Returning for our final stay in the colorful state of Rajasthan, we arrived in the city of Udaipur, renowned for its multiple, majestic lakes. We spent some time touring local attractions such as the massive city palace and recuperating from the weary fatigue that accompanies intense travel. After a couple of days of sightseeing and shopping, we traveled up a mountain to Udaipur’s famous monsoon palace where the royal family of the Mewar dynasty would wait out the rainy season. Gazing down from the palace’s panoramic vista captivated my attention and provided me with a stunning aerial view of the entire city and its interlocking lakes. Waiting for sunset, a group of us began exploring the palace and we chanced upon a narrow staircase leading to the dank, pitch black palace cellar. When we first heard the rusty animal screeches and sounds of ominous movement we mistakenly figured the lightless catacombs were full of rats and contemplated turning back. Upon further inspection, however (and with the aid of an illuminating camera flash), we discovered a colony of bats that had taken up residency in the palace’s basement. It seems like no matter where we travel in this country, India constantly provides ceaseless surprises. Heading back to the top of the palace, we arrived just in time to watch the day end. As the sun set on the city’s mountainous backdrop and mirroring lakes, I found myself marveling once again at India’s stunning beauty and sheer magnitude as the glowing city of Udaipur stretched beyond my field of vision.
After departing Udaipur and making a quick stop to Ranakpur to visit its impressive Jain temples, we traveled back to Delhi to prepare for our final excursion up north. Upon arriving, we found out, to our great excitement, that the Dalai Lama was going to make a speech in Delhi thanking India for fifty years of generous hospitality during his long exile. Unable to catch up with him in his headquarters in Dharamsala, we quickly jumped on the opportunity to see one of the most respected religious and political leaders in the world. As we made our way into the lecture hall I discovered that the Dalai Lama was nothing like I had expected. Making jokes and passionately expressing his gratitude to the Indian people, he seemed to emanate personal warmth and sincere concern. I find it amazing that a man confronted with as much as adversity as he has experienced over the years can remain so jovial, upbeat, and amiable. I’m delighted that we were finally able to hear him speak, and the experience will remain with me for a lifetime.
About a week ago, we arrived in Udaipur, a city in Rajasthan. Udaipur was green and lush compared to the other cities we have visited in Rajasthan. It is the city of lakes, nested in the valley of a mountainous area. It is rich with history, as we learned from the sights we visited. These included the City Palace, Lake Palace, Monsoon Palace and a Hindu Temple.
The two highlights of our trip to Udaipur, however, were the Polio Hospital and St. Matthews School that we got a chance to tour. The Polio Hospital gives free care and surgeries to thousands each year in desperate need of aid. We learned that there are 6 doctors performing countless surgeries for people who couldn’t under normal circumstances afford care. They don’t turn away anyone who needs surgery and everything is financed by donations. It was overwhelming to see all the people in need, but inspiring to hear stories of transformations made in these people’s, mostly children’s, lives. It was obvious in the faces of the patients and parents that this clinic gives hope when there otherwise wouldn’t be any.
The evening we spent at St. Matthews School showed the dedication of the minority Christian community in Udaipur. We met with the couple who rent the school and seminary and were moved by the stories they told of Christians in India. Their stories led to discussions of our own faith and how different the trials we face are. Along with these conversations, we were able to play games and sing songs with the orphan children who live at St. Matthews. Their energy and smiles were enjoyed by the whole group. Our experience was very memorable.
After our adventures in Udaipur, we traveled to Ranakpur, which was a rural setting. Here we experienced and visited our first Jain temple. It was a beautifully constructed temple that had over 1,000 columns. It is known as a pilgrimage site for many Jain believers. Our stay in Ranakpur was very relaxing and we enjoyed the quiet atmosphere of this area. It was a nice change from the large, crowded cities where we normally stay.
It is hard to believe that it’s almost April and that our trip is coming to an end soon!
-Allison Thurman and Kristen White