India is truly a land of contrasts; it is possible to visit India and not see the real India, but only luxury hotels, palaces and monuments. I always ask my group at the beginning of a tour if they want to have the real Indian experience or just stick to the tourist spots, which while very much worth visiting, do not show what makes the country tick or local life. As a tour guide, I genuinely want my clients to get the very most from a tour, see what other tourists do not see, go where other tourists do not go.
Today we had an afternoon flight to Jaipur and I could have had a lie in and a morning off, but no peace for the wicked and I made use of the free morning by taking the group to the local market, where foreign tourists have barely stepped foot (unless they were is one of my previous groups).
The markets in India are colourful, full of life and fundamental to the community. The supermarket hasn’t taken off here, even though the huge brands from Britain and USA are itching to get into India. The local markets here provide work for the people and keep the costs low.
On the way into the centre of Udaipur, we saw a crowd of around 300 locals, mostly men, waiting at a large road junction. These people have travelled into the city from the villages and countryside to find work for the day. The work could be in someone’s home, at the market, for a business or anything, but one thing for sure is that the work will be manual. The pay will be around 200 rupees (£3) for the day and these people do not know for sure if they will get work today or any other day – we passed them by at 9.15 am and most of them will have been waiting there since 7 am. That is how life is for millions in India – they literally live from hand to mouth.
Udaipur is considered a rich city in Rajasthan and supposedly does not have the poverty of other cities, but I suppose it is all relative. There aren’t the beggars on the streets as there are in bigger cities but there are a lot of poor people here.
We explored the market and I think the locals were just as interested in my clients as they were in the locals. The group were fascinated by the market and narrow streets and seemed to really enjoy the whole experience.
The smell, sounds and colours of the markets really brought my senses alive. Street vendors cook and sell delicious dishes but I know from experience that my western stomach won’t tolerate street food so we can look only.
After out market visit we flew to Jaipur, city of Maharajas, founded by the Maharaja Jai Singh and capital of Rajasthan. On the way to the hotel we passed the slums of Jaipur and even though I have seen many slums in India (including the Mumbai slums featured in the film Slumdog Millionaire), it still breaks my heart to see human beings living like this, in their homes made of corrugated steel, cardboard or whatever else they could find, with no or little clean water or sanitation. We arrived at our hotel, securely guarded and safe from the chaos outside. It is a beautiful hotel set in its own extensive gardens and is like a palace. My room is very luxurious, grand and ornate and can’t help feeling guilty and sad that this room probably takes up the space that 3 or 4 families would take up in the slums we just passed. As I say, India truly is a land of contrast.