My time in India didn’t start on the right foot. I landed in a massive city, Mumbai, and I didn’t have my wits about me enough to understand where I needed to be cautious. From there, Ahmedabad lacked charm but it was nice to visit Gandhi’s ashram and learn more about his life. When I first told other travelers of my plans to backpack India, they had one common refrain: you have to stay for longer than three weeks. The theory goes, once you pass the three-week mark, your brain and body overcomes the seeming absurd and instead embraces the orchestrated chaos and charm. If you leave on your first impression, you may very well hate the experience and never return.
I rolled my eyes at the time. It just seemed incomprehensible to understand why time would make a difference. I was in Laos for just a few hours when I knew it was a special place I would return to for the rest of my life. But with India, they were right. It took me weeks to shake off the tension and anxiety. It’s hard to understand India, and my brain was desperate to make sense of it all. But given enough time to abandon the idea that I would ever figure it out, one day I woke and realized that I was enjoying myself, the country, and my interactions with the Indian culture.
Udaipur was my first stop in a smaller and more charming area of India. Located in Rajasthan and known for its lakes and palaces, the city is tailored for the tourism. By that I mean there is a lot less staring, and it’s easy to navigate without being hassled. I loved my guesthouse; the Lakeview Guest House is centrally located, decently priced, and the room had an beautiful balcony overlooking the hills, mountains, and lakes surrounding the city. Each morning, my cousin and I ate breakfast while watching the light move across the lake.
Our first night in Udaipur, we hunted for an internet café that would allow us to use our laptops. It’s been a bit of a pain finding internet here in India, but I need it for my online work — luck was on my side and I found a solid connection at Masala Restaurant. But on the way, the adventures began. I stopped to poke through a small art shop and met Sanju, a local artist. Udaipur is famous for its miniature artists, and Sanju snatched my ring finger and began sketching on my fingernail. After just one minute of rapid, mini, strokes he had painted an elephant on my nail. My cousin received a peacock on hers, and we were both delighted with the intricate detail in the design.
As we chatted and sampled chai, Sanju invited us to a wedding later that evening. We ran the invitation by our fast friend, a man running the nearby shop, and he said it was legitimate. We gussied ourselves up, but on some jewelry and our kurtahs, and jumped onto the back two motorbikes with Sanju and his best friend. The moment we walked through the door, we were an instant hit with the friends and family of the couple. It seemed completely odd to me that we were invited to a wedding, but Indian’s love celebrations and spread joy with enthusiasm. Plus, Westerners have celebrity status here, especially with the kids. We had a paparazzi style camera shoved into our faces, a portable spotlight shined on us, and then preceded to take no fewer than 30 or 40 photos with the groom, the grooms’ friends, family, uncles, cousins, sisters, etc — it was great!
The women were kitted to the nines in the most beautiful saris I have ever seen. Jewelry adorned their wrists and faces, chains looped across their hair, and around their ankles. And the kids were such hams! As soon as I pulled out my camera, I had their rapt attention. One little boy pimped out his black suit — he strutted around the place with his back as straight as could be and rocked all of his mere four years.
When the wedding ended and we headed back to our side of town, my cousin and I were giddy with the fun, joy, and memories. What a beautiful chance to be a part of a local celebration and learn more about the customs. The wedding was a Muslim celebration, and therefore much more subdued than traditionally Indian weddings, but it was still beautiful and fun. The only weird part of the evening was a entirely confusing and odd situation with his buddy Lucky. In short, they both separately pulled me aside on the rooftop, clasped my hand, and proposed marriage. I kid you not. And they played a good poker face because they seemed hurt when my instinct was to laugh and retreat. India, what a delightfully weird place.