Happy belated Thanksgiving, stateside friends and family! I think last Thursday marks the my first Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie, but that’s okay. Instead, the occasion was marked by a great trip to Ahmedabad and Udaipur with a friend from Swarthmore, Shashwati. It was nice to see a familiar face – a good change from always meeting new people on the Watson (four months of intros and quick getting-to-know-yous with everyone you interact with does get a little tiring). It was also fun to take a proper weekend trip and be more touristy than I’ve been on the Watson so far.
I spent Friday morning seeing the Sabarmati Ashram, founded and inhabited by Mahatma Gandhi, and the mosque and tomb complex Sarkhej Roza. Later that day, Shash and I ate traditional Gujarati food for lunch (a thali, a round platter with small portions of many different dishes, spicy and sweet), saw some more sights, and wandered through the busy market streets in town.
I found Ahmedabad a bit challenging, with the same constant and excessive honking as Mumbai, and pushy crowds in town. Also, at the comparatively very calm ashram, a woman asked to take a selfie with me. That had never happened to me before, though I’ve heard of it happening to [white and blond] tourists in China, and certainly I get some stares in Mumbai as a young white woman. But no one has ever wanted a photo with me, which felt annoying and vaguely exploitative, even though I know friends have experienced this before and had fun with it. I feel like it’s one thing to stare at someone who looks different or ask where they’re from – as many strangers and taxi drivers asked me in Ahmedabad and Udaipur, though never in Mumbai – but another thing to want a picture of them without even asking their name. I did take a selfie with that woman, but I felt weird about it, and I refused the following requests from people in the ashram and in Udaipur’s City Palace (also because those were from men, which made me feel less comfortable).
At the Ahmedabad mosque, I discovered a group of about 60 students of middle-school age on a field trip. The more outgoing ones ran up to me and asked me all sorts of questions (“I’m from the U.S.” “Wow! Are you from Ohio?” “No, New York City.” “…Do you go to the Statue of Liberty a lot?”). Obviously, they saw my white skin and assumed, correctly, that I was an English-speaking American. Still, talking to them was fun and didn’t bother me at all. A few spoke English quite well, and it was clear that they study English in school but know very little about the U.S., and I’m sure many of them had never met an American before. So that was fun for them, and I enjoyed amusing them with answers to their questions. I’d much rather do that than take selfies with silent strangers. I wish that distinction didn’t bother me, but it does.
On Saturday morning, Shash and I traveled to Udaipur, the “white city” of Rajasthan. We stayed in the central historic district, which was very tourist-friendly. The streets are cooler and more pedestrian friendly than in Mumbai or Ahmedabad, and there are some beautiful man-made lakes in the city. Shash and I filled our time there seeing all the best attractions.
On Sunday night, we traveled back to Ahmedabad in a sleeper bus, which we hadn’t quite realized we booked. Neither of us had been in one before. We had two “beds” (thin padded sections of floor) side-by-side on the lower level; basically it felt like we were on the bottom bunk at summer camp! We both cracked up for a good five minutes when we saw our “seats.” I flew back to Mumbai the next morning. Overall it was a great trip and I feel rejuvenated now. This week I finally have multiple project meetings (wahoo!) and, since the trip to Udaipur was so much fun, I’m now very much looking forward to traveling around India more when my parents visit for Christmas.