday, May 23, 2012

(S) Our day started bright and early as we had a car and driver for the day. His name is Ajay and he is great, young, funny, and has great hair. He says funny things like "welcome to my boss's car!" when we climb in. He also has a wife and 15 month old daughter and is starting his own car business in July. Ajay is rightfully proud of this and we wholeheartedly recommend him for any travel needs you have while in Rajasthan.

Ajay tells us funny stories on the drive and says “my got” a lot when other drivers do stupid things, which is every second on the Indian highways. There is constant honking on the roads here, mostly used to communicate all manner of things to other drivers, like “hey, there are 25 cows and monkeys on the road up there, so you might not want to pass that fuel truck on this blind curve” or “my car seems to be too wide to go down this narrow street and I now need to turn around without running over all these mopeds, so could you kindly move?” Ajay says there would be no need to honk if everyone followed the rules, which of course no one does. It’s no wonder so many people die on the highways in this country every year – the driving is treacherous! Oh, and as I always tell Chad, the odds of something bad happening go up exponentially because there are 1.2 billion people in this country. Anyway, Ajay tells us how his car has never hit or killed another living creature. He also tells us of his beloved German shepherd, Atlas. This is news to us, as we have only seen stray dogs up until this point. We hadn’t seen anyone have actual pets, just very skinny mongrels on the streets. We later learned that if you have a domesticated dog, odds are it is a German shepherd. We are not quite sure why. I would blame the Nazi’s but I am not entirely sure it works this time. After all, that’s a different Indiana Jones movie altogether.

Ajay also tells us the Indian government is “very careless” and does not take care of its priceless treasures. They instead keep the money for themselves or use for other nefarious purposes. Because of this rampant carelessness, things are falling apart, like the 500 year old forts, temples, roads, metro systems, and the holy cows are not getting fed. A final note on what makes Ajay stand out (besides his great driving) – he doesn’t like when people throw trash out of their cars onto the road. And believe me, this is a problem. Garbage is EVERYWHERE in India. Everywhere. In fact, you often see cows and dogs eating plastic garbage in the cities, which is heartbreaking and I longed for a delicious piece of cow cake to feed the more famished looking girls. I once said these poor zebu cows would die of happiness if they could be dropped onto a green meadow on Pumpkin Creek. Anyway, when Ajay saw a van drop a bunch of garbage out their window, he pulled up aside and honked and made all sorts of crazy gestures to the driver. The driver then pulled over, thinking he had a flat tire or something. Ajay just drove off, giggling. So did I. Chad always says they haven’t seen the “Crying Indian” commercial of his childhood (neither have I). I tell him that takes on a whole different meaning here. He doesn’t listen. Oh one more thing about Ajay: he constantly says “incredible India” when we see amazing things, which could be as simple as buffalo swimming in a pond. He’s right. It’s incredible.

Our first stop was Eklingji, which is a tiny village northeast of Udaipur. Why here you might ask? Well, it wasn’t on our initial “to see” list, but of course I added it at the last minute after catching some snippet about it somewhere. Elkingji houses a Hindu temple complex of 109 temples, the oldest started in the year 960 and the main temple was built in the 15th century. The complex is still very important to the area Hindus and is a pilgrimage sight. We arrived right as the temples opened. We took our shoes off and entered. Ajay went into the complex with us, and made the devotional hand gesture all Hindu’s make when entering a temple, but did not go into the temples. It is worth noting, this gesture is extraordinarily similar to the Sign of the Cross in the Catholic tradition. We got in a long line with local Hindus who were going in for their daily visit to the temple. As the morning air was still cool, the white marble had not heated up with the day yet, and the breeze was comfortable. We walked on burlap trails, however, and were covered by blue tarps overhead. When the line snaked around to the main temple, men went in one line and women in another. We were right next to each other the whole time, but in different worship lines. The main attraction was a statue of Lord Shiva and many people brought gifts, usually strings of marigold flowers to place at the idol. It was actually a crush of people in front of the idol, the lines of men and women merged, and worshipers were pushing to see Shiva and place their gifts. Chad and I were able to extricate ourselves and stood to the side, when a man came to us with the orange paint to put dots (bindis) on our forehead to signify the third eye and meditation, that we had been involved in religious worship that day. He also gave us pieces of coconut, which is an important offering in Hindu temples. He then introduced us to his young son and other worshipers. It was one of my most favorite experiences from the whole trip, not for the beauty of the sight (although it is quite lovely), but how we were accepted so easily into these people’s daily devotional. No one made us feel out of place, although the tall blond Americans were most definitely out of place, and in actuality, they wrapped their arms around us and brought us into their adorations. Even though I did not understand all the aspects of a visit to the Hindu temple, I left feeling like I do after a great Christian church service back home, lifted and fulfilled.

The next stop was Ranakpur, a much larger and more famous complex of Jain temples. While it’s only 90 km from Udaipur, it takes 2 hours. To go 54 miles. About an hour and a half in, I had to use the restroom. Badly. As usual. Any good followers of gr8escape know I always have to use the bathroom at super unhelpful times. And of course there aren’t many places to go, especially in India. Especially. I told Ajay I had to go, waited 10 minutes, asked again he said it would be another 10 minutes. I announced, probably a bit too loudly, this was unacceptable and I felt like we screeched to a halt. Maybe I imagined it. My poor travel partner is always at the brunt of these restroom emergencies, too. We pulled over at random little shop in the middle of nowhere. Turns out they didn’t have a regular bathroom, but a tarp out back which gives a bit of privacy to a nice patch of dirt. Worked just fine for me, as it was emergency status. Ajay was a bit distraught by this (heck, I think my travel partner was a big concerned as well), so I told him I grew up on a ranch and this was better for me than other restrooms I’ve seen. Back on the road! Which consisted of twists, turns, and more turns, up and down huge hills. And one lane of traffic. And large buses and trucks. I think I turned a bright green color, but we made it to Ranakpur.

Ranakpur is one of the most important Jain temples in India. It was built in the 15th century and is entirely white marble. The main temple, the Chaumukha Mandir, contains 1444 pillars. Words do not really capture this place, neither do the photos. The light and shadows on the marble, the quiet, the coolness, all contribute to an amazing experience. It also completely reminds us of being in an Indiana Jones movie.

We had a young man for a guide, who lives in the temple and wears a bright yellow Jain cloth. He explained everything and prayed for us at the end, which I’m sure is a tourist special, but having anyone pray for you is a pretty special thing, no matter their motives. Sadly, he did NOT want his photo taken.

On the way home we stopped at a hilltop restaurant, owned by one of Ajay’s friends (he has LOTS), called Casa Manolo. The owner (Manolo) asked us educated questions about the American economy and politics. He is concerned because Americans have not been traveling. He then made a parting joke about how Ajay sleeps with the dog when he visits.

We got back to Udaipur around 5:30 and went for a quick swim, until the workers subtlety put out the “Pool Closed at 6 pm” sign so they could set up for dinner. Another peaceful dinner by the pool and off to our palace room. Whew. Incredible India indeed.
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