Children in an alley, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006. In every city or town I went to, the alleys and back streets consistently proved that the small moments, like encountering these kids, were just as meaningful as the big monuments. Also, they provided a good lesson for the hard moments of the trip as well as something to carry into the future: if children facing as difficult a future as these two probably will can find something to smile about, it shouldn't be such a big challenge for those of us with much better prospects.
Shashihansa Yantra, Jantar Mantar in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006. Also called the Samrat Jantar, the structure in the photo is a 90-foot-tall triangle sundial. The angle descends at 27 degrees, the latitude of Jaipur, and the cupola at the top was used for announcing monsoons and eclipses. To summarize what you can learn from a quick Googling, the Jantar Mantar were observatories built around 1730 in five of northern India's most important cities and used for measuring a multitude of different aspects of the heavens. At the Jaipur Jantar Mantar, which translates as "chanting instrument," there are fourteen structures hewn from local stone, marble and bronze that are still accurate to within 60 seconds. I wasn't overly impressed with Jaipur, but the amazing Jantar Mantar was well worth it.
Five women and a man at the local bazaar, Nawalgarh, Rajasthan, India. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006. Indian bazaars are well known for their explosions of color, but I'm fond of this photo because, despite the mix of colors and their intensity in the midday sun, it has certain understated quality to it. That could also be the creepy guy on the right, though.
Mural of woman admiring herself, Hotel Mandawa haveli, Mandawa, Rajasthan, India. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006. The murals adorning the havelis of the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan are remarkable because they depict not just the maharajas and favored deities of the time, but also scenes from daily life. Some of these show airplanes and cars, fantastical concepts that the painters had never seen and, surprisingly, accurately painted, based only on verbal descriptions. Others, like this woman preening in front of her mirror, were more subtle in their subject matter, but no less unusual for it. Haveli walls had previously been reserved for the grandiose, so expending effort on the mundane was a revolutionary idea in art deemed acceptable for the wealthy haveli owners.
Bhagton-ki-Haveli balconies, Nawalgarh, Rajasthan, India. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006. Although the murals painted on to the havelis in northern Rajasthan may be unusual and unique to the area, the havelis themselves were not. They were, however, well preserved by the desert winds and sands, and so many buildings - like the Bhagton-ki-Haveli - still stand, their symmetrical beauty for all to admire but for the smallest of "donations".
Samosa shop during a power outage, Nawalgarh, Rajasthan, India. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006. This fried munchies shop in the nearly microscopic town of Nawalgarh served up the best samosas the FMA and I had during our two-plus months in India. Blackouts in these were a daily occurrence except in the biggest of cities, but wide doorways kept the bright sunlight shining in, and a combination of gas burners and charcoal kept the kitchen fires burning.
A teenager and her brothers, Mandawa, Rajasthan, India. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006. You might think I'm joking, but the reason I met this young lady and her family has everything to do with milk, homemade milk. It was the first time that I'd had milk fresh-squeezed, as it were, and also the first time that I met the cow responsible for my continuing health. Mandawa is a small town in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan about four hours by train north of Jaipur. It's even smaller than Nawalgarh, but still has choice examples of the unique murals that the area is famous for. As my Financial and Menu Adviser and I were walking around, trying to figure out just how the hand-drawn map we had related to the actual faded beige buildings standing in front of us, we saw a young girl walking towards us in a green and red punjab outfit. She looked to be about 12 years old, and approached us. This was nothing unusual; children all over India seem to exist purely to ask foreigners questions. More often than not, they're asking for money. The girl started asking us, in halting English, where we were from, how old we were, if we were married - the FMA remembers her asking us for names, but I don't. It seems an odd thing to not ask, so there's a strong likelihood I'm in the wrong here. She finished her questions and walked away, and we continued sauntering in the other direction. The girl's clothes stood out in contrast to the drab buildings, and I commented to the FMA that if we saw her again I should ask her to take her photo. To my surprise, 15 minutes later we ran into her again. This time she was with her father, and after saying hello she very animatedly began talking to him in Hindi. Unlike the Hinglish spoken in the big cities, there were no English influences that I could hear. The girl turned to us and asked if we would like to meet her family and see their house. We were a little wary, seasoned explorers that we were, but figured as long as we kept our eyes open this would be fine. So we followed them for about five or six minutes, then entered a gate that opened onto a courtyard that had an enormous stinking Brahmin cow called Bessie in one corner. Well, it could've been called Bessie - aren't all cows called Bessie? - and the inward curve of the Brahmin's horns looked like a sideways B, so Bessie it was. We were invited to sit down on the porch, and the entire family of an older sister and two brothers came out. As we drank sweet warm milk, communicating in big flapping hand and arm gestures and badly crushed English, we learned that the father was a journalist and the milk was from Bessie. After we finished our milk, there wasn't much else to say, so we got their address to send them copies of the photos and left. For a cup of milk and a bit of generosity in the middle of nowhere, searching dusty sun-faded exteriors of old havelis for signs of mural life, we found that all you need to make new friends is a cow in the front yard.