My first stop in India before heading down South and getting into the frenzy of work was Jaipur, Rajasthan’s famous Pink City. But soon after arriving in the old capital of the Maharajas I discovered that the color which dominated the Indian environment wasn’t the pink I was made to expect, but rather yellow. The Rajasthani mountains that surround the city have a deep sandy hue which is accentuated by the brownish tones of the desert flora that covers them. The walls of houses, palaces, and monuments are painted different shades of warm colors that seen from a speedy auto rickshaw blend into a single yellow blur. The mangoes, bananas, papayas, and pineapples that dot market floors and restaurant tables all glowed like gold. And, above all, the constant 45ºC sun that shines down at all times of the day lends to every landscape the striking colors of heat.
As it befits the capital of an empire, Jaipur is a city of palaces and forts. From the Hawa Mahal to the Jal Mahal – where I learned that mahal is the Hindi word for palace – to the Jaigarh Fort and the aptly-named Amber Fort, all of the buildings in the city shone with Summer colors. This last one is where I spent the most time, losing myself in the wonders of 16th-century Mughal architecture which included a reception room whose walls and ceilings were covered in mirror mosaics, a high wall that stretched far along the mountains in a visual very similar to China’s Great one, and secret underground tunnels for the royalty that now house an amount of bats that made my heart drop. In the middle of the sprawling palatial complex, in a corner of a courtyard, there was an – in comparison – modest row of carved stone arches that didn’t attract more than a few glances from most tourists. But as I walked along the small columns and green-lined arches I was struck by how perfectly aligned they were, with one arch behind the other behind the other behind the other creating an illusion of an infinite repetition. The only differing factor in that multitude of arches was their size, getting ever smaller the further they were, and the amount of shadow they had – all of them, though, were painted in the mild yellow which marked all of Jaipur.
As a tourist with little time to spare, I couldn’t afford the luxury of staying indoors and enjoying an air-conditioned room if I wanted to experience Jaipur, so each morning I braved myself for the sensory overload of temperature, sounds, and sights that the city offered. As much as I loved visiting the attractions and marveling in their beauty, I soon found that one of my favorite things to do was just walk around through the streets aimlessly. At first thought that sounds like a pretty questionable decision, for a foreigner who just arrived in India to walk around a strange city by himself with no idea where he was going. But I trusted my own instincts and the Maps app on my phone enough to allow myself these moments of solitary exploration. Walking alone with no worries in my mind allowed me to devote my full attention to my surroundings, concentrating on the patterns of the fabrics displayed on the walls, the sounds of sugarcane being ground and samosas being fried by street vendors, the completely insane maneuvers of the cars and scooters in the streets, and the faces of thousands of people going around their business. It was in one of these wanderings, with no specific destination in mind that I found one of the biggest bazaars I’ve ever seen. They sold everything you could ever think of amid a chaos of shopping and haggling and eating and screaming that dazzled me. As I walked away from the center of the confusion I still saw streets lined with progressively fewer vendors, where people nevertheless made their transactions with the same intensity. Just when I thought I was about to leave the bazaar behind me and hit the main road again, I came across an alley where sellers had hung green and yellow canopies between the buildings to provide a comfortable shade. As the sun pierced through the huge pieces of colored fabric it brought their colors to the whole setting, painting the people, the produce, and the ground in the familiar colors of the Brazilian flag. This quaint scene where few people roamed around buying and selling fruit was to me a reminder that the vibrancy of Jaipur, which to me was represented by its yellow tonality, was present even in its most forgotten corners. And it was also proof that aimless walking always leads to something remarkable.
After the Pink City I took a train back to Delhi, where I met with the other CASI interns who had just arrived from their many connections around the world. As most of them adjusted to the greatly increased timezone and temperature, I took an opportunity to use this quiet time to again go exploring. In Delhi, though, I quickly found that my tactic of happening upon amazing places by walking anywhere would not work – after seeing two places of interest that seemed pretty close on a map I decided to walk from one to the other only to realize that they were in fact 8km and 40-minute-long a car ride apart. This city had dimensions I wasn’t used to, so I had to adapt my exploring technique, from aimless walks to planned rickshaw rides. So that Friday I carefully coordinated my time to make sure I would be able to go to the Qutb Minar and back in time, and off I was to see the complex of towers, mosques, and palaces from the beginning of the Mughal Empire. Like in Jaipur, I was fascinated by the intricate sandstone carving in the walls of most buildings, marveling at this country’s use of warm colors in its architecture. The setting sun shone directly on a range of pillars that supported a carved ceiling over a praying ground, giving the whole scene a deep golden tone whose beauty my old phone’s camera couldn’t dream of accurately capturing. This scene was one of perfect architectural symmetry and beauty, something that didn’t go unnoticed by the thousand of tourists that crowded the Qutb and posed for pictures with their loved ones along the pillars. In a complex made almost entirely of deep red stone, the rough type that even a millennium later maintains its original color, it was again the yellow of a side building that captured mine – and several others’ – attention.
People had told me that South India was a different country from the faraway North, but it wasn’t until I arrived in Bangalore that I truly grasped what this difference meant. I knew that because of its altitude the city was supposed to be way colder than Delhi or Jaipur, but in order to prevent any disappointments I convinced myself that nowhere in India would have an actually enjoyable weather. I was proven wrong as soon as I left the airport and was struck with a cool breeze and felt temperature below 30ºC for the first time in weeks. The mild weather highlighted the striking landscape differences between Bangalore and the North, as the northern grey skies and yellow cities were replaced by a constant blue with specks of green everywhere. As we settled into our work routine, we realized that Bangalore had also given us a new disturbing factor: the loud noises from the construction work of three buildings around our apartment, which always wakes me up before my alarm. The workers are always there as we go about our daily affairs – they are the first people we hear and see every morning, and we pass by them on our way to and from work, when most of them stare at us with as much curiosity about our foreign looks and lives as we have about theirs. I was lounging in my bedroom after work last week when I glanced out of the window at the construction directly across the street from me and was surprised to see it almost empty; work had finished early that day and only a handful of people were scattered across the open, wall-less floors of the building. As I looked on I realized that the sun was setting behind the building, darkening the blue of the sky and bringing the yellow, orange, and pink of the North to the previously white southern clouds which now contrasted starkly with the darkness on the building. I quickly went to the window to take a picture and observed the lone worker on the top floor go about his final business of the day, completely unaware that he was the subject of my new favorite picture in Bangalore.