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India: A country of contrasts

An elephant rider never forgets
Elephants are decidedly the best way to scale the steep hill to the Rajput’s Amber Fort. These darling giants line up at the bottom of the hill each morning to take tourists up the hill in a swaying stride that I found quite relaxing.

Once inside the fort’s palace, I learned how Hindu and Muslim architectural elements blend together to create a luxurious effect. Mirror mosaics, marble frescos of Hindu gods and stone lattice screens in the main courtyard illustrated how impressive a visit to the Rajput Maharaja would have been in its heyday.

“One of the best things about this fort is that it was never taken over,” said Bahal as I toured the site. “The Rajputs would switch sides as it suited them to keep the peace. You can see how opulent the 17th-century fort was because of this. Meeting the maharajas in this area was like going to visit the queen of England.”

The Rajput’s Maharaja’s many queens would spend their entire married lives in hiding. I strolled through the tunnels they walked through and their screened-in decorative apartments above the main courtyard that allowed the queens to see out but none to see in.

The isolation illuminated the unfortunate side of being a female royal of the time, as these women had to watch the world go by, unable to interact with it.

Back in the main city of Jaipur, I learned more about the Rajputs at the City Palace, where highly crafted garments from past royals were on display. These outfits revealed more of the lavish Rajput lifestyle with silks, intricate patterns and woven gold.

I learned how such fabrics have been handcrafted for centuries at the Shree Carpet and Textile Mahal. The shop demonstrates handmade clothing and carpetmaking techniques that are still common in India.

Inside the main shop, I saw every shade of bright color, and I enjoyed seeing how color was used in the store’s quality shirts, scarves, dresses, tablecloths and rugs.

That evening, back at the Trident hotel, I reflected on the many contradictions I’d come across in India. I’d seen a woman carrying a tall bag of clothes on her head while talking on a cell phone and emperors’ palaces not far from people tending goats.

While pondering, I heard joyful music coming from outside my hotel window from a passing wedding procession. I hurried outside to see a groom riding a white horse, bright lights, a band and dancing wedding guests on their way to the ceremony.

One of the girls in the procession asked if I would like to dance. I said yes, and she whisked me into the group of extravagantly dressed dancing ladies. Everyone greeted me with an English hello and taught me their jubilant dance moves.

Back at my hotel, I realized that although India is full of paradoxes, I should just embrace all of the country’s many faces with the same enthusiasm I felt when welcomed into a wedding celebration on my last night in India.

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