India at street level is nothing less than chaotic.
No one ‘strolls’ down the street in India.
It would be like trying to have a romantic meander down the track during the Indy 500. You just wouldn’t do it.
For example: In Delhi, I looked too long at one of the shopfronts and almost walked into a group of men carrying a shrouded corpse on a plank.
You certainly can walk around in India, but make sure you have your wits about you. Getting smashed by a speeding rickshaw probably isn’t on anyone’s to-do list.
It’s unfortunate, because walking around a city is one of the best ways to soak it in and explore. While walking around the streets will certainly give you a feel for India, it’s not exactly relaxing.
So what’s a traveler to do?
Rooftops. Rooftops are the answer.
Luckily, they are plentiful, particularly throughout the northwestern state of Rajasthan. Many guesthouses and restaurants boast of their wonderful rooftop views, and in my experience, they don’t disappoint. Sitting on a rooftop gives you peace. Grab a cup of chai, pull up a plastic chair, and breathe – there are no rickshaws up here.
Bundi is a small town where tourism has yet to explode. You can almost – almost – walk down the street without feeling the need for body armor, which is refreshing in itself. The town is sandwiched between mountains and wraps around a lake. I can easily say it was my favorite place in Rajasthan.
City of Romance, or so they say. What’s more romantic than rooftop views?
Tents, that’s what.
Legend has it that top-God Lord Brahma dropped a lotus flower from the sky, resulting in this lake. This is where they scattered Gandhi’s ashes, and it’s the place to go on pilgrimage. Which still doesn’t explain the overwhelming amount of dreadlocked white people I saw. What is up with that, anyway?
The lake is surrounded by a practically impenetrable force field of touts, insisting that you give a ‘donation’ for a free holy flower or a holy view. I say, get yourself to a rooftop and drop some money for a lassi. Way better than a crushed handful of petals.
The capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur is bursting at the seams with rooftops to discover. Any time of day is good for rooftop-sitting, but the ideal time has got to be sunset.
OK, so Varanasi’s not exactly in Rajasthan. It’s in the other direction, in the eastern state of Uttar Pradesh. But it’s still a great place to find a rooftop and fly some kites.
The secret’s out – if you want to survive India and keep your sanity intact, get on a rooftop whenever you can.
Chaos is best observed as an outsider.