[June 14th, 2011] Stepping off the train at 5am onto the familiar Jaipur platform was in a way comforting. I had a few hours to kill before my afternoon flight to Hyderabad and was relieved to have zero agenda. A wrinkle in my non-plan came upon realizing I had absentmindedly left my books and handwritten journal on the train bed in a hurry to get off in time. I was admittedly distraught about losing the journal in particular, and was determined to get it back. This oversight ended up leading to a wonderful day in Jaipur with a new local friend, Ali, who selflessly obliged in helping me get back my possessions just because. What followed suit was a meeting with the foreign ticket booth at the train, (my new friend playing translator for the dumb American), a call to have the belongings transported to another train on its way back, and a thirty minute auto rickshaw ride with Ali to the next station over… only to find the journal was not taken off the train and would have to be transported on another train back. I’d have to return to the original station hours later to see if the afternoon train employees had delivered the journal back to the Jaipur station – and the chances weren’t good.
I took advantage of having a new friend and part-time auto rickshaw driver in Ali, and we spent the day enjoying Jaipur. I was brought to a beautiful temple where watched the dedicated holy men and women dressed to the nines in colorful garbs at 7am. After temple was over I hesitantly meandered through the marble doors and into the gorgeous temple where I sat cross-legged on the floor in my own personal meditation. The scene was serene and I could have sat there undisturbed for hours.
Next Ali and I rode around the pink city, stopping at a city museum where I chased pigeons like a child and patronizing several shops in a hunt for the perfect elephant trinket to symbolize my elephant ride in Jaipur days prior. The time passed as afternoon approached and I loved sitting in the auto rickshaws with the other drivers, all friends, sipping hot chia they gave me for free while exchanging stories and learning about one another. They were just as interested in me as I was them – and I felt lucky to be so welcomed into this laid back street life. Ali brought me to his favorite street stand where he fetched me a tin plate of fresh cooked Biryani, (chicken and rice dish popular of India), and we enjoyed it sitting on a dirty curb watching life go by. While I had been warned of street food in India, this was amongst the best meals I had in my entire time there. The chicken was cooked to perfection and the spices complimented each other bringing out a new flavor I had never experienced – all a testament to the work and passion these street stalls put into each plate. Wow.
Before I knew it, it was time to venture back to the train station to see if my books were found… fingers crossed. When the friendly ticket officer handed me a delicately wrapped package with my name on it, I almost couldn’t believe it... I was reunited with my possessions! At this point I cared less about the journals and more about the selfless generosity I was shown by the Indian people… the same type I had experienced everywhere I had been the last week and a half.
Ali, his cousin and I celebrated with some cold Kingfisher beers in a rundown empty restaurant, its biggest draw being a hard-working fan. We sat for over two hours candidly discussing the differences in our lifestyles and cultures. We ventured over topics of politics, strong family life in India, religious beliefs, even gay marriage. It was one of the most interesting conversations I have ever had and I was grateful to exchange thoughts with another 24-year old completely different from myself, in a comfortable and friendly environment.
When it was time for my two o’clock flight to the next city, I was sad to say goodbye to my new friends. I was conversely excited to be in an air-conditioned, clean airport headed for a bigger city. My flight was cancelled but I was able to quickly make an exchange and run to the gate in time for my alternate route…. The only flight out in 23 hours. I was headed south out of the Rajasthan state and into Andhra Pradesh… to its booming capital city of Hyderabad, (the fourth most populous city in India behind Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore respectively). There I would be greeted by my father’s co-worker Rao and his welcoming family of five whom I have spent extensive time with in the United States. I was looking forward to staying in an actual home with familiar faces and home-cooked meals, and seeing what this final chapter of India had to offer.