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Aspiritual trek with royal indulgences
Written by Eyal Zaidush.Xtrip-the trip of life
Photographs:Arik Brazh.Xtrip-the trip of life

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"You'll always find one or two or half a dozen people who don't know exactly where they're off to, and they don't want to know. To the other side of the River of Life. To distances that have no name, to the other side of the coin of the world. To the snowy heights of the Himalayas, empty of humanity and full of God. To the unknown – to space before creation and after destruction" (from "India – A Diary of the Road," Azriel Carlebach, 1955).

India
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There are countries you remember, there are countries you remember only when you see pictures of them, there are countries you pray you'll forget, and there's India.

India – you remember. That nameless beggar with nothing he can call his own, not even the wisp of cloth covering his loins. You remember him not because of how he looks but because when he received two rupees, he used one for an offering to the goddess Durga, and the other to buy a flower as an offering to the god Shiva. Only then, after attaining self-fulfillment, did he free up time to seek some food. You remember him because you see that Maslow's pyramid of needs is upside down in this person.

You remember in pictures because Rajasthan is so colorful: the red chili, the white attire, the purple tika, the women of the colorful tribes and the turbans signifying class

In pictures, because when you leave the tourist track, you come across people who live according to age old traditions, who don't understand what the box with the black eye does. They just smile. Why do they smile? Why not?

They pray, not for forgetfulness but for enlightenment, for recognition of the divine truth, the moving force, for meaning, realization, the purpose of life. And if the purpose is not life, but the way in which we live it, then what's left for us, visitors for a moment, is to go out and hit the road.

For generations, masses of people have been drawn to the riches and fertility of the Indian sub-continent. Wave upon wave of invaders entered, some with peaceful intents, others intent on war, but all were assimilated in the country's fertile earth, in its rich and vibrant culture. Together they have created the most variegated human fabric, language and culture in the world: the Brahmin who bows to his gods in the language of the Ganges and the Ladakhi donkey driver prodding his animals through the mountain passes of Zansakar; the student reciting ancient texts in an ashram in Tamil Nadu and the girl selling flowers at the entrance to the temple in Orissa. In India we meet a sitar player practicing in his room in a narrow alley of a city in Rajasthan as well as a fisherman who sings as he exits the Arabian Sea facing the shores of Malabar. We can observe the Sikh farmer rattling comfortably along in his cart in the Punjab fields and a naked Jaini monk wandering through the swamps of Gujaret. The human landscape also offers the visitor to India a view of the hunter going out to the jungles of Andrha Pradesh and of course, the pilgrim making his way between the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas to his spiritual guide. Each one and all of them together embody the principles of unity and of the variance of the human race, the basic similarity that binds us together as well as the right to express oneself as a unique person, different from all others. Together they create a colorful, spectacular human fabric. What it all comes down to is that the Indian sub-continent is perhaps the greatest human bazaar in the world.

The sub-continent is also the greenhouse in which some of the most populous religions in the world were born: Hinduism in all its forms, Buddhism, which is a complete mosaic of religions, Jainism with its ascetic discipline, and the militant Sikh religion – all these are only a small part of the religious and spiritual heritage that can claim India as its birthplace. Meeting the sub-continent is an encounter with a vibrant, deep, mystical faith, embodied in the meeting between man and his God in ritual sites, temples and ornamented monasteries, in sites of funeral pyres and ritual bathing, life and death borne on the eternal stream of the holy rivers. The Indian sub-continent offers a powerful spiritual, aesthetic and anthropological experience. An encounter with its culture, its panoramas and its people means diving into the jumble of colors, aromas, sounds and tastes that inundate the visitor's senses, a mélange in which the beauty and ugliness of life are so completely intertwined that they cannot be broken apart into component elements.

Where to begin?
Rajasthan is an excellent starting point – those who have been to India before will always find new wonders there, and those who haven't – will find it a window onto an entirely new world.

Rajasthan, the state of the princes, is a mostly semi-arid region in the northwest of India. The tribes of Rajasthan, the Rajputs, ruled this region for about 1000 years, up to and including the period of control by the British, who allowed them a great deal of independence until 1947, the year that India received independence. Only then did the maharajas of Rajasthan agree to merge with greater India. Before that, they conducted wars and built opulent palaces and huge fortresses in which the legendary treasures of the princes of Rajasthan are exhibited today. The residents of Rajasthan, men and women, are recognizable by their colorful attire and their heavy jewelry.

A tour in Rajasthan provides a look into the enchanted world of the maharajas (maha = great, raja = king), their lives, their sources of entertainment, their love life and mainly, the palaces in which they lived. Palaces straight out of the fairy tales are now available for a night's lodging. It is all you can do not to rub your eyes at the sight of so much opulence, elegance, wealth and beauty, and to truly feel like a maharaja.

Rajasthan is undoubtedly the most colorful and picturesque state in India. And if you take an all-terrain car and travel the side- and by-roads, you will find yourselves among the tribes, the villages, the markets, the temples, the fortresses, the citadels and of course the bustling cities.