Our next and last region was the large western state of Rajasthan. Travelers always recommend a visit here; the vivid colors of Rajasthani womens' bright saris and mens' colorful turbans, the famous wide and smiling mustaches, and the plethora of forts, temples, and palaces stay engrained in every visitor's memory.
We arrived in Udaipur, Rajasthan's "White City"-- and one that guidebooks describe as "India at its romantic best"-- early in the morning after an overnight train from Agra. Udaipur is centered around Lake Pichola; old havelis (elaborately decorated mansions) and a palace line the shoreline, two islands sit just offshore, and rolling hills sit in the background, creating a picturesque setting. In fact, the James Bond movie Octopussy was filmed here (and pretty much every restaurant screens it nightly!).
We immediately took a liking to this town's innumerable rooftop restaurants, and enjoyed wandering in and out of the many art shops selling miniature paintings, which Udaipur is famous for. Unfortunately, on our first night there, we ate at a pretty nice restaurant but ended up all getting food poisoning the next day, which put us completely out of commission for two days and feeling not quite right for several more after that. Almost every traveler gets sick at some point in India, but Nick and I were hoping that we'd make it through without incident, after a month of eating street food and not being militant about avoiding fruit and veggies. Of course we should all get sick from a pricey hotel restaurant; it's India: expect the unexpected! We felt awful that Ben and Amy, who were only in India for 12 days, had to spend half of that time under the weather.
In any event, we couldn't stay in our hotel rooms forever, so we stuck to our plan and headed toward Jodhpur, stopping in Kumbalgarh and Ranakpur on the way to see a fort and Jain temples, respectively. Fun fact: Kumbalgarh Fort, which was built in the 15th century, is surrounded by 37 km of ramparts, a wall which is only second in length to the Great Wall of China. Our visit to the fort happened to coincide with a Bollywood filming, so we enjoyed watching the two main characters film a scene on top of the wall. The scene of course involved a cheesy love song, and the director looked like the bad guy in a spaghetti Western. We spent the night at Silent Valley Hotel, which is aptly named, and run by the lovely Inder, who took us on a walk of the nearby villages around sunset while telling us about the culture of the people living there.
The next day we had planned a 16-km hike through Kumbalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary to the Jain temples at Ranakpur. I got pretty sick overnight (the beginnings of what turned out to be giardia), so I skipped the hike but Nick, Amy and Ben went ahead and we met at the temples a few hours later. We were all in a sad state of affairs, still feeling weak and dehydrated from whatever it was we were dealing with, but we took a peek into the main temple, which was filled with impressive carved marble pillars, and tons of colorfully dressed pilgrims, who were apparently there in droves because it was a holiday (it's always a holiday in India). Jainism, which accounts for less than 1% of India's population, is a derivative of Hinduism that is based on nonviolence and a respect of nature. Jains avoid doing harm to all souls, which they believe exist not only in humans, but also animals, plants, water, fire, earth, and air. The most orthodox Jains wear white masks to avoid breathing in insects and carry a "fly whisk" to clear their path to avoid stepping on living things. There is also a sect who has renounced clothing and walks around naked.
Another fun fact: the main Jain temple at Ranakpur, built in 1439, was constructed on the basis of the number 72, the age at which the founder of Jainism, Mahavira, achieved nirvana; the temple sits on a platform measuring 72 yards square, inside the temple there are 72 elaborately carved shrines, and the whole temple is held up by 1440 (72 X 20) pillars. After admiring the exquisite marble carvings, we headed to Jodhpur, stopping at a motorbike temple along the way (don't ask).