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Day 3

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Insider looking out. Take a moment to think about that statement. Insider looking out. What does that even mean? What does that look like? It was our day yesterday. We took an amazing day trip to Kumbhalgar and Ranakpur. For under Rs 9,000 total, we rented a bus for 24 people, traveled to these two areas of India, went up the fortress at Kumbhalgar in the monsoons and into the Jain temple in Ranakpur, had plenty of chai stops along the way and ate a buffet lunch at a restaurant along the way back. 12 bajas (children) it was their first time ever seeing these sights, this culture and history of India.

In our group, only two were foreigners, meaning only two non-Indians. To go see these sights would be amazing in and of itself, but to do it as a group of locals, wow. The busride was filled with laughter and hand games and picture taking. The children are so content just entertaining themselves, no ipods, no radio playing, no movies to watch, just the company of each other. We don’t do that often enough elsewhere. It is easy to become so self-absorbed that you miss out on these wondrous opportunities…opportunities to be a kid again, to play dress-up and hairstylist, to play hand slappy games, to simply enjoy each others company.

A little rain doesn’t stop this group, that’s for sure. We traveled to Kumbhalgar first, being monsoon season, it was quite rainy. We stopped on the side of the road to get umbrellas and ponchos for the group, though when you see the pictures they did not help too much! But the monsoons don’t stop life from going on, and nor was it going to stop us. We trekked on. The fort was built in the 15th century, so picture a very steep cobblestone fortress, and that is what we were climbing up. Reaching the summit, unfortunately there was no view to admire because of the rainy weather, but the smiles on the kids faces was enough for us to feel like it was a success. The decent was a bit tricky for me, as steep, wet cobblestones plus wheelchair can be quite treacherous. We took the decent nice and slow, and I came down backwards the whole way with assistance being guided and lifted over stairs etc.

The fortress is filled with all kinds of hidden corners and tight spots, like a giant jungle gym designed such so that the elephants couldn’t get through. After Kumbalghar we loaded our soggy selfs back onto the bus and headed towards Ranakpur.

On the drive to Ranakpur we stopped for lunch at a restaurant along the way. It took a great deal of negotiating to get a good price for our large group, but in the end the 24 of us were able to eat for 2,000 Rs (currently Rs 50 to the US dollar).

Our journey continued on to Ranakpur, through some beautiful areas of India, where tigers and cheetahs and other animals live, though we didn’t spot any we were told to look. We did, however, see wild monkeys!! I was pretty excited about this one, as I’ve always loved monkeys from the time I was quite little. I have always wanted a pet monkey. Monkeys just make me happy, I don’t know why, but they have this carefree, adventurous way about them.

In Ranakpur, we were there to visit this gorgeous Jain temple that has 1,444 unique handcarved marble columns. The architecture and the presence of such a sight is breathtaking, not to mention the history. When we arrived, we encountered some more wild monkeys. I decided I wanted a picture with a monkey, so I posed near one of the monkeys. Ian asked me if I could move a little closer, so I did. Mr. Monkey didn’t like that so much and decided to scream, nash his teeth and swat at me, and of course, Ian caught that on camera too! I told Mr. Monkey, no and to behave, he put his arm down and posed for the picture. We also decided to swing from the trees with the baby monkeys, really just for fun.

On to the temple. Again, we were met with resistance for my entering the temple with my wheelchair. Because this was a religious temple, we decided it was not worth fighting. For any visitors entering the temple, you are requested to remove your shoes, any leather (belts etc.) and for women, if you are on your menstral cycle you are asked not to enter. There was a sign outside explaining all of this. So, we left my chair with the sea of shoes and I climbed onto Ian’s back for the climb into the Jain temple.

Remember what I said about being an insider looking out? This was the moment. This temple is world renowned, so it is a popular tourist spot. We were a spectacle, because we were the locals. Foreigners were stopping to take pictures of us because we were Indian. Finally, on the other side, and truly an integral part of this other side. I don’t really know how to explain this, but, I am truly Indian. It was in this moment when that realization occurred. Part of me wonders too whether leaving my wheelchair outside contributed to this, because just sitting with the children or others on the stairs of the temple, there was no line of demarcation between us, we just were a group of Indians visiting the Jain temple, which the Americans, French, Germans, Swiss were simply in awe of.

The temple itself was so peaceful, so powerful, so serene, regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs, I firmly believe there is something in there for everybody.

Last night when Ian and I were looking at our pictures, we had to both laugh when there were pictures of little white kids taken by some of the members of our group. This is the whole concept of being intrigued by those different from you, natural human curiosity. Though, neither Ian nor I felt like we needed to have pictures of random white children, we kinda felt like we know them already and that it was a little bit creepy. But nonetheless, it goes to show what it truly is like being an insider looking out, as opposed to an outsider looking in as we so often are. Ian summed it up nicely, “kinda cool to be on the other side, huh?”

Kolkata tomorrow!

Anjali surrounded by children from Udaipur on her, and their, first visit to an ancient Jain temple.

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